Popularising Urdu poetry with its niche appeal among a wider audience is no mean task. But attempting it is Kafeel Jafri, a young city poet and theatre artiste, who has turned his back on the world of business and
marketing to make this his life’s mission. Aksheev Thakur reports
He wears many hats with ease. A capital consultant, model, theatre artiste and poet, Kafeel Jafri is a man of many facets. While he has an MBA under his belt, his real interest lies in theatre and Urdu poetry, which he tries to showcase to the contemporary world.
Born in Lucknow, the city of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb , he had a natural flair for Hindustani and hobnobbing with neighbours conversing in metaphors left an indelible mark on his young mind.
While on the one hand his life seems to have revolved around marketing and investment banking as reflected in his detailed Linked-in profile, the 30 something Kafeel is somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde personality, dabbling in modelling and the arts with equal passion. “I did my MBA in 2011 in Bengaluru, but my long cherished dream was to get into Bollywood. When I was told that modelling could be a gateway to it, I became engaged in that too. But somehow I found it static and boring,” Kafeel confesses.
The turning point in his life came after he saw theatre personality, Abhishek Majumdar’s play, Treadmill, at the Ranga Shankara. “After seeing Abhishek’s play I realised that this is what I wanted to do,” he recalls. He soon went on to attend a workshop conducted by Abhishek and realised he had a talent for Urdu poetry when he recited a “ shayri” for a YouTube channel.
“I recognised this talent after getting into theatre,” he chuckles. But he did have an introduction to poetry much earlier. “When I was five my maternal grandfather encouraged me to recite poetry in song before a large audience. He took me through the notes and it was a good performance which sowed the seed that have now germinated,” Kafeel recounts.
Among the 50 odd plays that he has been a part of are Manto Ki Kahaniyan and Life and Works of Faiz, where he profiled the poets, reciting their works to spellbound audiences.
But the event he seems to hold particularly dear is his performance of Dastan Yusuf Aur Zulkeha ki, which tells the story of a fourteenth century poet set in Egypt.
“This was a dastangoi performance,” he says referring to the 13th century Urdu oral storytelling art form. “It tells the story of Yusuf and Zulekha taken from the Quran, Bible and Torah,” he explains.
While the popular perception is that Urdu is dying, Kafeel disagrees. “Urdu is the most inclusive language, influenced by regional languages in different parts of the country. It is not static and keeps evolving,” Kafeel states his case to prove that it is still a vibrant and relevant language even today.
“Urdu was once at its peak and then there was a dip during globalisation since English was considered more appealing. But now people have realised its importance,” he contends.
“Even in Bollywood, films like Haidar and Masaan use Faiz’s poetry to speak of the burning issues of the country. So Urdu poetry is even today used to depict reality,” argues Kafeel.
He, however, laments that under the current BJP dispensation at the Centre, a surreptitious attempt is being made to declare anything related to Islam alien. To those fanning this notion, Kafeel has one question, “If Urdu is not Indian, which other planet did it give birth on?”
Drawing inspiration from the present political flavour in the country, he plans to depict the idea of “otherisation” in his next play. “During jumma (Friday prayers), maulanas break into Hindi and it feels good. So the people have adapted the language,” he concludes.
Although he has no regrets about his absorption with theatre and poetry, his parents seem to think otherwise. “There was huge pressure on me to get married, but after I got into theatre that coercion has stopped as they feel when he cannot sustain himself, how can he get married,” he laughs....