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Carry On Insha

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

Most 'ghazal'-listeners would be familiar with Ibn-e-Insha’s work through the very popular 'Kal chaudhvin ki raat thi, shab bhar raha charcha tera' (also sung by Jagjit Singh).

However, the Pakistani poet, humorist and essayist was the best-known Urdu writer of the twentieth century, and it is thanks to Dan Husain that some of his thoughts and words have been introduced to a theatre-going audience in Mumbai, through the performance of 'Qissa Urdu Ki Aakhiri Kitaab Ka' (part of the recently concluded Prithvi Theatre Festival).

This book by Insha is the base for this uproariously funny “farcical banter” (as the synopsis describes it), written and directed by Husain, who also performs with Gopal Datt. The performance is interspersed with songs based on his poems, including the classic, 'Inshaji utho ab kooch karo; Is shahar mein jee ka lagaana kya', which is so relevant today, when cities are overrun with crime and inhumanity.

His 'Urdu Ki Aakhiri Kitaab', however, is a satire, written in textbook format dividing the chapters into lessons on history, geography, science, and other educational subjects. Husain has used this device and in telling the story of India – right from Mohenjodaro to the present – made sharp and witty comments on today’s socio-political scenario, stopping just short of instigating the trolls.

Husain is a master of the 'Dastaangoi' form of performance (which he helped revive from near obscurity) and has used his story-telling skills to great effect, finding in Gopal Dutt’s wry tone, the perfect foil for a two-hander comic act (slightly reminiscent of Vir Das’s stand-up show 'History Of India'). But behind some of the humour is, of course, a hint of the darkness that we see around the world today. In this age of intolerance, 'Qissa Urdu Ki Aakhiri Kitaab Ka' is a brave attempt.

As Insha wrote: “Deewanon ki si na baat kare to aur kare deewana kya” (A madman talks like one, what else can he do?). So, an artiste points towards the madness, what else can he do?

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