Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Memory of Sarath Chandran,

In Memory of Sarath Chandran,
a renowned activist and filmmaker.

Sarath Chandran was born on 16 February 1958 and had his education in MG College, Trivandrum and at Dharmadam. During his student years, he was involved in the resistance against “Emergency”.

For Sarath, filmmaking was a political act where cinema accomplished one of its most elemental of qualities: to ‘document' the world before it and to bring those images back to the people. He traveled extensively to create a network of filmmakers, activist groups, and campuses in order to show films and open up new horizons for youngsters and activists alike.

His apprenticeship in filmmaking was from Late Sri.G Aravindan, and the Late John Abraham. During the 1980's he was involved with Samkramanam a radical magazine published from Kochi and started making documentary films on VHS. His screenings played a pivotal role in raising public awareness on environment and giving focus to the debates on environmental issues and people's struggles in Kerala.

Sarath was one of the founders of VIBGYOR film collective and was the artistic director of the VIBGYOR film festival, Trichur 2010.

Monday, April 26, 2010

By Mir Ali Akhtar

The folk theatre of Bangladesh has an ancient past. However, the continued viability of this tradition is a perennial question. Folk culture in the rural areas, has long been under pressure form the urban culture. Just as folk-crafts have found it difficult to compete with mass produced goods, so too, folk music and theatre must compete with radio, TV, and the cinema. Under the pressure of the larger urban culture, many elements of folk culture have disappeared or been pushed into oblivion. This page will deal with our efforts to revive the traditional kushan theatre of Bangladesh.

Kushan Theatre
The kushan is a form of folk theatre that was once found in many parts of West Bengal and the former greater Rangpur district of Bangladesh. However today, it is extremely rare. Our efforts at reviving this artform have been centred around the Dhorla river basin area of northern Bangladesh. The kushan (sometimes transliterated as kusan), is a dramatic presentation which involves, singing, recitation of dialogue, acting, dancing, and musical accompaniment.

The themes of the kushan theatre are essentially religious in nature and revolve around portions of the Ramayan. In particular they tend to revolve around Ram's sons Kush and Lob (i.e., Lav).

The etymology of the term "kushan" is unclear. There appear to be two stories concerning the origin of the term; but both of these deserve considerable scepticism.

According to some, it seems that one day Sheeta's (i.e. Sita) son Lob (i.e., Lav) was missing. Sheeta was in great distress and Balmeeki Muni (i.e. Valmiki) heard of her problems. Sheeta told Balmeeki that she did not know how to tell Sree Raam Chandro (i.e., Sri Ram Chandra) that their son was missing. When Balmeeki heard of Sheeta's dilemma, he told her to "bring some straw" (Kush = "hay" or "straw", "aan"= "bring"). When Balmeeki obtained the straw, he fashioned it into the form resembling the missing son Lob, and infused it with life. After some time, the missing son Lob returned, and from that day forward Sheeta had two sons, Lob and Kush. According to this etymology, "Kushan" means "bring straw".

There is different story concerning the origin of the term. According to other people the word "kushan" means "To wipe away evil" ("ku"= evil, "shan"= "to clean by wiping"). This is supposedly derived from the concept of destroying injustice, which is a consistent theme of the kushan theatre.

There is a distinctive hierarchy of performers in the kushan theatre. There is a main performer who is also the leader of the group; he is known as the "geedal" or "mool". The geedal gives the narration in Bengali; this is the official language of both Bangladesh and the North East Indian state of West Bengal. Secondary to the geedal is the dohar, daaree, or doaree. This secondary narrator gives almost the same narration, but instead of a more standard Bengali (Bangla Bhasha), he translates it into a local vernacular dialect of Rangpuri or Rajbongshi. After these come the supporting musicians, and a very few singer-cum-actors. The supporting musicians are known as the "baiin". The baiin members are named according to their instrument; therfore "banshia" is the banshi (i.e., bansuri) player; Khuli is the khol player; Juridar are the mondira or khafi players (i.e., manjira); and the behala-master is the violin player. there is a slightly different nomenclature for the players of Western instruments; for these, the term "master" is appended to their instrument name. Therefore one finds designations such as, harmonium-master; clarinet-master; etc. The supporting singer-cum-actors are known as "paiil". Of particular interest among the paiil are the chokra. These are four to six young boys who dress up in women's clothing and play the female parts of the drama. As is typical of much of South Asia, women performers are not used.

Female Roles Played by the Young Boys (chokra)

Music In The Kushan Theatre
Music and dance are integral to the kushan theatre. However, unlike much of the other theatre of South Asia, dance plays a relatively minor role. Much of the narration is presented in the form of the song. Perhaps the greatest demands are placed upon the main performer (i.e., the geedal), who must sing, provide narration, and play the traditional stringed instrument known as bana.

The songs play an important part in the performance of the kushan. These songs are classified as nachari, dhooya, poyaar, and khosha. Of these, the nachari gives dialogue and naration; the dhooya are popular folk songs), the poyaar are the musical themes of the performance, while the khosha are comical riddles.

Instrumental music is also very important to the kushan theatre. Obviously the major purpose is to provide musical support for the singers and to provide a background for the dance performance. However in the case of the main performer (geedal), the bana actually helps define his position within the performance.

