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     Volume 7 Issue 22 | May 30, 2008 |

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Creating a New World on Stage

Elita Karim

From the play 'Bibhajon'.

Imagine what it would be like to walk on stage with no script, an empty set and zero idea about one's own character. For an actor, this should be something of a nightmare, practically trying to survive within a vacuum. However, some theatre groups say that there is nothing more exciting than surviving within those limitations for an hour or two, connecting with the other actors and elements on stage and using one's imagination to create characters. Acting is all about reacting to the elements around you, says one theatre actor based in Rajshahi. Everyone has the power to imagine to the extreme, create a world of one's own and become a part of this structure. Even though it sounds a lot like a mere game played by children, this is probably one of the major instincts that theatre personalities try to build inside them. Once sharp enough, an actor's instincts can lead him or her to experiment with even the emptiness that sometimes shrouds a set.

Theatre is all about becoming the other person or blending in with the set to become a part of it. As Oscar Wilde had put it, theatre is indeed the greatest of all art forms. It is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. "There are a number of students who graduate with very high marks from the Theatre Departments in Dhaka University and Jahangirnagar University," says Sudip Chakraborti, lecturer at the Department of Theatre and Music in Dhaka University, "But not many can actually continue in this field when it comes to choosing a profession. Experiments have to be done and lots of research is needed as well so that we can come up with new ideas and interpretations."

In the last few months Sudip has been experimenting with the mythological characters, folk stories and trying to connect them to the modern thinkers and artists of today. Very recently, Sudip directed the Rabindranath Tagore's famous play 'Roktokorobi' at the Dhaka University Natmandal. Starting from the dialogue delivery, character representation and interpretation and even the music which was included in the play, to a regular theatre actor or the audience who are used to the conventional staging of the play by the famous director Ataur Rahman, it was extremely refreshing. The costumes were bright and contrasts of colours were purposely put in, unlike in the original script, lots of music and traditional dances also brightened up the play and defined the characters better. "Many of my plays turn out to be musicals since I like to include a lot of traditional music and dance in them," says Sudip. "Firstly, I believe that this expresses a character better and secondly, singing and dancing have always been the traditional way of celebrating victory or sharing pain." Most interestingly the set was built in the arena style, players performing in the centre while the audience would sit all around and watch the play from all possible angles.

From the play 'Paital'.

"Even if this does fall under the 'Experimental Theatre' theories of breaking the conventional frame and creating a stronger platform, the arena set is actually a very old form still used at the village theatres, even today."

For the last few months, Sudip has been experimenting with new ideas but it is often an uphill task. It takes time to be accepted explains Sudip, whether it is a new form of music, or style of writing or even practicing theatre. "This is why, it is very difficult for theatre academicians and senior actors to take the risk and start experimenting." Moreover, he says, it is necessary to know the conventional methods and to study theatre as an academic subject, before trying out any experiments.

In many of the mythological plays, Sudip has been working on elements and ideas like the silence of oriental women. "Very recently, one of our seniors, Saidur Lipon directed and presented 'Ramayana'," he says. "We had to do a lot of research and close reading of the characters when we were trying to bring this age-old myth in connection with the modern times. For instance, we spent a lot of time working on Sita's character." While explaining Sita's predicament, it did not sound too different from the girl next door even at this day and age. Several questions had crept up into people's minds when she was kidnapped by Ravan and was kept in captivity for months together. After she was released, her patience was tested time and again by her family, friends and the society. At one point, Sita was even banished to the woods even though she was never at fault. Eventually, she could not bear with all the scandalous looks and the blame game, especially when she was asked to go through the 'Agni Porikha'. She finally asks mother earth to swallow her up and give her the ultimate peace, or in other words, Sita commits suicide. "As a character, Sita is very strong and has several dimensions that we can work in the theatre. We brought in our own interpretations and asked why Sita would have to take this step to prove her purity and loyalty to her husband. It is unfortunate that we still find similar incidents occurring even today in our country."

Along with mythological and social themes, current political issues have crept into his work. When the floors inside Rangs Bhaban had collapsed, rescue workers had missed the body of a particular worker whose dead body was hanging from the top floor. The worker's wife kept pleading with the officials to bring the body down, carrying a baby and hanging around the area day and night, while her 10-year-old son moves from one rooftop to another, trying to grab on to the last bit of hope flickering inside him. He might reach out to his father and save him. However, he gets chased away by people. Sudip and his team worked on this idea and created a heart-wrenching script running for less than 30 minutes. The body, according to the script, finally falls down when an airplane carrying passengers for a holy pilgrimage flies by in the sky and the body starts to flutter like a leaf in the breeze.

"My art is my culture and theatre is a way of life," says Sudip. "If I don't speak out to my fellow people through my theatre, music and other forms of self expressions, cultivating these art forms and studying them as academic subjects will not make much of a difference to me or to my country."


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