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     Volume 8 Issue 62 | March 20, 2009 |

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Portraying a Visionary

Ershad Kamol

Pundit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar's contribution to encourage women's education and remarriage of widows has been brought under the spotlight in Aranyak Natya Dal's latest production titled Ebong Vidyasagar. Mannan Heera's play features Vidyasagar (1820-1891) as a social reformer in terms of his raising voice against many ills stifling social developments such as the practice of polygyny and oppression of women in the 19th century when women were treated as commodities in conservative Indian society.

Mamunur Rashid as the protagonist in the play.

Through interactions with historical and imaginary characters in Ebong Vidyasagar, the latter's fragmented biography has been presented. In fact, besides his contribution to women empowerment, the legendary Sanskrit pundit is considered to be one of the greatest intellectuals of his age. In his hands, Bangla prose style took a new turn. According to the critics, Vidyasagar inaugurated a new era for Bangla prose literature.

Undoubtedly, it is really difficult to portray the biography of a historical character artistically in a theatre production. Mannan Heera's play Ebong Vidyasagar is no exception. He has basically illustrated some historical facts in the life of the legend such as his initiatives to setup a dozens of schools, several of which were for girls in Hughli, Burdwan, Midnapore and Nadia.

But the problem is that the Vidyasagar character has been developed as a humanist not as a reformist. Because of weak dialogue, diction and poor construction, Vidyasagar has been presented as a noble soul who arranges marriage for the widows and protests the practice of polygyny. But the way the protagonist's character has been developed, it can never be labeled as that of a social reformist. Many scenes appear abruptly and the major drawback of Heera's play is that Vidyasagar seems to be a frustrated man in a conservative society, at least at the end of the play. But Vidyasagar is regarded as the greatest man of the century for his fight against the darkness of the society. After his death many great poets and writers including Rabindranath Tagore wrote obituaries and features applauding his deeds and achievements.

The director of the play Mamunur Rashid has basically focused on characterisation and vocal acting. His directional mastery however, remains in his art of blending comedy into serious scenes, much to the delight of the audience.

The construction of some sequences in Rashid's directorial composition work wonderfully on the stage. For instance, Vidyasagar's interaction with the members of the Young Bengal movement, a group of radical Bangali free thinkers emerging from the Hindu College, is really enjoyable. All of the actors in the scene perform really well. On the other hand, many scenes do not work properly such as when Vidyasagar goes to help legendary poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt in his days of financial crisis.

Most of the actions take place in a small space on the stage (just the right side of the upstage) leaving the rest of the stage empty. This is a flaw in Rashid's directorial composition.

Moreover, there is lack of co-ordination between set, light and actions of the play. Set designer Faiz Zahir has created an artistic set, which symbolically represents 19th century Kolkata. However, the actors do not use the set elements properly, nor does Thandu Raihan's light design support the actions properly. Although the stage is three-dimensional, the depth of the stage has not been created properly, which makes it appears two-dimensional. Moreover, the use of symbolic colour in Raihan's design is monotonous and ineffective.

A marriage seene in the play.

It's really appreciable that Aranyak Natya Dal has given a break to a good number of new actors through this play, many of them have huge potential. In fact, apart from Mamunur Rashid, Mannan Heera, Momena Chowdhury, Aminul Haque and Amanul Haque Helal, the rest of the actors are newcomers. Of the new actors Abu Hashim Masuduzzaman, Sarif Hossain Apple and Sajjad Saju in the role of Young Bengal movement activists performed really well. Seasoned actor Mamunur Rashid, Mannan Heera, Momena and Helal also proved their potential in diversified characters. However, many of the actors gave exaggerated performances.

A scene in which Vidyasagar helps poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt out of a financial crisis.

Ebong Vidyasagar, the 46th production of Aranyak Natya Dal, was premiered on March 10 at the National Theatre Stage.


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