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     Volume 8 Issue 91 | October 23, 2009 |

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Creating New Hope for Theatre

Ershad Kamol

Going to the theatre has traditionally centred around Mahila Samity Stage and Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. In the city of impossible traffic jams it is quite impossible for many people living in distant areas to watch theatre performances at these popular theatre venues. As a result people living in many areas such as Uttara, Mirpur, Mohammadpur and Old town do not usually come to theatre these days. They miss contemporary theatre performances, on the other hand theatre practitioners miss out on entertaining a large number of potential theatregoers.

To include a more diverse audience, theatre leaders have been advocating the setting up of more theatres all across the city. After a long wait, at last the Mayor of Dhaka City Corporation Sadeq Hossain Khoka has started this endeavour with a new auditorium.

Popular theatre groups are participating in the festival.

Under his initiative DCC inaugurated the Zahir Raihan Shanskritik Kendra spending 7.2 crore taka at Loharpul, Sutrapur last year through a theatre festival jointly organised by Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation and DCC.

While staging theatre performances at that festival however, theatre practitioners found a few technical problems in the newly built theatre hall. During that festival theatre leaders requested the Mayor to do the necessary renovations at the new venue.

"This time also the Mayor listened to our proposal attentively and initiated the renovation works according to our demands,' says theatre personality M Hamid, who was the convenor of the technical committee formed for the renovation works, "We demanded better acoustics, standard light and sound system, a central air conditioning system, generator facilities and other required renovation works inside the hall. We are thankful to the DCC for completing all the required renovations. Now it is a standard theatre hall equipped with modern technical facilities."

To popularise the theatre venue DCC and Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation has organised Dhaka Natyautshob 2009 for the entertainment of thousands of people living in the old part of the city, who virtually have no source for recreation.

Most popular and current theatre productions of the selected 16 troupes of the city have been invited for this festival, inaugurated on October 15. Theatre performances included in the festival are Ebong Bidyasagar, Kanjush, Shikhondikatha, Shonai Madhob, Rupabati, Bou Basanti, Court Martial, Bhaddornok, Kanthal Bagan, Loko Nayak, Jalodas, Dhaboman, Circus Circus, Dalim Kumar, Meraj Fakirer Maa and Judhya O Judhya.

Most of these plays are original works, while a few are adapted from traditional ballad and popular foreign plays. The selection of the plays deserve plaudits in this sense that most of the theatre performances to be staged are quality theatre performances to attract new viewers.

Each day many people from different classes of Old Dhaka have been coming to watch the performances, something they have probably not done in years; for many it is the first time they have gone to theatre to watch a play. Even children are enjoying theatre, taking a break from the satellite channels.

"I used to go to Engineers' Institute to watch theatre performances in the early 1970s with my family" says Noor Banu, a 70-year woman, who came to the festival with family members and friends. "However, for decades I cannot watch any theatre since it is not possible for me to go to Mahila Samity or Shilpakala to watch theatre, spending hours in traffic jam. This ongoing festival has created an opportunity for us to watch theatre performances.”

Sultan, a fruit trader ? at Sadarghat and his friend had come to watch theatre at Zahir Raihan Shanskritik Kendra for the first time. "I never knew how exciting a theatre performance is!" he exclaims, "I'm amazed by the performance and will come to watch theatre performance if it continues here."

Theatre practitioners are also very satisfied at the spontaneous response of the viewers. Chandan Reza, a theatre activist, who is also the programme secretary of Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation says, "I come each day to ensure that the festival is running smoothly. To me, the audience is very enthusiastic and responds spontaneously, which is very rare at Mahila Samity or Shilpakala. Their enthusiastic presence is also an encouragement for the young theatre actors."

Scenes from performances at the drama festival in the new auditorium at Old Dhaka.

The Zahir Raihan Sanskritik Kendra is certainly a welcome move by DCC. Capitalising on the opportunity, Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation is also planning to stage shows regularly at this venue. "The centre has created a huge opportunity for theatre practitioners to create new audience who don't go to watch theatre at the centre of the city" says Liaqat Ali Lucky, chairman of the Federation." People even from Keraniganj come here crossing the Buriganga River. It indicates they love watching theatre. Now it's our duty to popularise it. We are taking initiatives to stage shows regularly at this venue."

The chairman also informed that the federation has shown interest to form a committee including the officials of DCC to ensure staging of quality theatre productions all the year round. The Mayor has accepted the proposal.

"We will form a committee including the representatives of Shammilito Shanskritik Jote, Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation and DCC for the rental of this venue", says Mayor Sadeq Hossain Khoka, " Zahir Raihan Sanskrtik Kendra would exclusively be used for theatre, dance and music performances. We don't expect to make profit from the cultural centre."

The Mayor tells The Star, “It is the duty of the city corporation to ensure opportunities and venues for recreation. We planned to construct the cultural centre at Loharpool around three years ago. The Tk 7.2 crore project has been solely financed by DCC. I personally talked to the leaders of Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation to share ideas during its construction. I believe the centre will be able to satisfy the needs of the cultural groups.”

Besides the auditorium facility the newly built cultural centre also provides a dance and music training centre, a health centre and a library. "In fact, the centre should play an important role to motivate the local cultural practices, which I believe will decrease many unsocial activities such as drugs abuse. We hope to establish more centres like this," the mayor adds.

The new venue promises to attract theatre goers from the older part of Dhaka.

The mayor however admitted that there were limitations, a major one being that according to government rules the DCC cannot appoint any resources for the maintenance of the centre. He informs that DCC has already requested the Ministry of LGRD and Cooperatives for the recruitment. "The ministry has forwarded the application to the Ministry of Finance and Establishment to create new posts. For the proper maintenance of the centre there is no alternative but appointing resources," the mayor says.

DCC, in particular the mayor, have done a great job, creating a scope to boost theatre activities in Old Dhaka. It is expected that DCC will create more such centres in different areas of the city like Mirpur, Dhanmondi, Uttara and Rampura to decentralise the current Ramna area based theatre activities. It will also enable theatre troupes to stage their productions at different venues, which should help the troupes to earn more revenue. Such initiatives may encourage other mayors to set up more cultural venues at other city corporation areas.



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