It’s not too often that tickets for a theatre play run out six days before the staging in Bangladesh, but for the penultimate day’s showing of the Ganga Jamuna Theatre and Cultural Festival at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on Friday, it was the least of surprises. Last year at the festival, Nagorik Natya Sampradaya brought back the likes of Sara Zaker and Aupee Karim to the stage in “Naamgotroheen -- Manto’r Meyera”, and this year, they did one better. Nagorik brought back a classic to the National Theatre Hall -- an important part of
Bangladesh’s theatre history, “Dewan Gazi’r Kissa”. And with it they brought the most heavyweight cast in recent memory on the Dhaka stage -- thespian icons Aly Zaker, Sara Zaker and Abul Hayat, supported by the formidable likes of Shamima Naznin, Ziaul Hasan Kislu and Runa Khan, among others. Under the direction of no less than the Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor (who also adapted the play and directed it originally, from Bertolt Brecht’s “Herr Puntila und sein kencht Matti”), it transported the audience to another era of Bangladeshi theatre.
“Dewan Gazi’r Kissa” is a comedy, but not of the garden variety. It’s a small, linear story but dressed in an epic presentation, and one of the foremost things to notice about it is the dialogues. Spontaneous, conversational and yet incredibly punchy, it manages to add in
nuances without complicating the plot. At the heart of it is an alcoholic aristocrat -- and his righteous, stoic and a genuine good soul of a servant. The powerful Dewan Gazi (Zaker) has two alter-egos: a kind, congenial man when he’s drunk and a straight-up obnoxious angry jerk when sober. He looks to marry his only daughter Laily (Runa) off to a spineless, gold-digger police officer Nofor Ali (Mostafiz Shahin), but Laily realises that it is not her that Nofor really is interested in.
While it’s almost surreal to watch the likes of Aly Zaker and Sara Zaker act live up front, and they do a brilliant job, it is Abul Hayat (in the role of Makhon the servant) who shines the brightest. Not for a second does he walk, talk or act like the 72-year old that he is.
When the lights come on, Abul Hayat truly transforms into Makhon, a role he first played at age 35, and still does today. Runa Khan, who left the stage 12 years ago, also puts on a commanding display every time she is on. Sara Zaker and Shamima Naznin, as Chamely and Lata respectively, are also vastly entertaining.
The set, props and costume are neat and no-nonsense, while the other characters (Mostafiz Shahin and Ruhe Tamana Labonyo as Sakhina being the most noteworthy) also hold their own.
It’s a little frightening to nitpick on such a high-profile production, but as Asaduzzman Noor himself admitted, it was not flawless. The positioning of actors on stage (‘blocking’ in theatre jargon) were a little off once or twice, the timing of lighting wasn’t pinpoint,
and in one particular sequence, the music (played live, as is tradition) interfered with the dialogues and made it a little inaudible.
To all those who missed the show, Nagorik announced another staging on September 20 at the Experimental Theatre Hall, promising to make it better.
“Shesher Kobita” was staged by Prangonemor on the same day at the Experimental Theatre Hall, while curtains came down on the festival yesterday with Dhaka Theatre’s “Dhaboman” (NTH) and Mohakal Natya Sampraday’s “Neelakhyan”.