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     Volume 8 Issue 82 | August 14, 2009 |

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The Art of Clowning Around

Ershad Kamol

Many theatre directors these days are experimenting with traditional theatre forms. Syed Jamil Ahmed is undoubtedly one of the pioneers in this urban theatre trend, and has been doing experimentation on traditional pala forms for decades. Recently the seasoned director presented a sophisticated theatre performance titled Shong Bhong Chong based on traditional Shongjatra.

Ahmed's approach to Shongjatra will be considered one of the few exceptions in this trend in terms of its application of an indigenous performing art form in context of contemporary urban theatre and his sense of proportion in art. Usually, most contemporary directors dealing with indigenous performing art forms over experiment with so many elements, which sometimes becomes a burden for the audience. Sometimes the result is that the traditional forms are not presented authentically onstage, which is not surprising as it is not possible to represent any traditional form as it is in an urban theatre.

Addressing the genesis of Shong Bhong Chong, however, Syed Jamil Ahmed has honestly mentioned the nature of his experimentation with the traditional Shongjatra from the point of view of a contemporary urban theatre director and his technique of incorporating other theatre elements such as Chinese traditional style of make-up and western Comedia-Del-Arte style.

However, Ahmed has in no way distorted the authenticity of style of the traditional Shongjatra, rather the incorporation of these foreign elements during the experimentation have added a new dimension to traditional art form to be presented in a theatre hall for an urban audiance.

There is logic behind fusing such elements since the traditional Shong artistes paint their face during the performance. Ahmed has just made it more polished using the style of Chinese theatre make-up. Again both Shongjatra and Commedia Del Arte deliver the message through laughter and humour.

As done by the traditional Shongjatra artistes to attract the audience in a night-long show in rural areas, the students of the Department of Theatre and Music of Dhaka University presented amusical number with dhol and kortal for prior to the start of Shong Bhong Chong. The instrumental was followed by the presentation of a series of stories by the shongs (roughly can be translated as clowns). Like the traditional artistes, the students of the department have also satirised the anomalies of contemporary society through jeering and apparently meaningless dialogues, which had the potential to take the audience into the embedded sorrow and depth of the stories.

Students of Department of Theatre and Music of Dhaka University perform in traditional Shongjatra based theatre performance titled Shong Bhong Chong.

The drawbacks of student politics, the current trend of 'crossfire', corruption by the press, rise of fundamentalism and its international connections, hurdles of getting justice, teacher politics at public universities, deterioration of the standard of national politics and many debated current issues have been addressed through skillful gestures and movements. The performance maybe labeled as 'exaggeration', but not at all irritating, rather entertaining. In fact, a group of potential actors' ability of incorporating the required sentiment, power of enacting the diverse characters and their synchronised movements enthralled the audience.

Besides dialogue and movements, social disorders have been addressed through parodies, as done by the rural artistes in traditional Shongjatra performances.

However, sometimes the performance appeared repetitive like the traditional Shongjatra, which the rural artistes perform through improvisations. Since the production was performed keeping the demand of the urban theatre in mind, the director could have avoided the repetition and could have concentrated on selected topics instead of focusing on so many anomalies.

Shong Bhong Chong was presented as part of the academic discipline of 'traditional theatre based production' of the department of Theatre and Music. After a residential workshop conducted by a traditional Shongjatra troupe named Kalihati Shong Dal of Tangail district, the students of the department developed the theatre production through improvisation under the guidance and direction of Syed Jamil Ahmed.

Shong Bhong Chong was staged during the first week of August at the Natmondal, Dhaka University.



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