Vol. 5 Num 376 Sat. June 18, 2005  

In Conversation
Theatre practice in Bangladesh has not become stagnant-
--Jamaluddin Hossain

Theatre personality Jamaluddin Hossain has been performing on stage since the 1970s. He is a director of stage plays and a TV actor as well. Besides his acting career, he is a successful organiser. General Secretary of Nagorik Natyangan Ensemble, Jamal was the presidium member of the Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation (BGTF) and general secretary of the Betar Television Shilpi Sangsad. The Daily Star recently caught up with Jamal to get his views on various issues.

When asked about the state of theatre today, Jamal shared that he did not subscribe to the view that theatre practice in Bangladesh had become stagnant. He believes that just after the Liberation War, theatre circles immersed themselves in the performing art with passion and enthusiasm. By the '90s, he points out, theatre had gradually developed and attained a certain standard. Since then, however, theatre practice has not accelerated, but it maintains an equal pace. According to Jamal: "I admit that because of some limitations--like lack of venues, financial problems and inexperience--we have failed to make an impact in present times."

There is a silver lining though, which is evident in the numerous young talents in the field. "I am optimistic of a huge leap in theatre in near future," asserts Jamal.

What about theatre practice at the district level after the formation of the BGTF? Jamal concurs that cultural activities at the district level have lessened because of the changed socio-economical reality of Bangladesh. "Unlike earlier times, nowadays theatre practice doesn't place in most of the educational institutions. BGTF was formed to co-ordinate the activities of the member theatrical groups and to provide the technical support to the weaker troupes. BGTF has done that partly. More initiatives can be taken for wider theatre practice," maintains Jamal.

Yet not all is lost, according to Jamal. After the successful introduction of the neo-theatre movement in Bangladesh, theatrical troupes have been staging shows at Mahila Samity Stage since 1973. Because of the expansion of Dhaka City, it is now becoming difficult for the residents of Uttara, Mirpur or Old Dhaka to make it to the Mahila Samity Stage to watch plays. "BGTF should take initiatives for the decentralisation of the Mahila Samity-based theatre practice," Jamal says. "In fact, we had discussions with the Dhaka City Corporation on staging plays at different parts of the city by renovating the community centres and building new halls. But there has been no fruitful follow up yet. BGTF should take the initiative to enhance the activities amongst the member groups at the district level."

In Jamal's opinion, there are several reasons for the divisions in the ranks of the theatre groups but this is not a black or white situation.

"In my view, if someone thinks that s/he can be more creative by leaving the present troupe, it is positive. But, if someone leaves a troupe because of petty jealousy or to become a leader of another troupe, it is not positive," he says.

Jamal then veers around to the subject of the quality of the private satellite channels. An outspoken Jamal holds that because of the commercial approach of the channels their programmes cannot fulfil public expectations. As he says, "They have failed to create cultured citizens. Most times they telecast plays of average standard. Nowadays, nobody waits in keen anticipation to watch a special TV drama--which the audience did in the '80s."

Jamaluddin Hossain