There are a number of instruments which may be used in the kushan. Aside from the bana, there is a bowed instrument known as as sharinda (i.e. saringda). Over the years, this has come to be replaced with the violin or the harmonium; however the use of these Western instruments is not traditional. Arbanshi (i.e., bansuri or bamboo flute) is also commonly employed. There are also a number of percussion instruments used as well; principal among these are the akhrai (e.g., dholak), khol, mondira (i.e., manjira), and khapi (larger manjira).

Typical Format
The kushan performance has a typical structure. It is:

Bondona (i.e.,Vandana)(adoring/invocation/veneration) - The bondana is what is known in India as a "vandana". It is a prayer in the form of a song. Such bondonas may be in praise of gods, saints, or gurus (either spiritual or artistic). Typical examples may be Debi Shoroshshoti Bondona (i.e., Saraswati Devi Vandana), Debi Monosha Bondona (i.e. Manisha Devi Vandana)(in folk-theatre Poddopuran only), Dikbondona (Invocation of the blessings of the cardinal directions, east, south, west, and north), Guru Bondona, etc. Each bondona is usually four to five minutes long. Everyone in the group participates in this; but there is no dance with bondona.

Nachari - This is a type song or a number of songs, whose lyrics describe the forthcoming pala (play). These are dialogues with acting in front of the audience. All the group members participate in this, with a full accompaniment of dance, music, etc. It lasts about five to six minutes. The musical structure is as of vaoaiya which is a very common folksong in this area.

Palarkotha (dialogues and naration) - These are a few lines of the dialogue which are delivered by the geedal in somewhat standard Bengali; the dohar quickly repeats/and elaborates in the local dialect. In this case it was Rangpuri or Rajbongshi. This is necessary because the locals do not understand standard Bengali very well. This continues for about 10-12 minutes. There is also acting with this. At times, one or two members of the paiil join in for dialogue and acting. There is no dance accompaniment, but there is music.

Poyaar - The poyaar is generally three to four lines, but sometimes as many as eight lines, of a popular folk song vaoaiya. The themes of which fit with the interludes of the preceding dialogue. It lasts about 10-12 minutes. All the members of the group participate. There is also dance and musical accompaniment. Generally the chokra do not sing because they are busy dancing. These folk dances demand strength in the knees as chokras (i.e, young boy dancers) are required to rise vigourously on the "shom" (i.e., sam or first beat of the cycle). At times three or four subsequent risings are required when a "tehai" (i.e., tihai or a triadic rhythmic device) is given with the khol (i.e., folk drum).

The gach poyaar is particularly interesting; It may be thought of as a theme. These are fundamental poyaars made at the time script is first created. "gach" in Bengali means "tree", but in this context it means "original" or "fundamental".

One should note that the term poyaar in the context of folk theatre does not mean the same as it does in mainstream literary circles. Typically a poyaar is Bengali measure of verse consisting of two lines, each of which is 14 syllables. However the poyaar in the folk theatre of Dhorla River basin, area does not adhere to this structure.

Nachari - See #2

Palarkotha - see #3

Poyaar/dhooya/ Khosha - At this point there will be poyaar, dhooya, and khosha. The poyaar has already been discussed; however the terms "dhooya" and "khosha" deserve some discussion.

Dhooya - These are also a few lines of any very popular vaoaiya/chotka, but not related to the theme of the play. All the members participate in this. The music of this is generally in a 3/4 time signature ("druto" or fast dadra tal).

Khosha - This is a short comedy drama, which need not directly related to the story of the play. It generally lasts for 20-30 minutes. It is performed by geedal, dohar, and one or two of the paiil. There is no dancing in this, but there is musical accompaniment. Very often this comedy takes the form of a riddle. Khosha was extremely important in the old days when there used to be competitions (norok). It is considered to be the most interesting and most attractive portion of the performance.

Nachari - see #2

Palakotha - see #3

Ending - In one night a play is performed for 6-7 hours. It is ended by singing a dhooya; however before ending, the geedal lets the audience know that it is finished and invites the audience for future performances.

Revival Efforts
Recently there was a effort to revive the kushan theatre of the Dhorla river basin. The last time it was played in this remote area of Bangladesh was about 27 years back (from 2005 CE) . After such a long hiatus, there were many challenges which needed to be overcome. The challenges at times involved logistics (i.e., power generators, venue, videotaping, etc.). However, these challenges at times were cultural and social in nature.

The first and greatest difficulty would be finding of the main performer (i.e., the geedal). It was fairly clear that if a competent geedal could be found, then from there it would be possible to either find or train the rest of the performers. Only three performers were found in the area; of these only two were acceptable. One was Mohesh Chondro Bormon and the other was Shadhu Robindronath Roy.

One acceptable kushan leader (geedal) was Mohesh Chondro Bormon. Mr. Bormon was a resident of Foolkhar Chakla; he was about 90 years old.

Mohesh Chondo Bormon and Party

Another acceptable kushan leader (geedal) was was Shadhu Robindronath Roy. He was a resident of Khamargobindogram; he was about 76 years of age. Although Mr. Roy proved to be very knowledgeable about kushan and the great geedals of the past, things did not always proceed in a smooth manner. At one point, he claimed that he was giving up worldly pursuits and living in the temple; therefore it would not be possible for him to perform the kushan.

