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|Volume 11 |Issue 24| June 15, 2012 ||
Transgender people usually suppress their emotions – their feelings of pain, humiliation and rejection. Shunned from an early age, they strive to be recognised and respected by mainstream society. On June 6, 2012, they found a forum to express their collective identity; they embraced theatre as a way to resist injustice and celebrate their sense of self. The play, Tarok, the Chastiser, was staged at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy by a sexual minority group, Shamparker Noya Shetu and was sponsored by Bengal Foundation.
The play is based on the real lives of the actors in the troupe; it portrays their struggles and predicaments in a society that is bent on violating the most elementary human and social rights of the transgender community. It opens with the ruminations of two birds, who are bewildered by a peculiar burial scene they witness below. Hijras are not allowed to bury their own either in the Muslim cemeteries or the Hindu ones. There is no one to wash their bodies or pray for their departed souls. The beginning of the play is thus both significant and powerful.
Through the life of Kabir, the protagonist, the audience gets a peek at the trials and tribulations that haunt sexual minorities. Kabir is humiliated by his own father and brother and forced to leave his own home so that he would not embarrass his family in front of his sister's prospective in-laws. He is subjected to violence time and again, and viciously raped by a gang of her brother's friends. Violence is a recurrent theme in the play. One of Kabir's hijra friends also recalls an incident where s/he was brutally tortured in a remote forest. The brutes broke her leg for walking 'funnily' and left her there to wallow in pain and disgrace.
The play also highlights a few other crucial issues – like the difficulty of transgender people to receive health care or rent a house. The play does a brilliant job of depicting their plight in a moving and thought-provoking manner; it gently urges the audience to dwell on these issues but it does not do so in an overbearing or moralising way. The narratives of the lives of the hijras are interwoven effortlessly through various interesting techniques. The flashback of Kabir's life, for instance, performed meticulously, was fresh and intriguing. The use of masks and other props throughout the play, although kept to a minimum, lent it a surreal air.
Tarok was an unusual play in more ways than one. It wasn't just the storyline and the storytelling that was different; the whole arduous process of conceptualising, writing, acting and directing the play was unique. Bengal Foundation, which believes in the importance of theatre in community development, approached Shamparker Noya Shetu in 2011. “When we started to work there was little hope this would last beyond the initial stages. For us, there was only a belief at work, that exposure to the arts can make a difference to people's lives,” state the organisers at Bengal. “Later we realised that the techniques of stage theatre would be more appropriate in teaching sexual minority group (SMG) to know and accept their bodies and be comfortable with them. The problem we thought was as much with their accepting themselves, as it was with the rest of the world accepting them,” they add.
The production of the play was an interactive process. As mentioned previously, the members of SNS played an instrumental part in coming up with the eventual script. “When we first asked them to jot down their problems, they came up with a huge list with as many as 40 issues. Then we sat with them, worked through the problems and condensed them so as to make it appropriate for a play,” says Anisul Haque (Borun), choreographer and director of the play. Borun says he was forced to keep the play as realistic as possible to do justice to the life experiences of his actors. Md. Rafiqul Islam, noted playwright, wrote the final version of the script.
Borun and Sarah Ahsan, the supervisor of the play, have worked hard for over a year to hone the skills of the troupe. It was the group's first involvement in theatre, and it took 400 hours of practice and hard work to turn the 11 inexperienced performers into ace actors. Their body language changed completely and their confidence level soared as they realised the potential power of their acting skills. There were no signs of amateurish acting in the play. They managed to engage the audience all throughout, and we started to feel empathy for them. Their voice projection, dialogue delivery, performance, dancing – everything was done with great conviction. The way they walked, sat and played with their voices was really outstanding. All the actors tried their best. Jihad, in particular, shone in his lead character role. The dedication of the whole unit really showed in the play.
Joya Shikhder, the President of SNS, and the actors of Tarok are ecstatic at having found a forum for expressing themselves. They hope that the play will succeed in disseminating the message that hijras are humans, too, with the same basic needs, urges and emotions, and as such, must be treated with respect and understanding.
Luva Nahid Chowdhury, Director General of Bengal Foudnation says, “This endeavour has, most importantly, connected a sexual minority group directly with an art form and touched the lives of a number of them very deeply. They need an alternative to the abusive and often violent vocations they pursue.” Luva hopes that there would be more shows in the future to keep the spirit alive. “Any other institution is welcome to take the production under its wing, we have no claims. If they need technical and directorial assistance, we shall be happy to provide it,” she adds.
We congratulate the actors and other people associated with the play for their vision and their endeavour, and sincerely hope that it isn't the last time this play is staged. We also wish to see Shamparker Noya Shetu in mainstream theatre for years to come. Their active participation in theatre will not only enhance their confidence and economic freedom, but it will also ensure public awareness about the rights of transgender people.
– The Star Desk
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