This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Krishangi Singh. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

In Conversation With Master Storyteller And Co-Director Of ‘Peepli Live’ – Mahmood Farooqui

More from Krishangi Singh

[su_row][su_column size=”1/2″]

This post is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the HT Crime Writers Festival:

By Krishangi Singh:

A lone lit candle casts a beautiful yellow glow on two gentlemen dressed in crisp white achkans, as they sit back and tell you the most interesting tales. Dastans if you will, of the beautiful princess Chauboli, those of Amar Aiyar and even narratives of the partition, among many others.

Mahmood Farooqui, writer and director, has brought back this 16th century Urdu art of storytelling, Dastangoi, back to Indian theatre spaces. Spellbinding as it is (especially when he teams up with the amazing Danish Husain), Dastangoi is just one amongst Faqooqui’s many talents. Co-director of satirical movie ‘Peepli Live’ and author of “Besieged, Voices From Delhi, 1857”, Farooqui knows how to tell tales across different media.

At the recently held HT Crime Writers Festival, Youth Ki Awaaz edged in to catch the reticent author to tell us about this revival of the Dastangoi art, the injustice being done to Urdu, and the tamaasha that always has an eager audience.

1. You’ve been quoted for calling your work in Dastangoi as ‘reinvention’ rather than ‘revival’. Do tell us more about that.

We have never seen anyone perform Dastangoi. It ceased to exist before we came in the scene. We have very scanty information about how it was performed, what was the decorum and other such details. So when I came to do Dastangoi under the guidance of S.R. Faruqi, I drew on my theatre experience and made the innovation of having two people perform the Dastan, unlike the olden times when only one person performed. This innovation made the art more dialogical and brought it to theatre spaces. Secondly, the content that my team and I have created is something the old Dastan didn’t engage in. So because of these two reasons, it is more of a reinvention.

2. You’ve adapted ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as ‘Dastan Alice Ki’. ‘Alice In Wonderland’ is such a visually powered tale, could you tell us a little about the process of translating such a tale into a Dastan, which is a unique oral tradition?

I think these stories work because in a highly visual culture, we force our audience to create their own images. The images that are created in their head are richer than anything we can serve them, so they take back what they give. Thus, when we’re describing the scene of chessboard in ‘Alice..’, everybody is imagining it differently and multiple visuals are being created.

3. Dastangoi stories, such as that of Amir Hamza, predominantly contain ‘adventure’ and ‘magic’ as primary elements. This also echoes in ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and ‘Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne’. What is your approach on reinventing stories that do not contain these elements?

We have dealt with those texts as well. But again when you are dealing with such stories you have to imagine everything for yourself, be it the surroundings or the people. So, ultimately the narration comes to life through your own visuals.

4. Popular perception of Urdu is as this exotic language that it isn’t spoken or understood by most, while little do people realise it’s derivative nature and how unconsciously most of us use it in everyday life. The fact that your Dastangoi mehfils see everyone enjoying the tales is testament that language is no barrier. What has been your experience of audience reception?

People tend to think that Urdu is only ‘difficult words’, not realizing how much we use it in our everyday lives, which is a huge injustice to Urdu. We have a lot of currency of Urdu poetry because Hindi cinema music and lyrics draw heavily from it. Earlier even I didn’t know the meaning of words like ‘bulbul’ or ‘gul’ but I had heard it in Hindi songs. So, I agree with you that people think that Urdu is something exotic but they don’t realize how much they use it in their everyday lives.

But at the same time, the advantage we get by working in Urdu is that apart from the language being considered exotic, it also enjoys immense cultural prestige. It is considered to be the language of romance and poetry, the language of aristocracy and courtly behavior. Urdu enjoys recognition in even states like Tamil Nadu and Kerela, and people are aware of something called ‘sher’. I don’t think we would have become as popular if we were working in Hindi or English, or any other language.

5. ‘Peepli Live’ took the issue of farmer suicide and satirised the media and the political circus that forms around the issue. Do you think that media tends to become more counter-productive than helpful while covering such issues, in its bid to sensationalize it?

