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     Volume 4 Issue 14 | September 24, 2004 |

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Performing Arts In Need of a Rainmaker

Sadya Afreen Mallick

A fund-raising programme of Chhayanaut in the '70s

It was one of those Friday afternoons, and I was in my study, trying to jot down a few points for my next article on Dhaka's cultural scene. Half an hour later, when I still hadn't come up with anything substantial, I decided that a walk in my garden was the best medicine.

But even here I was disappointed. The potted plants looked pale and lifeless. The black velvet rose and chrysanthemums limped helplessly. Our gardener was away and in the short period, the garden had lost its sparkle. And then I realised why I wasn't able to come up with a theme for my article.

I drifted back to the 1970s. Chhayanaut had arranged a five-day fund raising programme at the Engineer's Institute for its new school project. Tagore, Nazrul, patriotic songs, songs of yesteryears and finally classical recitals were presented successively, amidst rapturous applause. Guest artistes including Laila Arjumand Banu, Ferdousi Rahman, Ojit Roy, Abdul Ahad, Mustafa Zaman Abbasi and others participated in Chhayanaut's endeavour for revival of our traditional Bangla songs. The five day cultural feast was a roaring success. Even the tickets designed by the famed Rashid Chowdhury was a piece to be treasured.

Two decades later, building a school bhaban is still a dream. With the construction cost estimated at Tk 5 crore, Chhayanaut definitely need government support and approval. And with the delay, the loss for the school is mounting on a daily basis. The funds so far have been raised through cultural programmes and contributions by well wishers at home and abroad. The Daily Star and Prothom Alo for example helped Chhayanaut by publishing an appeal.

Recently, the Chhayanaut officials had urged the authorities to approve the new design for the Chhayanaut Bhaban. Located at Dhanmondi, it has plans to build an auditorium, classrooms, and audio-visual equipment. The construction work started after the Rajuk approved the original plans in May 13, 2002. On October 31 2002 another revised design was submitted with the Rajuk officials, but the design is yet to be approved.

Around the capital, most institutions which groom and nurture musical talents are beset with countless problems. Take for instance BAFA, Nazrul Academy, Jago Art Centre or other old establishments.

In 1955 the great dancer Bulbul Chowdhury established the Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts. Initially there was a dearth of teachers as well as students, but very soon they flocked to the institution. It was for the first time that different departments in Tagore songs, Nazrul, dance and classical music began under the same roof. Soon, aspiring artistes started to go to dance institutes such as Nikkon, Jago Arts Centre, Altaf Mahmood Music Academy and Chhayanaut.

Despite the problems with funding, lack of space and so on, these institutions steadily promoted fresh talent. This is why we had a glorious era of performing arts and history as recently as 40 years ago.

Without the right support, many of these institutions have been forced to splinter into smaller institutions. "Schools" have cropped up in apartments and garage-tops. Needless to say, the future of performing arts is not set for a grand revival. One only has to turn on BTV or the radio (if anyone still uses it), and the results are clear. Some critics have jokingly commented that much has improved at BTV-- the potted plants on the stage are now painted, and fresh portraits of Nazrul and Tagore are hung in the backdrop.

On the other hand, the private channels seem to be faring much better in producing quality features. Sadly, the private channels can only nurture and showcase talent to a certain point. What we need is a national framework, or a dedicated, well-funded institution that will attract and revive interest in our true traditional arts.

And it is not difficult to see that the audiences have not turned away. At the recent drama festival in the newly constructed Experimental Theatre at Shilpakala Academy there was a mile-long queue every day of the festival.

In a rapidly globalised and standardised world, culture is becoming increasingly important as a symbol of identity. Neighbouring as well as Western countries alike have rightly recognised this and have wasted no effort in building and nourishing their indigenous culture.

Without care and attention, the cultural scenario a few years from now could look no different than my garden. Dry, listless and desperately looking towards the heaven for a spot of the summer rain.


Lack of space has been a major problem for BAFA, which still does not own its own building


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