Press enter for ‘Dastan-e-Haroun’  

Delhi-based writer and director Anusha Rizvi says that the media and the system she satirised looks positively benign in comparison to what is going on today

Anusha Rizvi (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Anusha Rizvi (Photo Courtesy: IANS)


Even as the film 'Peepli Live', India's official entry for the 83rd Acadmey Awards Best Foreign Film category completes a decade this month, its Delhi-based writer and director Anusha Rizvi says that the media and the system she satirised looks positively benign in comparison to what is going on today. "Now it is beyond caricature, forget satire," she smiles.

All set to produce 'Dastan-e-Haroun' (August 15), based on Salman Rushdie's 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories', adapted by Poonam Girdhani and to be directed by Mahmood Farooqui, Rizvi says that it had always been on the anvil ever since they started doing Dastans for children such as 'Alice and Little Prince'.

"We wrote to Rushdie last year and he readily agreed to give us the permission to adapt it, completely waiving off his royalties. Haroun was Salman Rushdie's ode to centuries of oral storytelling, to Arabian Nights and to the Dastanic tradition itself. It made perfect sense to return it to Urdu and to Dastangoi, the tradition from which in a sense Haroun emerged from."

To be performed by Rajesh Kumar and Poonam Girdhani, one of the senior most members of their collective who has been working on this for over a year in consultation with Farooqui, Rizvi does not really feel that the magic of the live art form will be lost online.

"Frankly, our job is to tell the story as well as possible under the grim circumstances that we are all faced with. We are not too worried about the medium right now, and will treat the camera as the audience. The advantage of online is the simultaneous reach across the world, which is not circumscribed by a physical performing space. Of course, it will be staged in a physical space once the pandemic is over."

Though like most, the lockdown has been a testing moment for Rizvi and Farooqui too, but this period also gave them the space to finish a web series for Hotstar. "We are now waiting for a propitious moment to start production," she says.

Adding that though the digital medium has opened several opportunities, but the bent of the market is turning conservative, Rizvi laments, "And once the government regulates it, as it is probably going to do soon, we might see the same kind of self-censorship that we are already seeing on other platforms."

For someone who feels that Dastangoi is contained and simple at one level, yet so difficult to pull off at another, she says, "Best part being that you can tell in a story in an hour what it might take you a three-hour play to do. And it is par excellence the performer's medium."

While their upcoming shows include Dastans on Bhagat Singh, the Bhagavata Purana around Krishna and on the tale of Gul Bakaoli, the wife-husband duo is keeping themselves ready for the theatres once the fear of the pandemic subsides. "Nothing can beat the joy and sensation of a live performance. People will certainly come back in hordes to watch Dastangoi," she concludes.

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