Writer and festival director Namita Gokhale ( co-director of Jaipur Literature Festival and Mountain Echoes, Bhutan) is now bringing contemporary Indian literature across languages to Doordarshan with a new interactive weekly capsule, Kitaabnama. Gokhale speaks on how the growth of Indian literature in different genres and tongues is resonating with the soul of a new and changing India that is building on its old literary traditions to craft modern idioms and narratives. Excerpts:
Q: Literature is travelling from bookshops and literary festivals, to reading sessions on Doordarshan with Kitaabnama. How do you account for this and where will this position literature in terms of audience response?
A: Doordarshan is the national broadcaster, with an enormous footprint. It has been supporting the arts for a long time, and has been an extremely credible platform for classical dance, music and culture. It had become a somewhat dysfunctional place in the intervening years but now it is renewing its commitment to this legacy. There are many able professionals on Doordarshan, and all sorts of resources, including some invaluable archives. .
I found the process of working on Kitaabnama an enriching and positive experience and received a huge amount of support from the producers, the cameramen, the editors who have helped shape the programme. And friends like Prasoon Joshi who wrote and composed the title song gratis, and other book lovers who came forward on different fronts.
Q: What will Kitaabnama be like? What are its prime components?
A: ‘Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond ‘ shall address literary issues of contemporary interest through dialogue and conversation. The show has a simple and uncluttered format and will feature books, readings and encounters with Indian writers from diverse spheres, as well as guest appearances from international names and voices. In recent years, there has been a renaissance in Indian literature, across the national languages. The proliferation of literary festivals, including the success of the Jaipur Literature Festival, has demonstrated the need and desire of audiences to connect to books and writers and to resonate with the world of ideas.
Q: Have you started shooting the interviews for Kitaabnama? Was there intellectual chemistry on sets?
A: We have shot quite a few rounds of conversations and readings for the show and recorded several interviews and solo encounters. There was a great bonhomie on the sets – a kind of clubby book people feeling when the first episode was being shot. It was a tribute to the late Habib Tanvir, whose memoirs , translated by Mahmood Farooqui, have generated much appreciation. Mahmood and Javed Malick were in conversation with Rupleena Bose. The people slated to participate in the next session – on translation – Gillian Wright, Arunava Sinha and Ira Pande – were listening intently. They broke into spontaneous applause when the shoot ended. Similarly, Paro Anand did a reading which it left all of us transfixed by its dramatic quality. And then there was an another incredible session featuring the ‘two Indias..’ – which had young, urban English novelist Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy in dialogue Ajay Navaria– a highly articulate, calibrated Hindi Dalit writer, talking from different spaces and examining how they viewed the creative process and the role and responsibility of writers .
Q: What kind of writers are you looking at for Kitaabnama?
A: We are looking at range , variety, and value. From pathbreaking Hindi writer Uday Prakash to the incredibly articulate bestselling English novelist Ashwin Sanghi. There are the great established names, to share their wealth of experience , whom we wish to introduce to a new generations of viewers, as well as debut voices raring to be heard. We hope to soon interview doyens like U.R. Ananthamurthy and M.T. Vasudevan Nair to explore literary traditions, movements and the larger legacy of Indian literature. A session on Mahasweta Devi, and a tribute to the late Indira Goswami. On the other hand, we are looking at writers who are rarely encountered in the mainstream. In one of the early episodes, we are featuring Damayanti Beshra, a Santhali woman writer who made a major impact in the last Jaipur Festival. There is a duty to enable grassroots voices , to give them space and opportunity – especially to those who are not writing from metropolitan places and lack access. On the other end of the spectrum I have personally interviewed Amish Tripathi, of the game changing Shiva trilogy, at the Mountain Echoes Festival in Thimphu and recorded a very powerful reading by Mahesh Dattani. The orchestration of these very diverse streams of writing is a fascinating enterprise. Doordarshan’s enormous reach – its gigantic footprint – can be put to meaningful use. I am not ambitious for Kitaabnama, I am not presuming instant success, but seeking sustained relevance and to hoping to slowly create a platform that is open and inclusive.
Q: What kind of cooperation did you get for your programme?
A: We received incredible cooperation from almost every quarter for the show. I rang up writer-lyricist Prasoon Joshi and asked him to help us out with the title song. I was fascinated by Safdar Hashmi’s inspiring song- Kitabein Karti Hain Batein.. and Prasoon used it as a ‘mukhda’ to compose a new, very appropriate text, which he hummed and set to very evocative music.. we are truly grateful. Oroon Das designed the striking logo and set, and even sang Prasoon’s title song, all at incredibly short notice.
I know the circle of engagement will only continue to grow, and we will get more book lovers and friends of Kitaabnama to spread the word and help establish a meaningful literary show !
The show goes on air Saturday 6 om and Sunday 8 om on DD