<%-- Page Title--%> Performing Arts <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 113 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 11, 2003

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The Dazzling Damsels

Sadya Afreen Mallick

By evening, teachers and students began to flock at the auditorium on the first floor of the Fazlul Huq Hall. As we passed the massive gardens bursting with flowers ranging from Dahlia, Chrysanthemum and Marigold I held my father's hand only to hurry up before all the seats were booked. An annual function was arranged by the students of Dhaka University residing at the Fazlul Huq Hall.

A girl of six or seven back then, I could feel the enthusiasm and great excitement everywhere. A variety show was something which everybody enjoyed, particularly at a time when there was hardly any entertainment. As always, dance was the main attraction of the show.
Suddenly my eyes fell on a little girl almost my age, right inside the wings beside the stage. Her mother busily giving her hair one last brush and fixing her hair with golden ribbons. She was gorgeously dressed in white brocade frock, coatie and churidaar a typical dress for Kaththak dancers. Her sparkling eyes laden with kajal, she looked just like a princess, I thought to myself. The applause was thunderous every now and then -- clearly the audience was awestricken by her Katthak dance. Little did I know then, that this mesmerising performer was none other than Anjana Shaha, now Anjana Rahman who is a well known film-star of our country. For those who remember her, she was one of the most talented artistes of her genre.
We were among the lucky young ones who had the opportunity to watch the aspiring talents who performed with grace and later became stars in the cultural arena.
I can recollect, at the then Pakistan council located somewhere in Motijheel, a regular programme was held for talented young boys and girls. One evening a Kaththak dancer in her glittery dress and jewellery while whirling in a terrific speed with the swift rhythm of the tabla, her jhumka (earrings) and a few pieces of her jhumur from her anklet bells scattered in all directions. We were overwhelmed by her classical dance performance. Many of you probably remember Kajal Mahmood, now Kajal Ibrahim who commanded deep respect as a dancer though even she retired at an early stage.

Dance as we know developed as an art under the patronage of the kings and emperors at the royal palaces and courts. Given the social backdrop at that time, dancers were often looked down upon by the conservative society.

Against all odds, even in this unfavorable context, some educated elites worked tirelessly to popularise this form of art.
One of the most active proponents of this performing art was Bulbul Chowdhury. In 1938 he set up the dance institute Oriental Fine Arts Association. Within a few years, he earned widespread repute across Dhaka and Calcutta through his exceptional performances. His dance drama on the World War was widely acclaimed. One of his boldest stage performances, “Quit India” was performed in England itself -- a direct strike against colonialism. He passed away in 1954, but his wife Afroza Bulbul, carried on his work through the setting up of Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts(BAFA).
Around 1949, another great dancer Gauhar Jamil began to monopolise the limelight. In the dance ballet, Indrer Shobha he partnered with another stalwart of the dance world -- Raushan Jamil. After they got married in 1952, the couple established Jago Art Center. Since then the institute has played an important role in the development of dance in the region. He introduced such new forms as Jeley Nritto, Gypsy, Cha Bagan, Naga, Shaotali etc. In 1956 after the establishment of Bulbul Academy, aspiring talents flocked to dance institutes such as Nikkon, Jago Art Centre, Altaf Mahmood Music Academy and Chhayanaut.
Over the years, some of the leading performers to grace the stage were Rahiza Khanam, Laila Hasan, G A Mannan, Altamas, Sharmin Hasan, Dalia, Kajol Ibrahim, Lubna Marium, Afroza, Zeenat Barkatulla, Minu Billa, Shamim Ara Nipa, Sharmila Banerjee, Shukla Sharkar, Tamanna, Deepa Khandakar, Shibly Mohammed, Hasan Imam, Mun Mun, Momtaz, Vilayet and others.
Lubna a reputed dancer, has earned the adulation of audiences at home and abroad. She is trained in Bharatnatyam, Monipuri and later on in a fusion dance style which was inspired by Tagore himself. Zeenat Barkatulla specialized on contemporary dances, Sharmila Banerjee a dancer and choreographer is renowned in the field of Monipuri and Rabindra Nrittyo, Minu Billa specialised in Oddisi dances, Shukla Sarkar and renowned Vilayet are for Bharatnattyam and Mun Mun specialised in Kaththak. Shibly Mohammad and Nipa in Kaththak and contemporary dance are the popular most duo. Tamanna took her training in the field of Manipuri dance. These artists are not only popular in their own country, but have earned international acclaim as well.
More recently, we saw the entrance and popularity of such performers as Sadia Islam Mou, Bijori Borkotullah, Tarin, Ria, Ishita, Sohel, and Kabirul Islam to name a few. Many of these artists have since moved to modeling, fashion and drama, and continue to enthrall audiences.
The popularity of dance is borne out by its presence in all forms of media beginning from state functions, Radio, TV to drama, theatre, Jatra and art films. At the heart of its appeal lies the fact that they are a reflection of our past and present society. Famous works such as Nakshi Kathar Matth, Mayar Khela, Chitrangoda, Hajar Tarer Bina, Badal Borishoneye, Mahuya, Rajpoth Janopoth, Nobanno are indicative of this -- playing out the rural life, the perennial oppression of the innocent, the struggle between vices and virtues and so on.
Performing arts have no doubt had a profound and explosive impact on societal thought and ideals. It would be nearly impossible to find an alternative to songs, drama and dance that can similarly convey such a direct and powerful message to inspire social awareness amongst people from all walks of life.


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