Jamuna: A play on woman, war and peace | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 25, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 25, 2012

Jamuna: A play on woman, war and peace

The play is set in Bangladesh and zooms in on a woman's shame and stigma that she encounters. Photo Courtesy: Masum Reza

A renowned, self-taught sculptor puts the finishing touches to her work on the eve of her first major exhibition. This would be a tense moment for anyone. But when the inspiration behind her art is deeply personal, traumatic, and a long-kept secret, will the show turn out a success, or a source of shame? This is the moment at which we first encounter Jamuna, the driving character of this fascinating play. And we sit with her, on the edge of our seats, as she deals out the last demons of her mind and gets ready to speak her truth to the world.
It cannot be easy to capture the social anguish experienced during the Bangladesh Liberation War in an 80-minute play, but Selina Shelley has done it. Through one woman's story, she recalls the physical and sexual abuse that many women experienced at the hands of the military at that time, redoubled by the social stigma that followed them back home.
The drama unfolds in the intimacy of Jamuna's studio, filled with beautiful wooden sculptures that echo the works of Ferdousi Priyobhashini, whose life story gives inspiration to this play. And the sculptures come alive, accompanied by evocative music, to take centre stage as the characters who Jamuna loves, leans upon, or curses. Mohammed Ali Haidar's direction and Samina Luthfa's choreography make artful use of the stage, transforming it suddenly from Jamuna's studio into a night-time river escape, then into a tortuous military camp.
The play may be set in Bangladesh, but Jamuna's experience, her shame, and the stigma she encounters are themes that speak to women worldwide. For all of them, the play brings hope. On finally learning the truth of her mother's past, Jamuna's daughter Phul declares, “Ma, you are the victor!” -- and in that moment, she throws off decades of shame, inviting all women to stand tall.
The cast is impressive. Four talented young women -- two of them the playwright's own daughters -- play Jamuna's much-loved sculptures that come alive then recede again into their woody forms. They literally dance from one incarnation to the next -- as fauns in a field, then soldiers guarding a military camp, then uniting to become a mesmerising dancing Durga. Alongside them, Syed Manzurul Husssain plays many roles with great versatility and character -- from a shuffling elderly friend popping by to greet Jamuna, into a hard-nosed journalist demanding an exclusive interview and a scoop to interest his readers.
But the real force behind the show is Selina Shelley, not only playwright of this dynamic piece, but also playing the role of Jamuna herself. Like the river that gives her character's name, Shelley holds a powerful presence throughout, skilfully weaving her inner drama into a winding narrative with the characters in her mind and in her life, slowly building the dramatic tension to a final show down which holds the audience in its grip.
See this play when the chance comes your way, and you too will feel the force of Jamuna flow through you.
Jamuna was premiered on April 20 at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford by UK-based Bangladeshi troupe, Theatre Folks.

The writer is a theatre enthusiast from UK.

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