Street theatre is quite an underrated performance media in our country, despite its strengths. Typically based on social issues and causes, these performances have a wider reach of audience, and if done properly, has a strong impact on them. Marking one year of the devastating Rana Plaza tragedy, a number of socio-cultural organisations have chalked out various programmes, and BotTala, being the dynamic, socially-aware theatre troupe that they are, added their touch to the events, staging their street-theatre production “Jotugriho” at three venues on April 25. The first of the performances was in front of the National Museum at a gathering of Garments Sromik Songhoti, followed by Pathshala's exhibition “1134 – lives not numbers” and finally at Desh Mrittika -- a school for children of garments workers in Mirpur.
Written by Dr. Samina Luthfa Nitra and directed by Mohammad Ali Haider, the thirty-minute production opens with a rickshaw-van driver, Nabi, picking up burnt dead bodies from the Tazreen Fashion fire (that happened on November 24, 2012) into his van to dump somewhere – as asked, when the dead bodies start talking to him.
As I sat on the floor of the Pathshala premises with a damama (large floor-drum) playing in the background and a wailing voice singing the lines “Amare Keu Khun Kore Nai”, I realised the chills running through my spine were not from the strong gust of wind that blew through as a few clouds darkened in the sky. Dressed in ash-smeared shroud, the dead bodies rose up and walked around the stage, recalling the day of the incident, and how they felt. The dialogues, lacking in any sophistication and full of profanity, sounded so real, as if the time and place had transformed. The characters shared in graphic detail how the fire started, how they got trapped, the panic, despair and desperation that set in as the fire and smoke began to engulf them, and the unbearable agony of burning for hours before death seems like the ultimate peace. They called their family members over phone to say the last goodbyes, and then just surrendered to fate. The group then went on about every struggle they go through at work, from the menial pay to negligence of safety measures to how any demand of theirs is portrayed as unrest and dealt with sternly by law-enforcers, backed by garments owners, and how even the compensations for their losses after accidents are embezzled by owners and authorities. And suddenly, they were not just Tazreen victims, but every living and deceased worker at every garments factory in the country; their stories being all the same, as is their fate.
Ending with another song and choreography, the production left me - and possibly most others in the audience, with a substantial psychic jerk; the incredibly vivid dialogues and script as if opened a window into the lives of these people who work for absurdly low salaries and go through unspeakable hardships.
The entire cast of the play -- including Pankoj Majumder, Samina Luthfa, Mizanur Rahman, Sheyuti Shahgufta, Baker Ahmed, Hasnine Shikder and Evan Riaz -- were spot on in their roles, as was the music, done by Soumya Sarkar and Bratto Amin.