Shadhu Robindronath

We were also able to locate another geedal named Kripa Shindhu Roy in Rotigram, but unfortunately he did not work out. One of the reasons for his not being able to do it was that he did not possess bana; since this is a requirement for the geedal, this was a problem. Furthermore, he said that after so many years, he could not remember the script that we were wishing to perform. Still, he is a performer of some repute in many other ways.

With two qualified geedals, it was then possible to create two functioning kushan theatre groups. However half a century ago an area such as the Dhorla River basin might have had a larger number of groups. This allowed them to have competitions between them. In the old days, such competitions were a matter of great interest to the people. Such competitions were called norok and would go on for several nights.

The Performances
First kushan was revived and presented on the night of December 12, 2006. This was the first time that the kushan had been presented in this area in nearly three decades. The name of the play was "Boilabodh". The geedal was Shadhu Robindronath Roy and dohar (i.e., translator) was Nirmol Chondro Roy. The revival was fully supported by this researcher Wing Commander Mir Ali Akhtar (Retd.). The place was Khamargobindogram, Goddess Kali's Mondir Yard. In spite of this being a rainy winter night, turnout was good and the performance was well received. Power for this performance was provided by a small portable generator.

Kushan Performance in Village

The revival of the kushan created a good deal of publicity. As a result of several newspaper articles, the Bangla Academy, and Shilpokola Academy of Bangladesh started to take interest in this revival. With their support, the kushan was able to be performed in several venues around the capital during Febrary 2007. According to many, this was the first time in centuries that the kushan has been performed in Dacca.

Kushan Performance in Dacca

The continued viability of the kushan theatre, is a matter which is still not clear. However the interest generated by this recent revival is certainly a positive sign. It can only be hoped that the renewed interest will be reflected in renewed patronage and an increase in younger artist willing to embrace this artform.



Bangladesh's only scroll artist Shambhu Acharya learnt his skills from his father in a remote village in the south of the country, but is now putting on exhibitions in the capital to revive the dying art. "I am not only trying to continue the work my forefathers did, but also bring scroll art back into mainstream as this form of art is part of our rich heritage," he said. Acharya, who is in his 40s -- many villagers in Bangladesh do not know their exact date of birth -- is the ninth generation of his family to paint scrolls which has been an art form in Bangladesh since the 16th century.

Every scroll painting tells a story and in the countryside people used to gather to listen to songs based on the paintings to the tune of an ek tara (one string) guitar and a local drum called a dhol. But in recent years scroll painting virtually died out as the artists found more lucrative work.

Acharya is the only one left and wants to pass on his skills to his son and three daughters to ensure the art form lives on. He uses natural colours, glue made from plants and crushed bricks to paint on cloth and paper scrolls.

"I will return to using brushes made of goat and cow hair like my forefathers did for nine generations as they give different effect to painting," Acharya said. "I sometimes work for 14 to 16 hours straight and it is an addiction as much as my profession ... I am never tired," he told AFP as he showed with pride his 45 works on display this month at Gallery Chitrak in Dhaka.

"The artists are trying to find their roots and it is very important to know ones root," said Ramendu Majumder, a celebrated actor and art connoisseur who organised the show. "Mr. Majumder found me in my village and told me I must work hard and should not worry about my stomach ... this exhibition is the outcome of his support," Acharya said.

The artist worked relentlessly for more than a year to finally present his first solo exhibition which has been successful in attracting huge numbers of art lovers as well as sales. The most expensive scroll "Gazi Pat" was sold for 15,000 taka (260 dollars). It tells the story of the Bengali Muslim saint Ismail Gazi who, accompanied by his tiger, acquired heroic virtues.

Acharya's work was highlighted in 1999 when he was part of the Arts Worldwide Bangladesh Festival at the Spitz Gallery in London. But despite international acclaim, the scrolls were still forgotten in Bangladesh -- until now.

Art experts said it was the first time such scrolls had been on show in Dhaka in many years. Acharya is not alone in the struggle to revive Bangladesh's dying artforms. Azharul Islam Chanchal uses terracotta to make masks, statues of fish and other animals and decorated mirrors. "I travel across Bangladesh to encourage villagers working with clay to pick up terracotta as this popular form of art is slowly vanishing," he said.

At Dhaka's Institute of Fine Arts gallery, Chanchal and two of his friends last month had an exhibition of terracotta which were popular in this part of the world even 2,000 years ago. "Our clay work, which is inspired by terracotta work of the Hindu Pal dynasty, Mughal rulers and Australian aboriginal art, was an instant success," Chanchal told AFP. "Now I think our mission will be a success as people too want the revival of this dying art."

"The patience of waiting while the clay is in the fire is the real love of this art as you really don't know the outcome," said Chanchal, whose work sells for between 100 and 6,000 taka (1.7 to 103 dollars). Celebrated painters Ranjit Das and Shishir Bhattachajee told AFP the urge for revival was encouraging. "For any country its heritage is an asset and we simply cannot afford to lose it," said Bhattacharjee.

