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October 3, 2003

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Special Stuff On National days

Ali Zaker

When a national day looms 'round the corner we, the ones active in the field of performing arts, are often asked by one or the other cultural reporter what have we achieved with our creative endeavours addressing the specific day? These are days like the Independence Day, the Victory Day or the Martyrs Day.

These innocuous questions have become so common that, to me, they seem meaningless and irritating. Usually, I try to ignore them. But the questions keep coming over and over again. It does seem that the person at the questioning end is performing a routine job and has given very little thought to what to ask.

Let me embark upon the universe of discourse. Theatre is my field. An ample example could be a play on the occasion of the national day. That is just fine. There could also be a play about the particular day. This, I think, is a self-limiting exercise because it is time bound. Not every great event in history has necessarily been recorded as it happened in a piece of literature or art. The creator took the liberty of interpreting the event as he thought it best suits him. In that, the possibility is limitless. You could get a Bishad Shindhu or a Man without Shadows, Julius Caesar or a Sirajuddoulah inspired by great historical events, making their places as near epics in the annals of creative writing.

Very few plays have been written on the immortal martyrs' day following the language movement in Bangladesh. The only play that has stood the test of time on this event is "Kabor" by Shaheed Munier Chowdhury. That does not make the day less important or the inspiration of the day less significant for a creative writer or an artist. Whether such events excite creative minds to come out with something memorable is what is important. To my judgement there are only about a couple of significant plays directly related to our war of liberation. Does that make the war unimportant or the liberation less desirable? I think it should be foolhardy to think so.

To the best of my knowledge most great works inspired by great events have had very little to do with the event itself. The ones that could be defined as being directly related to events are usually classified as such. At a macro level some definitions imposed on certain artistic endeavours come to me as superfluous and unwanted. Like the words “political theatre”, though evocative, is much less meaningful given the fact that the plays belonging to this genre go beyond politics and have more to do with life itself. Take Brecht, for instance. His plays, though had a Marxist leaning, did deal with the universality of predicament of the common people in a society plagued by the injustices meted out by those who control it.

Therefore, it would be in fitness of things to see whether the great events that have enriched our history have any bearing on or contribution to our creative endeavours. In fact most of the good plays that have been performed on our stage have been inspired by the important events in our national life. One play that readily comes to mind is “Nuraldeener Shara Jiban” written by Syed Shamsul Haq and performed by our group for nearly a hundred nights. This play, inspired by our liberation war, is based on the life of Nuraldeen, a peasant from Rangpur who had taken up arms against the British colonialists and the feudal lords back in the eighteenth century. He fought like a guerrilla leader until such time that he had decided to take on the British in a frontal battle that killed him. Syed Haq introduced this sudden change in the tactic of Nuraldeen which is his own interpretation. And that came as the foremost creative twist in the play. History records that Nuraldeen was crestfallen to have found that those that were downtrodden and looked up to him for leadership had started calling him “Nawab”. Syed Haq writes, Nuraldeen always wanted to be a leader of the masses and not a lord or master. Was this consecration so painful for Nural that he decided to virtually commit suicide by engaging the British in a frontal battle which he knew could never win? There is a superb soliloquy towards the end of the play to this effect that enthrals the audience. This play, we all know and Syed huq admits, was inspired by the war of our liberation and, indeed, lived it truly in its spirit.

So, we see that any creative work of great quality can be inspired by a great event in a nation's history. Maybe when cultural scribes look for special works of art on special occasions they should indeed look for such works that are able to bring glory to the nation irrespective of subjectmatters.


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