The veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah recently introduced a show, “Ghalib, Begum Umrao Ki Nazar Se,” conceptualised and directed by the renowned vocalist Iqbal Ahmad Khan, at the Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi. The show, which told the story of the iconic poet Mirza Ghalib through the eyes of his wife Begum Umrao, was an amalgamation of two Urdu storytelling traditions—dastangoi and ghazal gayaki. Before it began, Shah had a brief but candid conversation with Rana Siddiqui Zaman, a senior film and art critic, about the resurgence of the art of dastangoi, the usage of Urdu in recent Bollywood films, and the growing presence of saffronisation in the film industry. Shah observed that there was a palpable influence of saffron politics in the Bollywood industry, but emphasised that “no negative forces can ever dare to snatch my identity from me.” He added, “I am a proud musalmaan and a proud Indian.”
Rana Siddiqui Zaman: Dastangoi has more viewers today than ordinary plays. What do you think is the reason behind the revival of dastangoi and the fact that it has been widely accepted and appreciated by the audiences?
Naseeruddin Shah: Dastangoi is the oldest form of theatre and is also close to my heart. Its impact was always powerful, so it had to come back. And see how it is faring on the Indian and global stage! Dastangoi is a good narration, not a mechanical joke. I don’t believe in technical magic and marvels on the stage. Simple camera angles, content-driven, text-oriented stories by the able playwright, powerful dialogues, flawless adakari [acting] do wonders on stage—not technically-produced grandeur. I get annoyed off by artificially-created lies on stage.
RSZ: How would you rate our musical plays?
NS: Musical plays? Are there any? Our so-called musical dramas are nothing but a fusion of stupidities. They make one singer hop from one place to the other, and sing. They insert a cabaret dancer in a corner and make her do vulgarity on the stage. They have no sense of dialogues to be delivered by the characters, which does not even match the actor’s voice, which also sings! They use backdrops of technical marvels, which says nothing of their own expertise of creativity in stage design. They don’t deserve to be called musical plays.