Last week when Funtoosh had to organise their celebrated Jashn-e-Chillai Kalan programme, they had one less work to do than the previous years. They didn't need to explain to people what the event was about or what they do. People who heard it already knew what they are expecting and the word of mouth publicity had done wonders, resulting in a jam packed Kashmir University auditorium.
Of late FUNTOOSH has become synonymous with humour, rib tickling performances and food for thought for everyone. On 30TH January Funtoosh presented its fifth in the row Jashn-e-Chillai Kalan event.
It was in September–October 2011, the four persons with similar interests met while working on a film. Sharing their mutual desire to entertain people, they decided to celebrate Chillai Kalan and do away with the idea that the season of snow and frost bites brings in lethargy and lifelessness. The 30 year old couple Rayees Mohiudin from Pulwama, and Shehla Arif from Ilahi Bagh handle the creative content whereas little younger Abrar Ali, and Sibath Qureshi take care of logistics and technical aspect of the company.
"Dapaan bekaaras che Hath Kar, me chu Funtoosh," says Rayees Mohiuddin whose wit and humour makes him the centre of attraction. Both Shehla and Rayees were working as assistant cultural officers at KU when they got selected for India's Got Talent for stand up comedy and mimicry and were declared as the semi finalist of the season. "This worked as a morale booster and we decided to take it up professionally," says Shehla Arif who has Masters in Psychology. "I wanted to heal people through art therapies but simultaneously the artist in me was anxious to give shape and vent to my ideas and creativity. Funtoosh did exactly that."
Abrar and Sibath, both Bombay film school pass outs say that they returned to the valley intending to start up an event management company and promote local art, and culture through films. "Kashmir is the most fertile ground for such activities because of its rich history and breathtaking landscape. We want to make this a workable place for such fields," says Abrar Ali.
However, the odds were never in their favour. "It wasn't an easy ride as we had presumed. The lack of such cultural centres made things extremely difficult. Hardly anyone believed in our concept. It was a long battle with ourselves and even our families who wanted us to take up Government jobs. Though things are improving and we have received tremendous love, we are still confronted by the question, asli kya chew karaan," says Sibath.
Having completed 5 years of Jashn-e-Chillai Kalan, they look back at their journey with pride and amazement. "I was part of six performances out of the 11, we presented. We couldn't afford paid artists from outside, so we had to do everything on our own," says Rayees. "However, we are really grateful to J&K Tourism, JK Bank and to Greater Kashmir who helped us reach out to people."
"The quality of our events, our professional attitude, and the love from our audience has helped us survive," says Shehla. "There is so much that nature and our everyday life has to offer, only if one would observe keenly. We understand that we have to work according to the psyche of the audience. Our performances have a message. We don't just take pot shots at the government but have also laid emphasis on our responsibilities as children of the soil. This stage gives us a medium to not just express our desires and talent but also our anger in a constructive way and we believe that helps a society grow," she adds.
Starting from a team of 4, Funtoosh now has 300 people associated with it. "There is so much of untapped talent in Kashmir which if given a platform could bring immense laurels to the state. Therefore, we have opened our doors to everyone who wants to learn and share with us their talent. We have students who can't afford to go out and take up professional training, so Funtoosh helps them to harness and showcase their talent. In a way we prepare them for their future endeavours. Though, a little more help from the State and University administration would ease our journey."
The creative troop followed its success with a celebration of different seasons of the state. In "Jashn-e-Bahar" or the celebration of the season of new life (spring), the audience witnessed local artisans working on their masterpieces, live. In their attempt to show togetherness of a hybrid state like J&K they conceptualized "Jashn-e Riyasat" and staged it in Jammu. "Jashn-e-Retkoul (summer)" followed. A morale raiser "Aagaz" was organized post floods.
Ramzan Art Expression is another very important part of Funtoosh calendar. Again, to counter the idea that the everyday life comes to a standstill in this holy month, the company brings hundreds of students up to 21 years of age to express themselves through art. The theme being Islam and Ramzan
Apart from this, they conduct events for private clients, government offices like the recently celebrated saffron festival in Awantipora, The South Asian Federation (SAF) conference and radio programs for the Rural Development department.
The success of Jashn-e-Chillai Kalan has made for itself a place in J&K Tourism event calendar also. The Company now wants to start an Academy of Performance Art. "Everything new has always received its share of criticism, but we were fortunate enough to find friends who helped us grow. We are thankful to everyone who stood by us. Now, we want to be such friends to the people of J&K" says the poised and hopeful Abrar Ali. "Remember us as artists who love to share a laugh!" adds Shehla.