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Interview: Shashwita Sharma of JASHN-E-QALAM at Digital - Live Play Co-Founder Of Jashn-E-Qalam

An evening filled with nostalgia under the wrapped gaze and thunderous applause of the audience is all it takes for a performer to transform myriad worlds into mesmerizing art through story telling. I recently witnessed such grace and watched with rapt attention while Shashwita Sharma, co-founder of Jashan-e-Qalam took us through an Urdu classic tale.

Jashan-e-Qalam is the celebration of Hindustani literature, a New age form of story telling sans majestic props, stage or multiple performers. Enacted dramatically with a soulful performance to capture the essence of the tale being told. The audience is drawn towards the characters unfolding via the narration.

I got into conversation with Shashwita Sharma to decode the journey that enabled her to reach out to a multitude of people across the globe with the 'Live' story telling sessions. Shashwita Sharma is an actor, Kathak dancer and theatre performer. She comes from a family that follows a rich tradition of music. She is a trained Hindustani Classical Music singer by her Mother/ Guru Dr. Neelima Sharma. While graduating from Delhi University, she became a disciple of Kathak Maestro Pt. Birju Maharaj and continued her training in Dance.

She debuted with Crime Patrol Satark in the role of a Cop, but her official debut in the television industry was with the series Doli Armano Ki in 2013 on Zee TV. Her Bollywood debut happens to be Room: The Mystery in 2015.

She has created a group of 8 people called Jashn-e-Kalam, which brings captivating performances of stories from famous Indian writer's like Premchand, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Mohan Rakesh. She is also associated with the theater group Yatri.

In her own words, lets conjure up Jashan-e-Qalam.

Me - Your journey into establishing Jashan-e-Qalam?

Shahswita - I discovered the joy of reading short stories, when I met with fellow actor and current business partner Mr KC Shanker in 2014. We would get together in an informal setting, along with one of our friends and read stories to each other. The discussion would go on for hours about what the story meant to convey.

Hindustani Literature opened a whole new world to us. These stories were like a mirror to our society and gave us a better understanding of our current position. We were astounded by the impact it had on us, as actors and as humans. The only natural urge was to share it with more and more people. We realized, not many people were inclined to put in time and effort into reading. So, we started dramatic readings of the stories. And hence, Jashn-E-Qalam was founded.

Later on, we converted the stories into fully etched performances. The multiple roles of the 'Narrator' and various 'Characters' are enacted by the 'Storyteller', making full use of 'Voice' & 'Body' without relying on 'Sets', 'Props' or 'Costumes'. Since then we have taken our performances to various theatre's, alternate-spaces, literature festivals, offices, schools & colleges.

Me - Inspiration behind coming up with live streaming of short stories?

Shashwita- Necessity is the mother of invention. We always felt like all theatre performances, nothing can replace the act of being present (physically & mentally) during a 'Live' performance. We were still in the process of finding out an aesthetic way to translate our solo performances into engaging on screen content, when the pandemic occurred. The world seemed to come to a halt. Our city, Mumbai was put under Lockdown and the future of opening up of public spaces and theatre's looked bleak. So we dived into the digital world to keep going and to gauge how the world responds to the amalgamation of Literature and storytelling in this digital world.

Me - Favorite authors that you would love to perform on?

Shashwita - I perform stories by Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ismat Chughtai; main pillars of Progressive writer's movement in India & stories by Kamleshwar, Rajendra Yadav, who were established practitioners in the Nayi Kahani (New Story) movement. Having worked on the themes of patriarchy, gender discrimination, class divide and psychological truths in these stories, I would be interested in discovering ideas about alienation & isolation by renowned author Nirmal Verma.

Me - Any particular incident or story that inspired you as a performer?

Shashwita - I remember, once when we staged dramatic readings, I was performing a piece by Kamleshwar 'Solah chhato ka Ghar' translated as 'A home with 16 terraces'. The story is about a home in a community where the grandmother is taking care of 4-5 kids, while the city is burning in riots. The movement of police, curfew, and the conversations around the riots reflects in the games children continue to make and play.

Hell breaks loose when they start imitating the mob violence, hitting each other leaving the grandmother completely exhausted. In the audience there was a mother and her boy of age 9-10 years. I remember the horror on his face when he heard the description of mob violence.

The story affected him deeply. His mother came to us later saying her son loved the story because he was able to imagine and make visuals. Also, She would prefer for her son to get exposure from classic stories rather than TV & Popular cinema. I realized, these stories have the power to change the world. I found my reason to keep going and growing.

Me- Future projects through Jashan-e-Qalam platform?

Shashwita - We plan to continue our journey of sharing stories with more and more people. We are still testing water's with the digital platform. But once we find out a viable way this will become a regular feature. We have worked on audio projects in collaboration with audio books platform 'Storytel'. We wish to work on our own audio podcast series very soon.

Me- Finally, message for performers and writers to improve on their skills.

Shahswita - Performers and Writers have a difficult task of disciplining themselves for their art. Consistent efforts in writing, rehearsals and performances have their own advantages. But being a student of life can provide insights and influence the art form greatly. I believe in learning every day and staying a student.

That's it. Thank-you.

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