Well that is true but it’s kind of a packaged deal. It highlights issue and points attention to them but then later uses it for its own ends. So, I suppose it’s a double-edged sword and I don’t see how we can get away from it at the moment.

Media is very young in our country and what we must also understand is that every culture has different views about news. Our understanding of news is that it is something that must ‘entertain’. We also have a taste for wanting to see a spectacle, whether it is a wedding or a festival or people brawling on the street. So in a sense what media is doing is only catering to the popular taste of wanting a entertaining ‘tamaasha’.

6. What inspired you to look at Delhi from the perspective of ordinary people rather than people of influence while trying to articulate the effect of 1857 revolt in your book?

I would say I was very lucky that I found a whole collection of papers that dealt with ordinary people of Delhi in 1857. This interests me immensely because this was my training as a historian, to look at how ordinary people see things and how ordinary people experience history and life.

7. Can ‘Besieged’ be seen as a documentation of the initial suppression and silencing of ordinary voices for a larger political power play, a tradition that continues to plague the country even today?

Delhi had a different experience from other cities. Other cities like Kanpur, Lucknow and Mathura had popular uprising, which Delhi never experienced. Imagine if today suddenly 50-lakh soldiers step into Delhi and settle down. The residents will of course face enormous problems. That is precisely what Delhi faced in 1857. There were a lot of other stories going on in lives of ordinary people in Delhi apart from the fight for independence, which I have explained in the book.

8. What do you think are the biggest challenges in crime fiction narration?

In reading crime fiction, the reader forms an intimate connection with the content on the page. When you perform something, the connection is immediate but it is not intimate as it is a public connection. Therefore, it has always been difficult to bring mystery and suspense on the stage. There are some things that are meant to be read first and some things are meant to be recited and heard first. So there are texts such as Vedas and Quran in which orality is important and texts in which legibility is important. So, when I choose texts for Dastangoi, I try to choose texts in which orality is important.

9. You’re topic of discussion in HT CRW is ‘The World Of Ibn-E-Safi’. Do tell us more about it.

Ibn-E-Safi was this highly popular Urdu writer of 20th century. He wrote these wonderful crime capers that were much more interesting for their narration rather than the mystery itself. He wrote in witty and humorous language that was enjoyed by the masses and he created characters like Colonel Faridi and Captain Hameed, which were a take on Holmes and Watson. He created various quirks in the characters and Indianised them. Where else in the world will you find and Indian secret service which is full of Muslims? It’s only possible in Ibn-E-Safi’s world.


[su_column size=”1/2″]


[alert type=white ]


• What does your writing space look like?

It’s a small study overflowing with books.

• The view from your window…

A new house being constructed

• What keeps you from writing/work?

Classical & semi-classical music

• What aspiring authors must not do…

They must not think of the fate of their book but write it as honestly as they can.

• Tea or coffee? Early bird or creature of the night? Road trip or flying?

Tea. Creature of the night. Road trip.

• Okay to sip wine while writing?

Some wine while writing is a great idea.

• What do you do when you hit the mythical writer’s Block?

I put on music and pour myself a glass of wine. If that doesn’t work, I go for a walk.

• And where does one find that mystical muse?

I think everyone has to find if for themselves as what captivates you is different for everyone. The ideal way would be for your partner to become your muse.

• If not a writer, you’d be?

Academic while still being a writer.

• A character of your own creation you have fallen for?


• A character from a movie or book you wish you could be…

I would want to be a character in a Chekhov story.

• A book’s ending you wish you could change (not yours) and how…

I would change Albert Camus’ The Outsider and would have the protagonist getting happily married, and with children.

• Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans?

Lots of money!

• The one author you’d be happy to swap lives with?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky. [/alert]


To find out more about Dastangoi, and what the artist is currently up to, check out their blog

Featured image credit:

You must be to comment.
  1. Saravana Kumar

    Reviving or re-inventing, happy that Dastangoi is slowly catching up. The concept of making the audience imagine scenario just by telling the story is really interesting.

More from Krishangi Singh

Similar Posts

By Barkha Pawar

By Shadman Shaidai

By Sakshi Khaiwale

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below