SERAJUL ISLAM CHOUDHURY:A committed intellectual

A committed intellectual

HOW would he like to be remembered? Pausing for moments, in his measured enunciation typical of his classroom lectures, Serajul Islam Choudhury, on a definitive note, said, ‘a committed intellectual.’

A man of commitment, or rather public commitment, Serajul Islam went on to define intellectuals as people who could rise up vertically in knowledge and achievement, but could also spread horizontally towards society, but for which they are reduced to mere scholars or professionals, or even mere social beings when they are inclined more towards society. This responsibility, shouldered out of volition, is to understand society and to strive after social transformation.

And this commitment has been with him as the guiding spirit and the driving force in all he has done, contributed or achieved in his vocation, teaching, and avocation, writing, all his life.

In his early life, he wished to become a novelist, but failed. His father wanted him to join the civil service after a degree in economics, but he wanted to study the Bangla literature. On a note of compromise, he enrolled with the English department at the University of Dhaka after an intermediate of arts degree in 1952, obtained from Notre Dame College, preceded by matriculation from St Gregory’s High School in 1950.

He joined the department as a teacher in 1957, setting out also to be a writer. He decided not to become a bureaucrat which many around him were doing then. He counted two reasons for his becoming a writer: his work at the university, which ensured that he would not be transferred and which made scope for him to read a lot, and his temperament. He liked the library too. He received his master’s degree in 1956 and worked briefly with Haraganga College in Munshiganj and Jagannath College in Dhaka.

In more than four decades that followed, he taught students, wrote essays, headed the department, became dean, spawned off several academic and research processes, initiated doctoral dissertation guidance at the department, started periodicals, founded study centres and remained involved in university politics.

He went to England twice by the time – for a post-graduate diploma in English studies at Leeds University and for doctoral studies at Leicester University.

After his retirement, now he edits a quarterly, Natun Diganta (new horizon), which started coming out in 2002, writes, gives lectures and leads or joins social movements. All what he has so far done or all he still does are a manifestation of his commitment – to understand society better and to bring about social transformation.

He had failed to become a novelist: for two reasons; he has never been familiar with the bigger life out there, one that is beyond the bounds of the middle class, and his academic job in the university which has hampered his creativity and showed him that his literary attempts did not reach any heights compared with what he read and taught.

The life out there may still be unknown to him, but he knows middle-class sentiments, or meanness, very well, always trying to rise above such issues which he thinks is necessary to make progress.

He failed to become a novelist; but he has emerged as a writer – an essayist – with a style very individual of him, larded with punctuations which he thinks are necessary to give readers space to breathe and think. He has achieved to write in a style that is moulded into the syntax of the English language, free-flowing and fitting for the subjects he deals with. Yet, there are some who think the style is too populist to go with philosophical contents; he differs.

His style, which he prizes less than the content, has been unknowingly influenced by four writers — Francis Bacon, Buddhadeb Bose, Sudhindranath Dutta and Shibram Chakrabarty. He liked the style of Buddhadeb, although the contents failed to attract him, the deliberateness of Sudhindranath and the humour of Shibram, which have probably moulded into the reasoning of Bacon in his writing. He started prose-writing with Anveshan, a volume of his essays published in 1964, and now he admits drifting from what he started with. He had deliberateness in his writing which has now been replaced with spontaneity.

Serajul Islam has more than 73 titles, mostly volumes of essays on literary criticism and social analysis, to his credit and about a dozen of them have run to the second or third reprint, from 1962 till now. He has half a dozen compilations of his writings and has edited a three-volume set of the works of Anwar Pasha, and six journals.

Serajul Islam first initiated to offer PhD degrees in English at the university. He guided eight students in doctoral dissertations beginning in 1980, as he had thought it had been time the university should have started doing such things. He edited journals, the university journals of arts and letters in Bangla and English — Dhaka Visvavidyalay Patrika for 15 years and Dhaka University Studies for nine years. He founded the Visvavidyalay Patrika.

It was for him that the journals came to be published regularly, at least for the period he edited them. During his student days, he decided not to be a bureaucrat, but feels he has a bureaucratic temperament, which he enjoys when he edits magazines.

His commitment to striving for changes in society led him to stand for the position of member on the executive committee of the Salimullah Hall union soon after he had become student of the university. He worked as treasurer of the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union and during the period he pushed for debates, cultural functions and other such events involving students and teachers, which he said had disappeared after the rule of Ershad.

He founded the University Book Centre in 1978 and the Centre for Advanced Research in Humanities in 1986. In keeping with the spirit, he now runs a centre called Samaj Rupantar Adhyayan Kendra (centre for studies on social transformation), which works towards waking people up to a democracy which would mean ‘equality of rights and opportunities. Rights being equal would not mean anything unless the opportunities remain equal.’ He also set up the seminar in the department and introduced seminars every week with teachers and students.

He took part in the drafting of the Dhaka University Order, which laid the ground for the much-required autonomy. And he had been with university politics, the panels, till 1991 to ensure that the university, in addition to being autonomous legally, should also be autonomous institutionally. He was nominated by the senate to the three-member panel for vice-chancellor’s appointment on three occasions, heading the poll for two times. He was elected to the executive committee of the Dhaka University Teachers’ Association for several times, which, too, was out of his commitment to the university, students and fellows.

