Aneek’s annual Ganga Jamuna Natya Utsab has become the best platform to view a range of Bangladeshi theatre. This year, most of the seven productions interpreted landmarks from various literatures. The fact that lesser-known troupes presented these generally well – I saw four from Dhaka – demonstrated the depth of the art in our neighbouring land.
Arshinagar staged a moving and jaw-dropping dramatization of Abhijit Sen’s novel Rahu Chandāler Hār, written in the 1970s covering 150 years in the history of the Bajikar community in India since the mid-19th century. Sen showed five generations enduring vilification and oppression as they migrate eastwards, mixing with Banjaras and Santals, fighting the British, but never accepted in the mainstream. Unusually, director Reza Arif had Sen’s descriptions and dialogues delivered verbatim, only editing and not rewriting. Most impressively, his large team performed the Bajikars’ dangerous stunts and acrobatics both skilfully and smilingly, while slipping in and out of various characters easily to relate their inspiring story of resilience against all odds.
The opening tableau of Empty Space’s A New Testament of Romeo and Juliet pleasantly surprised: a cemetery lit by pale moonlight with marble-white sculptures of the dead, including the immortal pair locked in a kiss. One by one they unfroze and came to life as the short script unfolded, interrogated by a modern poet sceptical about R-J’s perfect passion. Rather unfairly, he accuses Romeo of not telling Juliet about his crush on Rosaline, igniting a graveside lovers’ tiff, and then “Father Friar” (sic) of manipulating things to save his skin, and finally Shakespeare himself of complicity. We may argue that playwright Saymon Zakaria did not study the tragedy closely enough. But Noor Zaman Raja certainly directed arresting visuals, albeit torturing two actors to play statue throughout, a test that failed as they developed pins and needles.
Swapnadal’s Tringsha Shatābdi found Jahid Ripon directing Badal Sircar’s anti-atom/hydrogen-bomb classic in Sircar’s own stripped-down Third Theatre style, updating the text to include the nuclear threat over South Asia. Some of the eyewitnesses shout too much, but the impact lasts.
However, Samay’s Bhāger Mānush, based by Mannan Hira on Manto’s Tobā Tek Singh and directed by the formidable Aly Zaker, left no effect, portraying Partition’s insanity literally through inmates of a madhouse preparing for an exchange of Hindu and Muslim lunatics. Their representations of craziness seem juvenile.
(From The Times of India, 6 March 2020)