Our performing arts: the dramatic rise and fall

| Updated: January 09, 2023 21:15:50

Our performing arts: the dramatic rise and fall

The number of the new releases in 2022 in the area of the so-called mainstream Bangladesh cinema is nowhere near the exhibitions of the resurgent movies. The latter have already made an impressive in, presenting a buoyant group of talented performers and directors. Since their dazzling emergence a decade back, they have continued to demonstrate their multifaceted creative impulse. This particular quality and the movie viewers' patronage had a lot to do with their occupying a stunningly remarkable place in the local filmdom. Barring the two-year corona lockdown leading to an unexpected lull in movie-making, the Bangladeshi 'new cinema' had been found committed to making better films for the audience. Except a few taking missteps to the dismay of the discerning viewers, the majority of the directors appeared to be steeped in the world of new ideas and forms. The number of spectators kept increasing like never in the recent past.

Against this backdrop, the new-generation audience could be termed a saviour of the long moribund Bangladesh cinema. Many may disagree, but the Dhaka 'new wave' young directors discovered their pioneering guide in Nasiruddin Eusuf  ('Guerrilla'), Tanveer Mokammel ('Lalon' and others), Mostofa Sarwar Faruqui ('Bachelor'). With this strong footing and orientation, the present Dhaka cinema can take pride in their ability to have cast their look into the future. In spite of the dominance of strong story lines, that at times border on the melodrama, the young directors and the artistes look to the kind of cinema which will expedite the birth of the country's 'new cinema'. To say in a different way, this younger generation has served the country by helping a timely revival of the cinema to occur.

Perhaps in line with this, the Dhaka filmdom can now boast of the release 50 movies in 2022. The number, however, includes a few conventional movies, which proves a once-dominant trend takes time to die out. In comparison, the average yearly number of the release of movies ranged from 300 to 400 in the 1970s and the `80s. Out of the total movies released, only a handful would fulfil the requirements of a movie to be called a better cinema. In many years, all the movies released in a year were considered substandard or below par. The Bangladesh cinema industry passed the worst of its time in those two decades. Apart from the amateurs with no love for the art of cinema, there were producers and makers who barged into the film-world just to make a quick buck. These elements earned a bad reputation for the Dhaka filmdom. Or else, it would have taken a longer time before the mainstream Bangladesh cinema was turned into a place accessible to honest directors.

The other performing arts medium, the stage-based drama, has witnessed a smooth journey in Dhaka. Compared to the cinema, dramas or plays are freer than the former when it comes to technicalities. Due to the play-staging being simple with a small directorial team, the play itself receives everybody's attention. Before the year of 1972, however, when experimental plays began emerging in Bangladesh as a powerful medium of the performing arts, the very mention of plays meant a mini-cinema filled with high 'drama', crass humour, songs and dance. These sentimentalised packages were staged at the annual office functions. It was the Drama Circle, comprising a group of modern play enthusiasts, which came forward to show the audiences what the modern dramas were. The time was the 1960s, when Zaheer Rayhan, Sadeq Khan, Salahuddin et al dominated the fledgling movie scenario.  Sayeed Ahmed, Fateh Lohani, Sadeq Khan,  Aly Zaker, Ataur Rahman and many drama enthusiasts were behind Drama Circle, the first ever play-staging platform in the then East Pakistan. The theatre group's repertoire mostly included overseas neo-modern plays translated into Bangla. The Drama Circle-led fraternity of viewers and the directorial team didn't last long. The country had yet to witness the emergence of the local playwrights able to catch the messages of the modern times like the post WW-II alienation and absurdity of living. With the fall in the supply of local contemporary plays and declining audiences, a deadlock crept in. It had to complete its cycle prematurely with the eventual closure of the short-lived pioneering phase of the drama performances. With the group taking leave from the Dhaka-based drama circles for good in the late 1960s, the nation had to wait till post-Liberation War times, i.e. the early 1970s, to watch a full-scale revival of theatre movement in the country. Thanks to its youthful creative force, and the rejection of old drama-related values and the play-staging norms, the drama groups attained the status of the New Theatre. However, the groups latter picked the words 'Group Theatre' to identify themselves.

Although several groups almost at the same time began the staging of new plays, each of them later loved call themselves pioneer of Bangladesh Group Theatre Movement. However, the debate later seemed resolved with every group calling themselves a pioneer. They were, indeed. Yet some groups' contribution to the movement was spectacularly greater, and some groups' association with the group's movement was short-lived. Despite this even after holding their individual in-puts aloft, they eventually emerged as the Group Theatre Movement of Bangladesh. The groups Dhaka Theatre, Bohubachan, Nagorik, Theatre, Natyachakra, Aronyok and dozens of others regularly entered the stage with their new productions almost every year in those decades. Many popular presentations were plays repeated on demand. Almost all of them were experimental in stories, dialogues, lighting and overall stage-craft and acting. Despite being completely new to the local audiences, they finally accepted those off-beat productions. However, many spectators took time to overcome their initial shock and amazement. What the audiences got from this performing arts mode included a good number of directors, playwrights, artistes and technicians. They included the senior artistes like Aly Zaker, Ataur Rahman, Mamunur Rashid, Ferdousi Majumder, Afroza Banu and many others. The seniors also included playwrights, Poet and Novelist Syed Shamsul Huq, Mamunur Rashid, Abdulla Al Mamun and others.  However, it was the younger ones who called shots in the Bangladesh Group Theatre arena. The youths who proved their indisputable brilliance in play-writing and directing included Selim Al Deen and Nasir Uddin Eusuf, Shahnoor Khan et al. The younger artistes who were singled out included Humayun Faridy, Suborna Mostafa, Afzal, Al Mansoor, Shomi Kaisar, Afsana Mimi and a lot of promising artistes.

Like the Dhaka filmdom, which started declining without convincing reasons --- except the popularity of movies and short films on the virtual platforms, the roots of the stage dramas' slow disappearance from the traditional stage could also be traced to the 'digitised plays', or sham movies. The case for the dramas' fall in the later days raises a different issue --- the failure to prepare the younger future generation who can keep this particular branch of the performing arts somehow afloat and then take it further. In this dismal scenario, the revival of the new cinema from the debris of the crass and mindless movies appears to be a watershed. The love for the medium has been passed down to them by a crisis, or prompted by its urge to continue to grow, when the confused audiences were looking for a straw in an infinite vacuity. Differing from the mainstream cinema, or the exhausted group theatre, the 'new cinema' is moving to find a firm place in the sphere of performing arts. Perhaps this is the verdict of time.

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