Diligent and dutiful he is, Serajul Islam said. He loves being social, too. This is how he evaluates himself. The day his wife, Najma Jesmin, whom he married in 1962, died of cancer in 1989, his students said, he went to take the class scheduled for that morning and the students sent him back home. ‘Duty has always been important to me,’ said Serajul Islam, at the reminder long after the event. ‘I knew my wife was being treated and there were people around her to look after. I also needed to discharge my duty.’

Born on June 23, 1936 at Bikrampur in Dhaka and having lived in Rajshahi and Kolkata, till 1947, and in Dhaka thereafter, Serajul Islam, like most others around him, had colonial influence dominant as he grew up. He became leftist when he went to England for a diploma at Leeds University. He stayed there for 10 months.

When he reached England, he found many of his friends had become Marxist by then. He followed suit, studied Marx and became interested in the politics, economics and social order underlying the literature, which led to his doctoral dissertation on the evil in the novels of Joseph Conrad, EM Forster and DH Lawrence, and similar criticisms of the classics in Bangla.

He believes he is not an orthodox Marxist, but Marxism has taught him to analyse society in the light of class differences. He started believing that capitalism could not cure capitalism and nationalism would also fail to change society. And since then, he has had no regression, no aberration, in his belief.

Serajul Islam, who has written so many books, inspired so many people, contributed significantly to academics, won so many awards including the Bangla Academy Award in 1976, Ekushey Padak in education in 1996, Abdur Rab Chowdhury Gold Medal (Dhaka University) in 1988, and came to be loved and admired by so many people, says life has given him fulfilment, although there is discontent, or dissatisfaction rather, as to making proper use of his time. He does not feel he could do more, but feels he could do what he has done in a better way. There is nothing for him to regret.

Now focused on writing a book on nationalism, communalism and people’s emancipation, being serialised in Natun Diganta expected to be finished in a year, he feels he will look forward to progressing in what has done and is doing and look back to his past to learn from, the never-ending process that keeps life rolling further, for better, for him and for society.

Abu Jar M Akkas


April 9, 2010

Mini-Symposium on Poetry Today

English Department

Future of poetry

Anisur Rahman

I do not believe as one should say or can say much on the future of poetry, however I would like to make my observations as well. I am simply love to see myself as a miner in the mine of poetry and thus survive. One can say something about the future of a poet, but not poetry truly. Poetry is really un-catchable goddess or beloved. One can only feel, but to understand her is almost impossible.

On the other hand, echoing the voice of one of our Bengali great poets Syed Shamsul Haq (1935--), I would like to say poetry is love-letter to time…. Against this backdrop, it is difficult to say in advance about the mind in a lover so in poetry and its future.

I had an exclusive conversation over social commitment in writing with Swedish writer Ola Larsmo at CafĂ© Vetekatten in Stockholm sometime last year. He asked me to whom a writer should be committed. I said, ‘none but life’.

I also believe in the saying by Norwegian talent Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), ‘To be poet is to see’. The future of poetry will be as how the future poets see life and how the life would actually be then. Life is must be for truth and beauty and so is poetry in past, today and in future. This is the subjects in poetry I am pointing out in the question of futurity.

There are some more universal and essential considerations in poetry. Poetry is a matter of ‘words’ ‘spontaneity’ ‘sensitivity’ ‘visibility’ and ‘musicality’. In this consequence I would like to remember Wordsworth (1770-1850) as saying …poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; and so will be in future. Poetry is also paintings at the same time. I hope future poets will not dismiss this.

Domination of technology is increasing day by day. It does not mean, humans will lose their interest in poetry. In that case use of poetry or presence of poetry or promotion of poetry may be different, but there is no way to find basic variance in futurity of poetry.

There is a saying scientists usually do not ignore the ways …on the other hand the poets do not think of ways but never ignore life. The same will be in future. Commercial use of poetry will be increased …like slogans, ads, t-shirts, city’s beautification and so…

Poetry is a concern of language and mind. Poetry from different languages and lands does have its common language. That language is to tell the mind. Poetry must tell mind either today or tomorrow…always.

In life there is something that can no how be expressed but in poetry…what is difference between photography and painting…that is something camera cannot give the language of mind, imagination and dream, thinking in photography, but a painter’s brush can present those in paintings…so does a poet in poetry…. The same will be in future…

In future, the humans will have mind, (as they have today) power, will of thinking, imagining, dreaming, biasness towards truth, beauties in life so to poetry. The toughest job is to write poetry…I myself do not believe as I have been able to write my successful poem yet…

Patronisation to poetry is somehow necessary. For this it is a must to have value based socialist welfare state functionality. In the history of Bengali poetry some longs years in between 1000-1200 AD and some one hundred years after 1757 during the British colony in Indian sub continent are considered to be the dark ages in Bengali literary tradition. No recognisable poetic tradition was made that time. The causes in this regard were absence of sovereign national governance in Bengal land. Futurity of history as well as life will be reflected in futurity of poetry.

I am not frustrated at all as the appeal of poetry will any how be demeaned in life in future. Moreover, for peace, progress, spirits in mind and biasness towards beauties in life, humans must come back to poetry again and again. Poetry is a shelter in life.

