of Ionesco enjoys a staging in Dhaka
The Rhinoceros, the absurdist drama of Eugene Ionesco, the French-Romanian
playwright, we are introduced to a quirky kind of metamorphosis.
Men and women mutate into rhinos. The process starts with a
scampering rhino smashing market stalls on the
city street and ends with everyone turning into this pachydermous
creature except the protagonist.
drama adapted in Bangla, is something that feels exceedingly
inappropriate at the first reflection, as the Bangali psyche
seems unfamiliar with the extremes of imaginary tableau, on
which the drama thrives. Whatever irrational tales abound our
folklore, the educated middle class has long been living in
an abstracted comfort of urban modernism that considers the
imagination in all its quirky shades unreliable. Therefore,
modern men who are in denial of irrational aspects of life find
themselves out of key with extraordinary thoughts.
It is the
modern-day wholesale conformity in any given society that Ionesco
addresses in his drama. In this respect its appeal is as Western
as it is universal.
brings The Rhinoceros to the Dhaka's Mohila Shomity Moncho.
In their version the Eugenian absurdity meets the tensed, gesticulating
presentation of Dhaka stage. The taut storyline ends up having
loops and knots. The wit that seems to have been the driving
force of the main drama remains a mainstay in the adaptation.
at the Mohila Shomity Moncho on the evening of 13 September,
was packed with 70's TV drama's retro-style cityscape built
with rectangular windows cut into four or five layers of thick
canvases. They were stretched out one after another receding
to the back, filling out the stage both horizontally and vertically.
This heavyweight backdrop in front of which every act takes
place created a semblance of a narrow alley.
scene starts with the shop owners trying to entice the wandering
customers. The Europian ambiance remains a high point in the
drama's design at this stage. The protagonist sits at a stall
with his friend and the others look here and there in groups
and they take turns in making their voices heard. It is a marvelous
ploy to have presented the whole scene where everybody is talking
to everybody else but the voices that the spectators hear are
the ones that the director wants them to hear. While one group
talks, the others just keep up their acts through mime. The
comic effect that this produces seems perfectly at home with
the even more comical outcome that awaited these humans. Turning
into rhinos certainly is as comical as it is tragic.
version, though expressionistic in nature, seems to want to
blend the comic with the tragic.
of Gondar, Rhinoceros, was preceded by one and a half months'
hard work by the crew and their chieftain, Kazi Towfikul Islam
Emon. Emon, the director, reveals how it resulted out of the
drama courses that the Prachyanat school of Drama and Design
are conducting. The school is running its fifth batch of students
this year. With a course duration of six months, the school
has produced a number of graduates. Many students joined the
group after completing the course. Upon completion each group
of students stage a play chosen by the school. The Rhinoceros
was staged by the students of the second batch. Although most
of cast belonged to that batch, there are few from other batches
scene from first act.
of 14 participants 12 of them are new recruits, they joined
Prachynat right after they completed their course in drama,”
says Emon, who has been a founder member
of the group.
to have Eugene's play in the Dhaka's moncho (stage) is one thing
they did not want to miss. Therefore, the play premiered with
its new newer members cast in the roles and hopefully it will
see its regular staging in Dhaka.
At the drama's
premiere, the varied crowd was pleased to get the taste of a
different beat of absurdity, a kind that avoids morbidity and
banks on wit. Still, with a cast that is fairly new to the craft
of dramaturgy, the Bangla version of The Rhinoceros seemed a
wee bit on the dramatic side. The mannered acting by some cast
members made the sequences of the last few acts look forced
and fervid. For an absurdist, witty drama like this the frenzied
movements of the actors, overtly expressionistic stances and
the delirious, flittering of lights seemed only to have meddled
with the real scenario in which every action unfolds its surprises
in an intelligent fashion. Perhaps the lure to make the sequences
of Rhino sightings dramatic played a role here. The rhinos are
not seen on stage, as such the reaction of the cast and their
expression were used as the index of surprise, awe, excitement
let us know that the exaggerated gestures are a ploy to avoid
monotony. They are to offset the absence of the real action,
most of which takes place off stage. The spectators are left
with what verbal reaction and physical action of the cast tell
Intellectual, played by Abid Hossain (left) and Baringer, played
by Monirul Islam in a scene.
for the adaptation, the main Bangla script went through a thorough
mutation. “We came across the script by Zahurul Haque in a Bangla
Academy journal, and it was an adaptation where even the names
of the cast were changed to fit it to an indigenous setting,”
stresses Emon. The Prachyanat simply resorted to the original
script and renounced the adaptation into a translation. “A lot
of correcting took place as far as the dialogue is concerned,
as there were arcane Bangla expressions in the adapted one that
are never in use in verbal expression,” contends Emon.
it was written in the context of the rise of Nazism, Rhinoceros
is a play that harps on the theme of lack of resilience on the
part of the masses to remain pluralistic. Plurality was a subject
that the modernist playwrights of the last century glorified,
they did not have the chance to witness the degeneration of
democracies around the world into media manipulated conformist
societies. But, the question that the play raises is of relevance
to this day because of this very reason.
protagonist Baringer, who witnesses his intellectually inclined
friend, his paramour, his boss and colleagues turn into rhinos,
finds it very hard to keep up his resistance against becoming
a rhino himself. Barinjer is shattered emotionally, if not physically,
while trying to find the rationale of being alone in his effort.
He almost finds himself out of his wit and common sense, yet
he sticks to his decision to remain a human unlike the whole
population of his hometown.
is played by Monirul Islam Rubel. In most acts he played it
in a much more resigned fashion than Md. Abid Hossain, who played
the role of his friend Jean. Daisy, the girlfriend of Baringer
played by Mehely Rose, seemed natural in her countenance. One
who stole the show was the intellectual played by Hira Chowdhury.
Enamul Haq too had astutely played the old man, the admirer
of the intellectual. These two new recruits of Prachynat seemed
to have given the drama a breath of fresh air, although it was
only in the first act that these two appeared.
Ionesco, and by Prachyanat are based on the same premise; the
only difference is in expression. Physical action and manipulation
of lights superseded the comically textured grim reality of
strange metamorphosis. The respite was provided by the music.
Composed by the young, yet the most seasoned, Rahul Anand, the
staccato beats layered with long growls of instruments made
out of bamboos struck an affinity with strangeness of the goings
on in the stage.