Most of us might remember our grandmas, encircled by all the children, screaming for just one more story before going to bed. Ingrained with witty one liners, repetitive tropes, and characters which were very black and white, they became the first learning ground for most of the listeners. A sigh and we say, oh, those were the golden days! And suddenly while channel hopping on radio you come across an engrossing tale, with modern day situations, and apt ending. Ever heard of people stopping everything to ensure they don’t miss the end? Yes, we have done that. These modern day popular Indian storytellers reach out to their listeners, and defy traditions not just in terms of themes and storyline, but through their choice of medium too.
Traditionally, storytelling goes back to pre-historic times when men carved out instances on cave walls to communicate their thoughts and feelings. “As language was developed, humans started passing down their wisdom, fantasy, and mythology, interspersed with elements of fiction and realism through oral tales. Humans evolved newer ways to tell stories. They started enacting them in the form of plays, turned them into folktales seeped in the culture and heritage of the region just like puppetry. They later found cinema as a medium to tell mega stories. However, oral storytelling survived through the ages, even with so many more mediums available for entertainment, and has in fact attained much greater heights,” says Sudhanshu Rai, storyteller, filmmaker and actor.
Talking about modern times, what started in 1991 in Sweden as a day to celebrate and revive the art of storytelling in March equinox (March 20), soon found takers in Australia and has come to be recognised as World Storytelling Day globally. “With many listeners and storytellers coming together to exchange oral stories in different languages, the event gained not just international fame but also became immensely popular amongst the local groups and young listeners,” adds Rai.
The present-day storytelling sessions performed in front of live audience have become an experience akin to films or a theatre show. “With live music, sound effects, light effects and at times actors to support the narration, storytelling is now being taken to a different realm. It is not surprising to see that the sound engineers and designers have become an important aspect of storytelling and create an ambience that is apt for the setup of the story. The engrossed audience lives through the story, as if everything is happening in front of them, through sheer magic of words, created by storytellers. No wonder, there are corporates and government offices, encouraging storytelling sessions as part of their recreational activities, that end up not just entertaining but leading to overall well being, digression of troubling thoughts and better mental health too,” opines Rai.
These storytellers are telling the stories across formats and genres. In doing so, we have been defying many traditions, to ensure that storytelling becomes even more appealing to young listeners who has access to many more digital mediums of entertainment. “While experimenting with storylines is a must, horror as a genre has risen in terms of popularity, alongside crime thrillers, spooky stories, and time travel tales. Thus, we are creating more stories from complex genres that have plenty to offer to the audience,” feels Rai.
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The constant feedback from the listeners during the show and after the show is over has given these best storytellers the confidence to experiment with various genres. Apart from simple tales, weaved in classic stories or seeped in history, we also have stories that cater to the nostalgic needs of the listeners. On one hand we have storytellers diving deep into human psyche, and have characters who are not just black and white but grey as well. On the other hand, we have stories that are catering to the adrenaline rush requirement by creating thrillers that have ample of thrill and surprise element.
Rai believes in catering to the needs of the tech savvy generation, some sessions are often recorded and are available on various video streaming apps, where they can be accessed. This has enabled the storyteller to create a global outreach, where the listener can be in any part of the world. Social media has also played a key role in getting a wider audience for the storyteller, as their narrations reach story lovers, far and wide. A lot of times, listeners who fell in love with the stories of a particular storyteller can go to any length to experience a live storytelling session.
Though there was a lean patch where storytellers were at a loss, but new age storytellers, with a tab on the nerves of modern listeners are reviving this art, that can possibly never die, because it will always re-invent itself to cater to the changing tastes.
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