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Bangladeshi theatre battles fundamentalism

Last updated on: January 09, 2006 14:03 IST
The theatre movement in Bangladesh is at a critical juncture. With the claws of fundamentalism spreading fast, many of the theatre groups in the country are leading a determined fight to help people retain their secular backgrounds.

"Every day, every minute we are confronting the fundamentalists in our country," says Kamaluddin Nilu, one of the leading directors of Bangladesh who has directed more than 35 plays, under different productions.

Being an Islamic country, Bangladesh has maintained a secular identity in the past. But the situation is changing as Nilu says. "The most important concern of the Bangladeshi theatre is the concept of religion. It is dominating everywhere. They try to oppress people  even psychologically."

"We never had a riot as you have witnessed in Gujarat or Bombay. But it is happening everyday, every moment in a hidden way in Bangladesh, he says.

Nilu is trying to drive the same point through his latest play 'Sonaibibir Pala', a narrative using music, song and dance combining devices of modern and folk theatrical movements of Bengal.

Drawing on a traditional ballad 'Beernarayaner Pala', is about a Hindu boy and Muslim girl falling in love, being driven away from their homeland with the girl being taken away by nature in the end.

"Many Hindus left the country because of various political reasons. It is not precisely religion that is creating the drift, but it is the economics. Local Hindus are economically stable and possess reasonable assets and the fundamentalists think that they can get hold of these assets by driving the minority out."

Nilu who has a definite sense of his medium ascertains that in a country like Bangladesh where 65 per cent of the population is illiterate, theatre has to be well aware of its audience.

"When I make a play I think about the audience first. I have to convey my ideas to the villagers who constitute the major chunk of Bangladesh. I never try to hide anything while working on a play." Staging a play with all the modern devices has very little chances of conveying the idea.

In a country like Bangladesh it is a good strategy.  "85 per cent of our population is secular. Even villages are fighting the fundamentalists in their own way. We can energise them if we use a popular media like theatre tactically."

And what do the members of theatre earn with such a dedicated effort in a country like Bangladesh? "In Bangladesh theatre is very strong and united. There are a number of groups active. Even though we differ in ideologies, if something happens to somebody everyone comes together. That is the reason why we could speak so courageously against fundamentalists. Even the government is scared of us," he asserts.

And about the Asian theatre Nilu draws up wide range of similarities. "Theatre in Asia has a lot of similarities. Every traditional form in Asia is very stylised. Even the dance forms in Chinese theatre have their similarities with Yakshagana and Kathakali. We may differ geopolitically, but the common points are many."

In fact Nilu, a pioneer of community theatre in Bangladesh reminds the theatre movements in Asia that is better to focus on our own theatre and stop experimenting with western tools for expression.

"We have to experiment, but we have to stop copying the west, even though theatre should not entertain any barrier," says Nilu who always blends traditional as well as modern techniques effectively in his plays.

"We have the energy in our theatre more than anybody else. Energy, voice, acting and music are the major highlights of our theatre. We have to make maximum use of it," he says.

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