Second time elected the president of International Theatre Institute, Ramendu Mojumdar continues to be connected to a world that he loves best – the theatre. His group 'Theatre' has produced 43 plays, he has acted in many. Married to the legendary Ferdousi Mojumdar and father to Tropa Mojumdar, a promising stage actor and director, Ramendu is seldom away from this world save when he is wearing his more practical hat –as the Chairman and MD of Expressions Ltd, an advertising firm.
But theatre, for Ramendu, is not just a fulfilling passion – he sees it, like many of his counterparts at home and abroad as an instrument of change. “Through our theatre we very much uphold the spirit of the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Syed Shamsul Haq's play “Payer Awaj Pawa Jae” is a famous play on '71 in which Abdullah Al Mamun and Ferdousi Mojumdar had central roles. There was a revival of the play after a gap of 15 years.
“My daughter Tropa has taken up her mother's role” says Ramendu. “Other young actors have joined in.”
'Meraj Fokirer Ma', says Ramendu, upholds secularism. The story line includes two 'pirs in one village. They are in conflict. They are not truly religious but in the business of religion, as they say. Suddenly it is discovered that the mother of one of the 'pirs' was a Hindu lady married to a Muslim. This creates great tension. The other 'pir' thinks that this is an opportunity to defame his rival. Ultimately, they decided to throw stones at the lady. Finally, the son of the Hindu lady saves his mother, saying that 'a mother has no religion, a mother is a mother'. Originally, the central actors were Abdullah Al Mamun and Ferdousi Mojumdar. Decades later, the characters are played by Ferdousi, doing her role and Tofa Hussain.
Tall, well-built, with a crop of curly salt-and-pepper hair, sporting bifocals, Ramendu Mujumdar looks very much the part of a theatre actor. He can be proud that his wife and daughter are actors and producers, like him, He was once the president of “Shankritik Okkyo Jote”. Talking about the International Theatre Institute , Ramendu tells us that it was founded by UNESCO, back in 1948, after World War II , in order to bring peace and harmony, through mutual understanding of theatre workers.
“Our UNESCO secretariat is in Paris, and I go there for meetings, once or twice a year” says Ramendu. “We have a hundred national centres. In Bangladesh the centre was founded in 1982. We have organised about ten international festivals conferences, seminars etc, where many foreign personalities came. They mingled and exchanged ideas and views with our people—they were thoroughly impressed by the sincerity and hard work of our theatre workers. Yet, we have no professional theatre. But we do things professionally. That was what was very attractive to the foreign visitor.”
'Theatre's' latest productions include 'Paramkhana' on the life and teachings of Lalon, written by Pantho Sahriar a young playwright, 'Meraj Fakirer Ma' by Abdullah Mamun ,and 'Mukti', the last being an adaptation of an American play called 'Independence' by Lee Blessing. This play, says Ramendu, was taken to London, in a festival organised by the local government there. It has only four female characters. It consists of a mother and three daughters. Ferdousi played the mother. His daughter, Tropa, directed the play. They began with Abdullah al Mamun's 'Shubachon Nirbashone.' When Mamun was alive he wrote most of their plays, says the veteran actor. “We also did Shakespeare's plays like 'Othello',” he says. It was translated and not adapted for the Bangla audience. With Nagorik, another theatre company, they jointly produced and with the International Theatre, the group played 'Tempest'. There were four or five groups under the banner of ITI. In 'Tempest', there was Aly Zakir, Ferdousi Mujumdar, etc and the two plays, 'Othello' and 'Tempst' was produced by the British Council.
As the chairman of the Dhaka Arts Centre at Dhanmondi, Rd 7A, the cultural expert explains that the centre was based on a dream. The directors hoped that it will some day be the hub of cultural activities and not just art. They hoped that people could get together in the evenings. They run the organisation in a non-profit manner, and wish to patronise young artists, who don't have their own studio, says Ramendu.
“We give the artists space to work and along with leading painters, we make it a point to encourage young painters. It is because of hartals and oborods that less senior artists come here to work at the 'Kibria Print Workshop'.”
The biggest challenge for the future is raising enough money to keep the Centre going. At present, the trustees cover the expenses and try to get donations from outside. Like most Bangladeshi actors, Ramendu has to earn his living by means other than theatre. This is advertising and he has been in the profession for 45 years. He admits that he enjoys it and has never looked back after switching from teaching English. Since '72 he worked with Bitopi for 21 years. In 1993, he set up his own agency called Expressions with 60 employees.
Theatre, however, has remained his first love. When he is not acting on stage, he is continuously promoting it as a formidable tool for social and political change.