The Liberation War of Bangladesh is marked with the valour of our heroes, whereas the stories of war heroines are on their way to oblivion in our history. And sadly enough, the tales of hundreds of thousands of women, whose life became nightmarish during the war, go untold. Komola Collective, a London-based theatre and art company, is trying to bring forth those untold stories through their play “Birangona: Women of War.” The debut production saw its first public staging on Wednesday evening at the Shaheed Minar, as part of its tour of Bangladesh.
“Birangona” graphically dug up the haunting stories of war heroines by translating their firsthand accounts into stage production. The play depicts Moryom and the story is interspersed with her early days. Moryom, portrayed by Leesa Gazi, describes how she grew and was living in peace until one Kalboshekhi tore away everything. She also tells the stories of other women whom she met at the rape camp. The play sings for the women whose world fell apart when Pakistani occupational forces and their local collaborators raped and tortured them during the wartime.
Leesa Gazi's portrayal of Moryom was awe-inspiring. Her strikingly bold acting brings tears to the eyes as the flashbacks of the horror being perpetrated are recreated for the audience. The firsthand accounts of Birangona women cross the borders of time and give the audience a glimpse of what happened to the women during the war.
The strongest part of the play is definitely the moving story but it is Leesa who gave the story a life through stage performance. Her presentation serves a million words, and the play presents Birangonas as individuals rather than categorising them as war women.
Besides acting, “Birangona” packs puppet animation of Bengali folk-tale, brilliance of light and shadow, and awe-inspiring background music. Thanks to Sohini Alam for lending her soulful voice. In addition, a multimedia documentary showing Birangonas telling their stories also adds to ambience to make it as realistic as possible.
Earlier in 2013, a R&D show of the play was held in Dhaka to get feedback from a select audience. Later, it was premiered in the UK. The production is now streamlined and comes with a compact package. It was nominated for the Offie Award in the UK.
“Birangona” is scripted jointly by Dr. Samina Lutfa and Leesa Gazi, while Filiz Ozcan has directed it. Caitlin Abbott was in charge of stage design and animation, while Fahmida Islam did videography. Nasirul Haque Khokon was on light design for its Bangla version.
The 60-minute play is powerful; no artificial or unnecessary elements distracted the audience at any point in the performance. More such productions need to be staged across different parts of the country so that Birangonas get their due honour. Komola Collective certainly deserves a tip of the hat for bringing forth the ignored part of history in the form of a piece of art.