Sukhan, a Pune-based mehfil, presents Urdu ghazals and nazms, combined with prose elements like stories and letters, to diverse audiences in an easy to understand format.
On the Facebook page of Sukhan, a Pune-based mehfil (poetry and music performance group), is a poetic invitation: “Chhai hain ghata aur barasti hain sharaab,tum ab bhi na aaoge, to kab aaoge?” (The sky is cloudy and it is raining wine, if you do not come even now, when will you come?)
Sukhan borrows its concept from the traditional mehfil, which means a small gathering of people where poetry and music are presented to an audience.
These gatherings are interactive in nature and Sukhan brings together Urdu verses like ghazals (songs) and nazms with prose elements like stories and letters, set to the tune of Hindustani classical music and Sufi music.
The Better India spoke with Sukhan’s founder Om Bhutkar on the occasion of the group’s first anniversary.
Bringing a cultural programme in Urdu to an audience that is mostly Marathi-speaking has its unique challenges. Even cultural programmes in Hindi have not gained popularity in Pune. Om himself was introduced to Urdu only seven years ago when he started reading Urdu ghazals and shayari (poetry), often looking up words in the dictionary. Ghalib turned out to be one of his favourite poets and he ended up penning a play based on his life. The play Mi, Ghalib, a contemporary interpretation of Ghalib, was well-received in Pune and the shows went on for over four years.
According to Om, the language barrier is not really a problem; it is mostly a fear of the new and unexplored that makes us hesitant to embrace a new language. In selecting the verses, he says, they usually choose poetry where the meaning isn’t dependant solely on the words.
“Sometimes, you can understand the meaning without knowing all the words. It’s not just the words, it’s also about the diction, the way it’s said,” says Om.
A national award-winning actor himself, Om, along with his co-performer Nachiket Devasthali, brings a theatrical element to Sukhan. The duo also explores the fast fading form of traditional oral storytelling ‘Daastangoi’ in Sukhan’s shows.
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One of the challenges in selecting content is to find literature that is easily understood by audiences, yet is rich in meaning.
The content is handpicked from a vast treasure of Urdu literature and shayari, which includes works by Mirza Ghalib, Hafeez Jalandhari, Sahir Ludhianvi, Amir Khusrow, Joan Eliya, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Meer Taqi Meer, Mujtaba Hussain, Nida Fazli, Dagh Dehlvi, Muhammad Iqbal, and many more.
The performance often begins with the story ‘Dimakon Ki Malika Se Ek Mulaqat’ by Mujtaba Husain, which sets the tone for the show. It then moves on to recitations of ghazals, nazms, as well as Urdu prose and musical renditions of ghazals and qawwalis. Its format lying somewhere between the realms of theatre and orchestra, offering an amalgamation of musical performances, storytelling (also known as Dastaangoi in Urdu), as well as prose recitation of Urdu poetry, Sukhan’s content varies with every performance. There are some new compositions and musical elements in every show.
This February, Sukhan had the honour of inaugurating Pune’s prestigious Vinod and Sarayu Doshi National Theatre Festival. Apart from doing shows in Pune, the team has performed in Ahmednagar and Daund. The team comprises a dozen 20-somethings, who are incredibly passionate about the language.
“It’s such a beautiful language, Urdu! We love what we do here and therefore the audience falls in love with it too,” says Devendra Bhome, one of the musicians. “The experience of performing for Sukhan is out of this world. Every verse, every couplet, every note takes you a bit closer to the audience.”
Sukhan was born out of Om and Nachiket’s common love for shayari and their drive to create something out of this passion. They pursued the idea and after a few years were able to put together a show, which they performed for the first time at a relative’s house in front of a choice audience.
“To commemorate the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahib, we did a show of qawwalis and ghazals on October 13, 2014, his birth anniversary,” Om recalls. “The following year, Nachiket and I started experimenting with the content and had a rough idea of a show. We did a few small shows in front of our relatives that helped shape the idea, and we realised that it could work,” he adds.
On the occasion of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s birth anniversary this year, the Sukhan team has created a rendition of the na`at, ‘Yeh sab tumhara karam hain’, which they are planning to release online soon. Na`at is poetry written in praise of Prophet Muhammad.
“I have a lot of plans for Sukhan. I wish to bring in more languages to the show. We are also now trying to reach out and have more and more shows outside Pune,” says Om.
You can know more about Sukhan and their upcoming shows on their official Facebook page here.