Vol. 5 Num 109 Sat. September 11, 2004  

Dhaka Pantomime
A troup introducing new trends

The cliché 'Action speaks louder than words' is most effectively illustrated in mime, a creative dramatic expression usually without words. And pantomime is the art of creating the illusion of reality by dealing with imaginary objects or situations. The terms mime and pantomime are, however, often used interchangeably.

Though the art of mime and pantomime have had a rich tradition in Bangladesh, this performing art was previously not recognised as an independent art form.

In the post-Liberation period, mime obtained familiarity as a totally different and independent medium in Bangladesh. However, it lacked both the involvement of serious actors and audience appreciation. To popularise the art of mime and pantomime in Bangladesh, in 1989 pioneering efforts were made by the first mime group of Bangladesh, Dhaka Pantomime.

An initiative of Zillur Rahman John, Dhaka Pantomime started its journey with seven members. To quote John, 'We had no institutional training--we were just dependent on our innate talent.'

Dhaka Pantomime first performed at the German Cultural Centre in 1989. 'This was the first team work on mime in Bangladesh,' says John. 'After this successful production, we spread out all over the country,' he adds.

For the first two years, Dhaka Pantomime followed the traditional form of mime which was introduced by Jogesh Dutta, a mime artiste and director of India. Later, the group realised that this was not the actual form. 'Then we came out from the typed form, the typical costume and make-up. In formalising this new trend, we were inspired by a German mime troupe led by Milan Slagek, who performed in Dhaka at that time. After seeing their show, our previous works seemed to us non-artistic. We assimilated the new style which we thought rational and international,' says John.

In 1991, Dhaka Pantomime and Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy jointly arranged the first festival, the only one till date, on mime and pantomime in Bangladesh. They invited two renowned troupes of India to the festival. Besides the performance, an exhibition and seminar on mime were also organised.

Dhaka Pantomime performed on the themes of Man and Nature, Civilisation, Language Movement, Drug addiction, Love and Freedom in that festival. John says, 'Later we tried to arrange several such festivals but failed due to governmental regulations.'

The first tour abroad for Dhaka Pantomime was to Kolkata, India, in 1992. The tour was organised by Mouna Mukhar, a mime troupe of India. John says, 'It was a highly successful tour. And the audience of Kolkata was highly appreciative of our performance.

' Later Dhaka Pantomime travelled to India many times. In India, they were honoured by the mime troupes like the Jogesh Mime Academy and the Mimic.

They have also performed in Japan (1996), Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998) and Australia (2004). The greatest recognition that Dhaka Pantomime has received to date is the Best Group Performance Award in International Festival of Non-verbal Arts (IFNA), in 1993 in India. The title of their performance was Steps Toward Freedom of Bangladesh. 'This award inspired us a lot to move forward,' says John.

Dhaka Pantomime is going to India next October. 'This time around, we are planning to do something new' says John.

Dhaka Pantomime established a children's troupe in 1999. The notable performances by the children of this group are Hiroshima, Life of Gautam Buddha and Children's Struggle. This November they are going to Delhi to participate in the International Theatre Festival.

Dhaka Pantomime has broadened the horizons of mime and pantomime in Bangladesh despite innumerable obstacles. Thanks to the creative efforts of the group, these art forms are likely to flourish and gain popularity with the younger generation.

Transformation of pantomime: an early performance of Dhaka Pantomime with typical make-up and costume