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    Volume 9 Issue 17| April 23, 2010|

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Rediscovering theatre in new reality

Ershad Kamol

Despite the fact that theatre practitioners throughout the world have been experimenting with new forms, there is little scope for exchanging views. Creating such a scope at a theatre festival is always an added advantage for theatre practitioners and lovers thirsting for something new.

Kudos to the Bangladesh Centre of International Theatre Institute for initiating such an endeavour. Twenty-three foreign delegates exchanged views with local experts on contemporary theatre. The main attraction of the festival was the presentation of an array of various performing art forms including traditional jatrapala, dance-drama and high-tech experimental theatre productions. It is not the first time that such an initiative has been taken by the organisation. Since 1991, Bangladesh Centre of ITI has been regularly organising biennale theatre festivals where local and foreign experts regularly participate.

Because of such festivals, theatre leaders in Bangladesh have successfully introduced our rich theatre to the foreign experts. Foreign delegates and theatre practitioners get to experience interesting subjects that are currently featured in Bangladeshi theatre, namely, fundamentalism, discrimination, gender inequality, the inherent psychology of human beings, negative impact of globalisation, and much more. Foreign experts appreciate this trend, terming it as “humane theatre."

The 10th arrangement of the biennale titled 'rediscovering theatre through contemporary outlook', a week-long international seminar, theatre festival, workshops and exhibition, began at the National Theatre Stage of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on April 15. The Bangladesh Centre of ITI in association with Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation, has organised the festival featuring 20 theatre productions from home and abroad.

Almost all the performances staged by the local troupes are experimental, dealing with diverse subjects and forms. The Centre for Asian Theatre and Prachyanat staged high-tech experimental productions titled The Communicator and Raja Ebong Ananya respectively featuring the ongoing imperialism in the name of globalisation.

Centre for Asian Theatre's production The Communicator.


The Communicator has no uniform storyline: a rock star in the play communicates with the audience what Ibsen, the father of modern drama, would have written in the era of globalisation, after witnessing the genocides and fall of humanity. The director, Kamaluddin Nilu, has successfully created surrealism, realism, amongst other elements in his plays, and has also been successful in interacting with the audience. Director Azad Abul Kalam, in his satirical composition, presented an illustration of Tagore's masterpiece Raja, bringing into the scene the effects of globalisation through a multimedia based theatre performance.

Apart from such high-tech productions, a good number of local troupes staged indigenous performing art forms based experimental productions such as Dhaboman by Dhaka Theatre, Paicho Chorar Kissa by Dhaka Padatik, Gazi Kalu Champaboti by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Prakrito Puranguna by Desh Natok, Aroj Choritamrito by Natya Kendra, Mrittikakumari by Palakar and Prachya by Department of Drama and Dramatics of Jahangirnagar University.

Moreover, popular troupes such as Nagorik Natyasampradaya, Aranyak Natya Dal and Theatre staged their ongoing productions Chhayanat, Ebong Bidyasagar and Meraj Fakirer Maa respectively.

Samay Shanskritik Goshthi and Shubachan Natya Sangsad staged their latest productions Shesh Shanglap and Sharobhuj respectively. Chittagong based Tirjak Natya Dal was the only troupe participating from outside Dhaka, which staged Tagore's Bisarjan. Students of the Department of Theatre and Music of Dhaka University staged the Bangla translation of John Millington Synge's play Riders to the Sea.

Two foreign theatre troupes also participated in the festival. The Singaporean troupe called the Chinese Opera Institute had a world premiere of their production, Painted Skin in the festival. The performance based on a spectacular acrobatic performance by the troupe was amazing, though language was a big challenge for the audience. Usually, such performances are based on movements and body language; however, the Singaporean troupe gave equal importance to dialogue, which made it difficult for the foreign viewers to understand. Moreover, the troupe from Kolakata, Monirath Group Theatre staged Roddurer Oli Goli.

"Since a workshop on Chinese Opera conducted by Dr Chua Soo Pong was included in the festival and the Singaporean troupe showed interest to participate at the festival, we invited it," says Ramendu Majumdar. "And the Goethe Insititute Dhaka requested us to include the Kolkata based troupe in the festival."

