A spectacular view of seemingly boundless hills was replaced by the Fatehpur Sagar Lake as we travelled to our destination only a few minutes away. Hunger pangs were overpowered by the anticipation of Udaipur Tales, the storytelling event I was attending in the city. I had already missed a fraction of the three-day event, nevertheless I was looking forward to the rest.
Park Exotica Resort—our accommodation and the venue—donned beautiful lights and drapes. Empty lots were turned into stages, one for the children’s events and one for the adults.
This was the third edition of Udaipur Tales, and the evolution from its debut to a band of 25 storytellers, artists, musicians and actors is testament to its success. Founder Salil Bhandari told me that they had had humble beginnings in a small cafe. Storyteller Seema Wahi Mukherjee’s animated gestures were a sort of induction to the event. With bold enunciation and gestures, she had me captivated in her historic tale. The hold on my attention carried on with journalist Shantanu Guha Ray’s murder mystery. I caught up with him for a chat about the event.
“From a writer’s perspective, it is a great platform to talk about things they couldn’t put in their book. Platforms like Udaipur Tales give you a unique opportunity for two reasons: the backdrop of is so exciting, it’s a hot destination, and it has a diverse range—singers, dramatics, writers and even intellectual thinkers. This combination of facctors is also seen in the Jaipur Literature Festival but it has lost its sheen because people are not allowed to talk openly any more. However, Udaipur Tales allows you to do so. It’s a free, fair, frank opinion that people narrate here. I sincerely hope Udaipur Tales travels outside Udaipur. I think if there is anything to connect the nation today, it is platforms like these. It has the potential to become the Economist of conversation”, he says.
The following couple of days saw memorable performances by many other artists, and even featured a special session by Maine Pyaar Kiya actress Bhagyashree. Personally, some acts wow-ed me, while very few turned out lacklustre. If you ask me, Syed Sahil Agha’s Dastangoi was one I have not been able to stop talking about. Humour, drama, and a gripping plot, there was not much more I could ask for. The winning moment, however, was a narrative he had spun using words submitted by the audience. He even managed to somehow effortlessly spin a controversial ‘CAA’ prompt into the tale. On the last day, he delivered a rather touching performance with opera singer Kabuki Khanna.
Another hit session was that of popular actor Piyush Mishra. Belting out some of his famous creations like Husna and Aarambh Hai Prachand, and revealing some industry memories, he had the audience hooting and clapping for minutes on end. “Everyone has engaged in storytelling," he says. "Everyone’s grandmothers have told them a story in their childhood. Now, the internet exists, so storytelling has started afresh in the modern age. Everyone is ready and have the desire to share their experiences—sweet, bitter, good, tough. Social media has a big role to play in this. There are many platforms for storytelling now. Through events like Udaipur Tales, people—especially youngsters—get an opportunity to express themselves and we get a chance to listen to something new. It’s important for self-development”.
Something I cherish about my visit was the introduction to artists previously unknown to me. I have a whole new genre to experiment with after listening to the finale event by Mukt The Band comprising Udit Bhavsar, Tarun Kalpana, Dhaval Yadav, Yash Joshi, and Daidipiya Sheth. They compose original music around literary works, an interesting concept of which I was unfortunately unaware. With the powerful words of long-deceased legendary poets, writers, and even playwrights, this band rocked my socks off.
On the second day, I decided to take my interest to the children’s sessions. Classical vocalist and international storyteller Usha Venkatraman had just begun her story and it was only seconds before I found myself with unfinished notes, simply enjoying her performance. She was later also in the adult’s arena narrating a tale involving myths. “It’s wonderful that Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, and other cosmopolitan cities have storytelling festivals now," she says. "Not literature, those are different, but actual storytelling where the oral narrative is given importance. It is wonderful because it is promoting and marketing us. We get exposure, we get to meet other artists and exchange ideas. I met some wonderful storytellers from Delhi who travelled on the same flight. They tell stories in Hindustani”.
A contest between school kids revealed some young talent in the city. Artist Vikram Sridhar had me giggling uncontrollably with his Karnataka folk tale recitation, as did Vicky Ahuja’s humorous tale of a queen and a thief. It was refreshing to see international storytellers—Bongiswa Kotta Ramushwana from South Africa, and Chamseul Kim from South Korea—bringing tales from their countries to the stage.
I think it is the storytellers’ accomplishment to bring alive satire, humour and drama on stage that is indeed commendable. Politics, movies, literature were handled in subtle, respectful ways while still maintaining and displaying personal stances. The use of the stage was impeccable and that is what I think will keep bringing people coming back in future editions.
Udaipur Tales was hosted in Park Exotica Resort from February 21 to 23, 2020. The event was co-founded by Salil Bhandari and Sushmita Singha.