Anisur Rahman, a poet from Bangladesh, is ICORN guest author in Uppsala.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jana Sanskriti – Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed


The Forum Theatre Festival


Jana Sanskriti – Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed


The idea of Theatre of the Oppressed was born in South America in the early seventies from the work and practice of Brazilian theatre theoretician and director Augusto Boal. Jana Sanskriti was the first group to bring Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre to India.

In Forum Theatre members of the theatre team select, construct, and narrate a social problem from their daily life. With artistic direction this play is taken to an audience who must now find a solution to the problem. Passive spectators then become engaged spect-actors. Spect-actors come on stage to enact the solutions they have thought of, debating with trained activists about the feasibility of the solutions suggested.

Since 1991, Jana Sanskriti has removed itself far from conventional theatre and spread the practice of Forum Theatre to remote villages of the Sunderban in Bengal. With 20 theatre teams active in rural Bengal, Jana Sanskriti is today perhaps the state’s largest theatre group. Jana Sanskriti has also taken this theatre pedagogy beyond the boundaries of the state to different parts of the country - to Tripura, Orissa, Jharkhand, Delhi, Utranchal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Jana Sanskriti believes that every individual is essentially intellectual. Not only great men thinks but also all men think, philosophy exists in the thought of so called illiterate human beings. But they are not aware of it all the time. The political culture never takes care of this intellectual faculty of the people. They are made blind followers. Jana Sanskriti on the other hand wants to develop rationality within the people. Through out in last two decades this is where Jana Sanskriti has focused her artistic activities. They have always tried to make the qualities of human being visible which is normally invisible to the people. Creating rational people is the main focus of Jana Sanskriti's work. This is how they want to bring change in the society.

Jana Sanskriti believes the biggest form of violation of human rights is not to create democratic space for the people to think. They should not be seen as the implementers only they can contribute in the making of the policies. That is the reason Jana Sanskriti left propaganda theatre and started Theatre of the Oppressed devised by Augusto Boal. They are the first exponent of Boal here in India and the largest and long-lasting Theatre of the Oppressed movement in the world according to Augusto Boal.

Today Jana Sanskriti has created the Federation of Theatre of the Oppressed, India where a number of large activist movements are present. They have handed over theatrical means (means of making theatre) to the poorest of the poor, to the tribal communities, lower caste, to the rural people.

Jana Sanskriti is a work of art and the name of a space where total transformation is constructed. It is an organization founded in 1985 which practices Theatre of the Oppressed among the most disadvantaged sections of Indian society. From its inception in one remote village, Jana Sanskriti now has constructed theatre teams consisting of men and women agricultural labourers. These actors come together transcending divisive social and political affiliations to plan constructive action and provide dynamic leadership for social justice and community development. Their plays onstage and their political activism offstage feeds one another to mobilize around issues as wide-ranging as domestic violence to political violence, from reconstruction of public institutions to resistance against aggressive forms of development. Rather than use theatre to deliver development messages and services, Jana Sanskriti has used theatre to establish dialogue in society. They believe that dialogue allows for informed critical thinking and prevents a human being from following blindly – whether in pursuit of material things, an ideology, or a person. This form of dialogue is an aesthetic experience of life, an internal transformation which inspires action for external transformation. This is what we mean by total transformation.


In our work on Forum Theatre we have dealt with a range of issues which are relevant to different groups in different regions – Displacement, malpractices in the public distribution system, communalism, exploitation by contractors, undemocratic culture of political parties, and corruption in the Panchayat, blind superstitions, domestic violence, insurgency and terrorism etc.

The important reason for holding this Festival is that it becomes a meeting ground for the Forum Theatre teams trained by Jana Sanskriti all over India. Each of these teams is active in their own regions; most of them are also heading organizations engaged in struggles to assert the rights of the marginalized. Though all these teams are linked to each other through their commitment to the Forum Theatre movement, they have had very little opportunity to interact with each other and see each other’s work. At this Festival we were able to provide this valuable opportunity. This interaction has, as seen from the last three festivals, no doubt, imbued each individual and team with the feeling that they are not alone in this challenging task of establishing dialogue in society.

Usually Forum Theatre is performed before audiences who are also facing the problem portrayed in the play. Since problem solving and understanding the problem sociologically through collective action is the primary intention so the spectators and actors form a homogenous group. But in this Festival like the previous three that we had we will again try to have all kinds of interest groups involved and interested in theatre of the oppressed in the audience, from all over the world! And since Forum Theatre allows room for debate and discussion, the audience emerges from the experience with a more human outlook.

Finally, the name ‘Muktadhara’! ‘Mukta’ means free and ‘Dhara’ is a flowing steam. A flow that is free from dogma and all those structural constructs that prevent a dialogue between people, is what is implied by the term Muktadhara – celebrating movement in peace and togetherness! This is when the glory of development is said to have taken place – participation in togetherness.


The festival will be held at an open air venue in the centre of Kolkata.
Workshops will be held either in a Mango Garden or by the side of a river.
There will be one more workshop on Rainbow of Desire, we will place it in the festival schedule and will let you know.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ratan Thiyam: The Metamorphosis

Ratan Thiyam: The Metamorphosis
By A Spectator

In his earlier incarnation he was known as Thiyam Nemai. He was lanky, mild mannered and would be seen in what used to be called "classical song sessions". Then nothing much was heard about him till he graduated from the National School of Drama, the Mecca of Indian theater and tried his hand with a theater group in Delhi, but a critic had found his Hindi wanting. This was in the early 1970s.