In addition, Nrityadhara staged dance recitals featuring cultural diversity in the country and another troupe Nrityanandan staged a dance drama titled Sumadra Swapno based on Ibsen's play The Lady from the Sea. The Jatra queen, Jyotsna Biswas' troupe Charanik Jatra Samaj staged a traditional jatra pala titled Mahiyashi Kaikayee at the festival.

Another major attraction at the festival was a seminar where experts exchanged views on contemporary theatre. Professor Syed Jamil Ahmed's insightful keynote paper titled "When the symbolic construction of a community generates exclusion," led to a huge debate in the seminar room.

Analysing the theatre trends practiced between 1850 and 2010, Jamil Ahmed in his keynote paper discusses how extreme expression of nationalism, developed during the colonial period, creating hegemony had excluded other ethnic minority groups from the national theatre of Bangladesh after independence in 1971. According to Ahmed, before independence, Bangla, Urdu and English plays were staged simultaneously in the country, however, now we practice only Bengali plays. Ahmed further adds that the very concept of nationalism was introduced during the colonial period.

Many theatre experts disagreed with his view in the seminar. But the question arises how are the ethnic minorities presented when we talk about the national theatre of Bangladesh? It is true that a few troupes have been presenting theatre performances featuring oppression on the ethnic minority groups. But, these plays are written and directed by Bengalis and acted by the Bengali actors. Even the languages used in such plays are Bangla or a distorted form of language. Then where is the presence of the ethnic minority groups?

1. Students of Jahangirnagar University staged SELIM Al Deen's narrative Prachya. 2. Singaporean troupe called the Chinese Opera Institute had a world premiere of their production, Painted Skin in the festival. 3. A scene from Dhaka Theatre's latest production Dhaboman.

Another keynote paper titled "Theatre now: Reality Synthesised" was presented by Professor Abdus Selim. His keynote paper can be labelled as the illustration of TS Eliot's wonderful essay titled Tradition and Individual Talent. Focusing on major transitions of the western theatre history-- Egyptian period, Greek period and Elizabethan period-- he analysed the contemporary theatre trend in Bangladesh. In his paper he points out that when contemporary plays address the new realities accordingly, they become universal. And such universal plays have relevance in every period. But instead of analysing conventional western theatre history, he could have focused on theatre transitions occurring in the sub-continent for over thousands of years, since his aim was to analyse contemporary Bangladeshi theatre.

An exhibition featuring posters and souvenirs of Bangladeshi theatre collected by Babul Biswas was also a part of the festival being held in the lobby of the National Theatre Stage.

The festival was meaningful to the foreign delegates and it offered a good collection of contemporary theatre performances staged by the leading troupes. But, for the local viewers the festival could not attract much of an audience, since most of the plays are frequently staged. The festival could have included more quality and traditional performing art forms and troupes form outside Dhaka to make the festival more attractive.

Ataur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Centre of ITI, says, "The quality productions can always attract viewers. In fact, we could be more selective and organised. We could also focus on including more traditional art forms and troupes from outside Dhaka. Due to some shortcomings, we failed to create a hive. Moreover, we should have decentralised the festival. At least, the Session of the Worldwide Executive Council could be organised in Chittagong."

1. Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy staged popular myth of
Gazi Kalu Champaboti. 2. Desh Natok staged Prakrito Puranguna.

ITI Worldwide President Ramendu Majumdar admits that more new productions could be included to attract more viewers in the festival. However, he claimed this year's arrangement was even better. "We have included workshops on Chinese Theatre and African Theatre conducted by the foreign experts so that the younger generation can be benefited. In future we will try to incorporate more traditional troupes and invite urban troupes to participate with new productions targeting the festival,” he says.

Ramendu Majumdar adds that the Bangladesh Centre of ITI is considered as one of the most active centres of ITI, which is why Bangladesh is now the President of ITI. He further claimed that the festival created an opportunity for the foreign delegates to watch the colourful Pahela Baishakh celebration of the Bangalis.

The ITI leaders in Bangladesh are planning to organise a world congress in future, so that it can draw more foreign attention. In this connection, the theatre leaders expect support from the government.

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