The platform started from June, 2019 and has a repertoire of over 400 stories in 40 art forms
Where do folk tales come from? Passed on verbally from generation to generation, the tales morph as each narrator makes it her own. Many fade into oblivion for lack of archiving. The lure of more lustrous entertainment forever at our disposal also doesn’t help these stories subsist. As Cartoon Network, YouTube and Netflix threaten to replace our treasured bedtime stories, a bunch of Indian artists, with the help of the British Council, is organizing storytelling festivals to breathe new life into this dying art form.
Folk Log is an initiative for archiving folk tales from all over India, which includes West Bengal. The platform arranged its first Online Storytelling Festival on Monday, March 30. Of the 12 artists featured in the festival, three were Bengali, and their stories worked like a time machine transporting us back to simpler times, when content creation didn’t take millions of dollars and hundreds of “miscellaneous crews.”
One of the organizers, classical dancer Arupa Lahiry, told Dhaka Tribune Showtime that Folk Log was a pet project of Vandana Pant, who was concerned about the various forms of storytelling dying in South Asia. The platform started from June, 2019 and has a repertoire of over 400 stories in 40 art forms.
“On the second day of the coronavirus lockdown, I told Vandana that we should do a storytelling festival,” she said. “People are stressed and scared and they need to be elated to a different world. So, we decided to do this festival one day from 10am-8pm in different languages.”
“Parents don’t have time to tell stories and children don’t have time to listen to stories,” Arupa said about her inspiration behind building this archive. “The only time they listen to stories is in school where they don’t hear local folk stories, but English ones. In Bangladesh, you have such beautiful stories, but it doesn’t come across to the children anymore. We want to preserve these stories and take it to the people.”
At the festival, some storytellers used puppetry, some used theatrics, but one of the most interesting stories, according to Arupa, was that of film-maker Ranjan Ghosh (Ahaa Re, Hrid Majharey), whose story was actually three stories woven into one.
Ranjan, who heard the folk tale from his mother, told us it was his first time telling a story live. His sources of folk tales were his family members, who used to tell him stories from Thakurmar Jhuli to put him to sleep when he was a child.
“We had to imagine the visuals back then,” he said. “Not every story can be made into a film and there are only so many films we can make in our lifetime, but with such online storytelling, we can explore new original stories as well as the folk ones.”
“There’s a celebration of humanism and goodness in these stories,” he remarked. “There’s an element of fantasy and magic realism in these stories, which I’m very much drawn to… I feel that long time ago, humans could communicate with nature. Then when we started to exploit nature, we stopped understanding their language.”
One of the other Bengali storytellers, Sanchaita Bhattacharjee, a theatre actor for 35 years, told us that while there are some characteristics native to Bangla stories, they bear resemblance to stories from all over India.
“All of the stories tend to have a moral,” she said. “Back then (when these stories originated) there was a necessity to record one’s life for future generations. At the same time, life was very stark and basic and they needed a sense of wonder beyond the human realm.”
If you missed the stories the first time around, the second edition of the festival will be held on April 12.