That must have been the time when he started searching for his roots in Manipur and soon became one of the finest exponents of the theatre of roots. The path from his makeshift "Shangoi" cum studio in his ancestral house to the magnificent "Shrine" at the Chorus Complex at Shamushang has been a long and arduous coping along with personal tragedy and an indifferent bureaucracy.

Actually the "people in power in Manipur" heard about him first when he was offered the Directorship of the National School of Drama. The then chief secretary was said to have quipped "how is that the Prime Minister knows him and we don't."

His plays have traveled, from Aryan Theater, GM Hall, Jawaharlal Nehru Dance Academy (JNMDA) to the Shriram Center for Arts, New Delhi with the group's first overseas break coming in with their trip to Greece. Yes, we all know that Yanni had performed at the Acropolis or the Herrod Atticus. But actually Ratan had been there much before, staging an Indian play in Manipuri attire before a record audience of 10,000 Greeks.

After watching his "Urubhangam"- a drama critic in Calcutta wrote that standards of Indian theater would one day be measured along the lines of "Urubhangam". His "Chakravyu" was to follow soon engulfing audiences worldwide into that ancient Indian battle formation from which there is no escape.

This man's other talents came to light in the opening ceremony of the India Festival at Moscow. TV watchers in India and the then USSR watched with amazement when the Manipuri Moibung's (Conch) "Dhani" reverberated across the Red Square prompting Raisa Gorbachev to ask for an encore. Yes, that was Ratan Thiyam's imagination at work and what might have been just another blowing session for the "Moibung Khongba" or the Conch-player, it was a giant leap for Manipuri culture.

Having traversed the globe from Moscow to New York, he recently returned home with the New York Times describing him as a "Genius". The
honor from the city of Paris and New Delhi in the form of the Padmashri was all there before, but this is different.

The question that now comes into the minds of ordinary spectators like this writer for instance is the question of whethere this Master of the Theater of Roots has lost touch with the roots from which he draws his materials that makes him a Genius. Does his leikais (neighborhoods) get to see his plays or for that matter the students?

Habin Tanvir came to stage his Chandradas Choir at the Manipur University. During his stint as Director of the National School of Drama he had come in for sharp criticism from a person none other than its founder Director Ebrahim Alkaji, for not spending enough time with the students. Incidentally the NSD students had gone on a strike then, launching an oust-Ratan campaign. Yes, he is a Guru today and the manner how he chooses his disciples is his discretion.

However one incident may serve as his Achilles heel. It was on the 12th of April. Gathered at the Shrine were the Governor of Manipur and the Who's Who of the Indian Theater and Cultural world. That was when Ojah Ratan Thiyam's Majordomo in the form of Shri Samarendra Chongtham, retired director of Arts and Culture, Govt of Manipur stepped in as the Master of Ceremony. He began by laying emphasis portfolio-wise while introducing the right Hon'ble Minister who was present. And in that order, veterinary and animal husbandry took precedence over his cultural responsibilities!

Then came the coup de grace. The Master of Ceremony soon announced that time was being given for local artistes. The first "local artiste" whom he called out was Aribam Shyam Sharma. Shyam Sharma as some us half literates know is he other Genius of Manipur whose films have captured worldwide attention from Nantes to New York. A man compared by some to the great Kurusowa himself, Shyam Sharma's film debut "Imagi Ningthem" has been placed alongside with Satyajit Ray's Panther Panchali as one of the 15 Indian films of the millennium by TG Vaidyananthan (Outlook 15 November). Luckily "Eigya Shyam"as he is affectionately known was not present in the audience and that was his saving grace.

The other local artiste was not so lucky. He is none other than Manipur
"Theater man of the Masses"- the rebel from the National School of Drama and whose epic production "Pebet" is still a landmark production and whose work has been described to be at the forefront of contemporary Indian Theater, by Rustom Bharucha in his book "The theater of Kanhailal".

Yes we are talking about H Kanhailal, whose group Kalakshetra has been contributing their humble mite. He was not so lucky as he was present in the audience. Yes, if not for the parochial connotation, there is nothing wrong with the term "local", but the fact is the patronizing tone and implications of the term cannot be swept aside. The retired director perhaps overlooked this, but in the world of art he ought to have realized that it is sensitive. The perfectionist that he is, Ratan had flown in Sadhana Shrivastava from Delhi to compere the 1st Bhagyachandra National Festival of Classical Dances- his MC was the then Director. The question is will the genius of the roots return to his roots and make amends in the best of Manipuri traditions.

(Courtesy: The Imphal Free Press)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Then and now, enter ‘The Dictator’

Well-known maverick of the Sinhala cinema and theatre, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake shares his views on his politically charged play “Ekadhipathi” and the future of serious art in Sri LankaBy Chandani Kirinde

Dharmasiri Bandaranayake is not a man to mince his words. And his outspokenness is not confined to the fiery, controversial dialogues he delivers on stage. Seated at a table at the Cultural Foundation he set up five years ago in a quiet neighbourhood in Nugegoda, it takes little prompting to draw him into a conversation about his work as a dramatist and filmmaker and the wider role he feels his tribe has to play in Sri Lankan society if it’s to come out of the ‘cultureless’ pit it has got itself into.

