Vol. 4 Num 321 Sat. April 24, 2004  

Book launch
Azad Abul Kalam: a commanding presence in theatre
'We are going through a transitional period'

Azad Abul Kalam is a well-known name in the theatre arena of the country. As a director and actor on stage, the young theatre activist has created a stir. For 12 years he worked with the theatre group Aranyak. He parted ways with the group and along with his friends established Prachchonut in February 1997 through a series of workshops.

About the move to Prachchonut, he says, 'I thought that I would not be able to express my ideas on theatre unless I established my own group. In Aranyak the group leaders welcomed new ideas. However, I wanted more freedom. And I do not like the authoritative attitude of the traditional theatre groups in the country. In Prachchonut, we practice theatre with camaraderie.'

As he recalls, he was very fond of literature. However his introduction to Aranyak was through a friend in October 1985. 'I was not like the traditional theatre activists. At first view, the regular workers of Aranyak thought that I would not be able to continue theatre. In those days, my get up was like a 'rock n roller' and I liked to watch patha natak staged by the big groups of the country,' Azad adds.

He first appeared on stage as a choir member in the play Nanoker Pala by Abdullah Hel Mahmud, which was produced by Aranyak. Later he played a major character in the same drama. 'I consider jatra pala practiced by the rural artistes as more traditional. I believe that the rural artistes who have been practicing pala or the other art forms in Bangladesh for thousands of years have potential. However, they lack ideas to express it vivdly,' Azad says.

'The elite class and the higher middle class as well have found the European proscenium stage more convenient. There may be two main reasons behind itsuccessful cultural diffusion by the British rulers and the lack of knowledge of the urban people of their original art forms. As a result, western theatre has become a part of our culture like many other countries of the world. Our theatre neither expresses the western theatre properly nor represents our rural art form. We are in fact going through a transitional period. I consider the theatre that we practice here as 'Theatre of Testimony,' Azad adds.

After taking part in the Asia-Pacific performance exchange programme at the University of California in New York with a Miami troupe he has not yet directed any new play in the mainstream theatre. Azad says, 'Our theatre is less diversified. In our country, it is the common problem of most artistes where they try to confine themselves to a single art form. They consider it safe for their craftsmanship. But, I think it is harmful for the creativity of an artiste.

'In Japan, I saw the rich technology-based contemporary theatre. And I am a bit confused right now to find my own approach--what should be the medium of the playverbal or nonverbal? Is any antagonist or protagonist compulsory for a play? Moreover, I cannot fix up anything clearly in the composition of a scene. But, I am hopeful that I will do it fairly soon.'

As a playwright, Azad likes Bertolt Brecht very much. Moreover, he likes William Shakespeare, Sophocles, Jean Paul Sartre, Rabindranath Tagore and Taufiq Al Haqim. In Bangladesh, his favourite playwrights are Mamunur Rashid, Selim Al Deen, Sayed Shamsul Haq, Badruzzaman Alamgir and Abdullah Hel Mahmud.

Azad likes some directorial works of Mamunur Rashid, Nasiruddin Yousuff, Tariq Anam Khan and Jamil Ahmed. Moreover, he is interested in directors like Peter Brook, Euzona Barbara, Rudraprosad Sengupta, Usha Ganguli, Binapali Chawla and Bibhash Mukhopadhyay.

Azad does not want to appear on TV screen. He does sometimes act in TV plays if the offer is attractive. However, he enjoys acting in cinema. He says, ' It is really a tough medium. I have learnt a lot about the medium from Raisul Islam Asad while working with him in the film Lalon. I like my work in the film Phulkumar rather than the other two Lalon and Kittonkhola.'

In theatre, he has won the best director's award for the play A Man for all Seasons. Moreover, BFJA (Bangladesh Film Journalist's Association) has honoured him as a TV actor.

Azad Abul Kalam is now busy writing three scripts for the stage. Moreover, he is working with the children of Scholastica School. He thinks that theatre should be introduced at the school level so that children discover an affinity with this art form.

Azad Abul Kalam (R) with co-actor Fazlur Rahman Babu in a sequence from the stage play Adab