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     Volume 8 Issue 54 | January 24, 2009 |

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Remembering Selim Al Deen

Ershad Kamol

Selim Al Deen
Photo: Nasir Ali Mamun

Selim Al Deen, a pioneer of neo-theatre movement in Bangladesh, a theoretician of drama, a scholar, an organiser and a professor of Department of Drama and Dramatics at Jahangirnagar University, began his research to trace the origin of Bangla theatre. By rejecting the colonial mindset he developed his own style of writing plays based on the (thousands of years old) traditional performing art forms. His narratives are lyrical and nature appears spontaneously in his plays. Shakuntala, Kittonkhola, Keramat Mongol, Hat Hadai, Chaka, Joiboti Konnyar Mon, Horgoj, Bonopangshul, Nimojjon and many other plays by Al Deen are remarkable examples of the narrative style he popularised. His play Horgoj has been translated in the Swedish language. Moreover, he presented us a theatre terminology based on traditional indigenous art forms titled Bangla Natyakosh, first of its kind. He compiled it after completing his PhD from Jahangirnagar University on Medieval Bangla Theatre in 1995. Al Deen's plays have been included in the curriculum of University of Dhaka, Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh, Jadavpur University and Rabindra Bharati University in India.

January 14 was the first death anniversary of 'Natycharya' Selim Al Deen.

To celebrate the first death anniversary of Selim Al Deen Bangladesh Gram Theatre and Dhaka Theatre-- Al Deen was a founder member of both of the organisations-- jointly organised a five-day programme titled "Selim Al Deen Swaran Utsab" at the National Theatre Stage of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy inaugurated by Ramendu Majumder, president of International Theatre Institute worldwide committee.

The five-day programme included staging of popular plays -- Nimojjon, Joiboti Konnyar Mon and Prachya-- two seminars, discussion and screening of a documentary titled Shoker Padabali. The programme began with paying tribute at Al Deen's grave on Jahangirnagar University campus on January 14 morning.

The main attraction of the death anniversary programme was the staging of three popular Al Deen's plays presented by Dhaka Theatre. All three deal with contemporary socio-political issues such as imperialism, feminism and social discrimination.

Nasiruddin Yousuff and Professor Afsar Ahmed

Nimojjon presents a chronological look at genocides that have taken place around the world, though it does not follow any conventional structure; neither does it develop any particular storyline. Al Deen's narratives infer that the history of civilisation and genocides are interwoven -- every civilisation has had a history of genocide. And the repetition of these brutal incidents has brought down humans from their position as superior beings. It is a paradox. The play also stresses that unless the structure of a state is not designed for the welfare of humanity, genocides will never end.

Featuring the stories of two women belonging to different ages -- Kalindi (representing the 18th century) and a contemporary jatra artiste Pori -- Al Deen in Joboti Konyar Mon shows how they become victims of a flawed social system. The play belongs to Kathanatya form, a term introduced by Al Deen.

In Prachya, belonging to Panchali form, Al Deen recreated the popular Behula-Lakhindar myth, the most popular representative of medieval Bangla literature. In Prachya, the bride dies from snakebite on the wedding night and the groom Saifar Chan chases the snake so that he can avenge his beloved.

Shimul (R) and Pakhi in a scene from Joiboti Konnyar Mon.

Another attraction of the celebration programme was two seminars titled Sangskritir Shekor Sangskritir Shangram and Ditey Hobey Malgujari where Professor Anu Muhammad and Indian litterateur Debesh Roy presented keynote papers.

Professor Anu Muhammad's keynote paper titled “Sanskritir Shekor, Sanskritir Sangram” was cited references from Al Deen's plays and raised several elemenentary questions regarding culture, which, according to him, were also the focal points of Al Deen's works. According to Professor Anu Mohammad's paper Al Deen took a definite stance; he sided with our people and nature. He appreciated the playwright for portraying spontaneously on contemporary socio-political issues spontaneously in his narratives.

At the following seminar Indian litterateur Debesh Roy presented keynote paper Ditey Hobey Malgujari was his personal evaluation on Selim Al Deen as a playwright of the contemporary Bangla literature. According to Debesh Roy's paper Al Deen, always a trendsetter just introduced a new style, which is an incorporation of all art forms. Should his narratives be called drama? “Since we have not yet created any other suitable terminology, we label his writings as plays,” said-- Debesh Roy. Labelling Al Deen a close associate, Roy also focused on interest in Al Deen's plays amongst the theatre personalities in Kolkata.

A documentary titled Shoker Padabali directed by Shahiduzzaman Selim was screened. The 72-minute documentary is based on a cultural function organised by Bangladesh Gram Theatre just after the death of Al Deen last year where members of Dhaka Theatre presented songs and dialogues from Al Deen's plays. To present the presence of Al Deen in the documentary Shahiduzzaman Selim has used montage of the clippings of Ei Je Ami, another documentary on Al Deen, with the musical function compiled and composed by Shimul Yousuf.

Books on Selim Al Deen and his plays were on display for sale at the programme.

Nasiruddin Yousuff who organised Selim Al Deen's death anniversary celebration programme, along with his colleagues, spent a very busy year arranging events on Al Deen all over the country since his demise last year. “The enthusiastic gathering of masses at these functions on Natyacharya Selim Al Deen proves his popularity, which is a very positive sign," he said.

On future plans, Yousuff said, "We are hoping to stage three more new plays by Al Deen at the same time we are planning to continue his popular plays. We've already got the possession of land to set International Theatre Centre at Shakhipur, Tangail, which was dream of Al Deen. Incorporating the young talents of the country we hope to generate a movement from the centre.”

Similar innovative plans to spread the spirit of Al Deen is also being carried out by one of his colleagues at the Department of Drama and Dramatics of Jahangirnagar. Because of Al Deen's 'stubbornness', theatre was introduced at the graduation level in Jahanginnagar University and subsequently at other public universities in Bangladesh. Al Deen's close associate Professor Afsar Ahmed, who helped Al Deen in many of his endeavours said, “ We established the first full fledged theatre department in Bangladesh at Jahangirnagar University under the guidance of Selim Al Deen. We worked together for three decades. He was a wonderful teacher, theoretician, researcher and scholar. We've lost a guardian. But, I believe, our department would be able to establish his theories.”

“We have plans to arrange a theatre festival where the students of the Department of Drama and Dramatics and other popular troupes will stage plays by Al Deen. Moreover, our department will arrange outreach programmes to polularise his theories.”

Professor Afsar Ahmed, who completed his PhD on performing art forms of the ethnic minorities said, “It's Selim Al Deen who encouraged me to do the thesis and introduced a new terminology 'neo-Ethnic Theatre', which is a part of our curriculum. We are jointly working together to develop his theories at the same time to finish his incomplete works.”

Professor Afsar Ahmed believes that if the university campus remains stable and the department gets patronage from the government, Drama and Dramatics Department of Jahangirnagar University would be able to project Al Deen's creativities properly in the academic field.

Strangely, Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation(BGTF) failed to organise an elaborate programme on Selim Al Deen, who had remarkable contribution in forming a common platform for theatre troupes of Bangladesh. After his death the federation leaders announced a colourful programme. But, because of its weak leadership, BGTF arranged a lack-lustre discussion programme on his death anniversary. The only saving grace was Fahmida Nabi's rendition of two songs written and composed by Selim Al Deen. Those who listened to the songs realised the mastery of Al Deen as a lyricist and composer. One of Nabi's forthcoming albums will feature 10 songs written and composed by Al Deen.

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