36 years in the same role: Dharmasiri Bandaranayake Bandaranayake ha
“My medium is cinema /drama and I have a responsibility as an artist to express my views on what I feel is happening in our society and awaken the public to the dangers they face,” Bandaranayake says.

And what he has to say he says with passion and intensity be it in a stage play such as “Ekadipathi ”(The Dictator) that touches at the very political nerve of the country or via cinema through films such as “Hansa Vilak” (Swan Lake), which explores relationships that exceed the boundaries set by social traditions or norms.
To an outsider it would almost seem that he courts controversy by taking on subjects that others in his field would shun but again Dharmasiri Bandaranayake is not known to be a man who plays it safe by being politically correct. “It is true I intentionally choose to do plays with political themes and portray unconventional characters via cinema but the purpose is not to create a controversy but awaken the intellect of the public,” he says.

Bandaranayake first began to dabble in acting while a schoolboy at Vidyaratnaya, Horana taking roles in school plays but his entry into the world of cinema came when he was picked for a role in Dayananda Gunawardana’s ‘Bak Maha Deegaya’ in 1969.
Bandaranayake grew up in a volatile society and found himself in the middle of the first youth uprising in the country in 1971 soon after he completed his Advanced Level examination.

“The hopes of an entire generation of youth were dashed with the crushing of the youth uprising. Had I joined the JVP then, I may have been one of their senior members today, but instead, I joined the government clerical service and started working as a clerk at the Rubber Control Department,” he recollects.

It was while he was engaged in mundane clerical work that Henry Jayasena selected him for the lead role in the stage play Makara (The Dragon). “It was a great privilege to be selected by a person like Henry Jayasena and also to get the opportunity to act with prominent theatre personalities of that era. These experiences helped shape my career in theatre,” Bandaranayake adds.

But 1976 was the year that Bandaranayaka came in to his own, directing and acting in the politically explosive play “Ekadhipthi”. “The play ran to packed audiences for two full days in November 1976 at the Lumbini Hall in Colombo. Its staging coincided with the imminent collapse of the United Front government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and struck a chord with the audiences,” he recalls.

Bandaranayake has played the lead role of military dictator Sir Malcolm since the inception of the play now running in its 36th year, a remarkable feat for any actor. The play began its latest rerun in June last year and this time coincided with the emergence of a military strongman into the political arena of the country in the form of General (retd.) Sarath Fonseka, which caused some hiccups for the play.

“When I decided to have a re-run of “Ekadipathi,” the developments with regards to the early presidential election were nowhere on the horizon. But the staging of the play led to inevitable comparisons between my role and some in the real political arena and made people question if I had made changes to it to fit into today’s context. But I haven’t changed a comma or a full stop from the original play till today,” he says.

With more than 1400 shows to its credit and at least 20 more scheduled to be staged across the country over the next few months, the remarkable feature of “Ekadipathi” is its relevance to contemporary Sri Lanka as much as it was to the society that existed more than three decades ago. Does he share anything in common with the ruthless dictator who goes to the extent of ordering that the thumbs of the entire citizenry be decapitated to prevent them from writing as a collective punishment when some literature critical of his regime is uncovered.

“I loathe the character I play in ‘Ekadipathi’ but I have to become that person and play it for the pleasure of the audience,” he explains. With the growing nexus between politicians and artists and the line differentiating the two beginning to blur, Bandaranayake prefers to stay out of the pack but that is after the experiences he gathered after dabbling briefly in politics in support of (President) Chandrika Kumaratunga. “Getting involved in politics was the biggest mistake I have made in my life,” Bandaranayake says.

He sees the lack of appreciation for culture and arts as a result of the conditioning of society in the past three decades to a war mentality but says the end of the war has led to an even more militarised attitude among the people. “I feel that in the past three years, people’s way of thinking has become more militant than has happened in the 27 or 28 years before that,” he adds.

It is these same attitudes that have seeped into the sphere of arts as well. “When I produced ‘Ekadipathi’ in the 70s, there was more camaraderie and team work which is lacking among today’s crowds. They too have been corrupted by society around them,” he says.

“We have to break free from that conditioning and as artists our role is to open the eyes of society to these threats,” he adds. Lack of appreciation of the arts by politicians too is another notable change he sees between then and now.

“In the 1970s politicians also had a cultural life. I remember Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike coming and watching our plays along with her children. Prominent politicians such as N.M. Perera, Colvin R.De Silva, Peter Keuneman, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali were some of the others who bought tickets to watch the plays but now we have to invite them to come and even when they do, they bring a horde of security guards which disturbs the others.”

He laments the absence of official patronage for the arts in the country. “I visited Lester James Peries recently and he spoke of the necessity to have a film archives.
“This is what he has been saying for several decades now but nothing has been done,” he said. So is it all gloom and doom or is there a light at the end of the tunnel for a more enlightened society to emerge? “We only need one good man to make this country. But that good man has to be the President,” he says in his characteristic candid manner.