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February 13, 2004

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Lalon Lost in Singing

What is Lalon without his songs? That doesn't mean that a movie on Lalon, a poet, mystic and the guiding spirit of the bauls of bygone Bengal, should solely bank on his songs. Granted, that the man is still shrouded in the mystery of his own cult, and history has not given us too many clues to his private life, yet that is no excuse for a movie to go berserk and take on a form of a song-heavy mishmash.

This productive public figure of the nineteenth century Nodia, known as Kustia today, is mostly popular for his songs. However, the fact that Lalon is not the sum total of his songs or thoughts is something that one must take into account, if his life is to be depicted in any form. The movie Lalon tries the opposite.

The man had a life that he lived among his contemporaries, mentors, disciples and most importantly his relations and partner in life and meditation. He had interacted with all these people, plowed his paddy field, gone out to spread his ideas succinctly defined by atto-totto (self-knowledge) while mounted on a horse. In all probability, he must have been a man of action who thrived on philosophical discourse. Self-absorbed romanticist, he never was. His writings stand proof of that.

The movie Lalon, written and directed by Tanvir Mokammel, tells a different tale. Or it might be fitting to say that it stands clear off of any such trouble. Telling a tale in the language of cinema is hard, Mokammel's effort is proof of that. He, as a screenplay writer, also proves that it is a Herculean task to chart the life of a man about whose life we have little knowledge. The movie projects Lalon as a wandering minstrel, a kind that cultivates an eye for natural splendour. In many a setting, Lalon (Azad Abul Kalam cast as the young Lalon and Raisul Islam Asad as older Lalon) walks about the wilderness and sings to his hearts content without taking into account the life of Lalon and the reaction of the viewers. By celebrating the songs, the movie leaves out Lalon's life, and lets it course through a pseudo-storyline that may at best be called a timid interpretation of whatever evidence of Lalon's life the director could put his hands on.

This farce -- the movie -- strings one song after another, most in romantic settings. The lore of the baul, in turn, is transformed into one continuous refresher course. It is a classic example of the ignorant iconophile doing disservice to the integrity of the icon, unknowingly, of course.

Oriental Sight

Oriental art has a look of its own. It gives off a kind of delicate visual beauty that builds on smooth wash of colours and subtle lines. This may be considered a limitation by many, but the same too has been a staple for a lot of exponents of visual art. Shahneoyaj Cacoly too is fully into this watercolour-based mode of art. Her works are certainly in conformity with this distinct oriental characteristic. Human figures are her forte. That does not mean that she stays clear of foraying into abstract composition.

Her solo at the newly established Gallery Dhrupad was a homage to the academic oriental style of rendering figures, mostly female. In today's world, interest in anything Oriental is back in vogue, but the kind of oriental art that is practised in the institutions are heavily inclined to a visual solution where stylisation of figures only make way for tepid expressions. Many artists are veering towards something different to escape this very formal kind of art making. However, Cacoly still is satisfied with this mode, and applies her craft with precision. It is this precision that gives her work a distinct flavour.

In works like the Past, her eye for detail mingles with the abundance of black cloud-like wash that reminds one of black and white treatment of scenery by the Chinese. As for the rendition of the damsels, which are the staples in academic oriental version in Bangladesh, Cacoly's painting is a tribute to the colour yellow. Perhaps, in her case, colour is one thing, if explored to its full scope, might accrue good results in future.

Voice of the Underprivileged

APARAJEYO Bangla once again organised a cultural programme that included a drama staged by underprivileged children. The function kicked off with songs and recitation of poetry by two little girls, Moushumi and Shyamoli. A drama following the song and recitation session was a social realist presentation. The drama "Sleeping Humans" was written and directed by Mahbubur Rahman, who teaches music to these kids at their home for underprivileged children in East Tejtury Bazar near Karwan Bazar. As for the kids, they had the day of their lives on the stage set up in the open square of the Karwan Bazar Market-2 on January 28 , 2004.

Although the drama was interrupted by mechanical glitch, one of the elder children, Farooq chipped in with his two consecutive songs that he himself wrote and composed. He enthralled the crowd at the Bazar so much so that even when the overhead microphones that were acting up were fixed, the crowd asked the boy to continue. But the drama too, after the sound system was revived, seemed to have won over the crowd. Its scenario was simple and designed to inform the viewers about the danger of children being monopolised into serving to appease the adult vices. It strove to encompass everything from enforced drug retailing and other inescapable predicaments that the underprivileged kids find themselves into, to the abuses that are being meted out to them.

Aparajeyo-Bangladesh has been working with these children since 2002, and has been campaigning for better treatment to children while trying to rehabilitate the ones who are often called street children.

Nandan Kanan: Urbanisation and its Parasites in Focus

The story of the drama “Nandan Kanan” centres on an elderly woman, who lives alone in an affluent part of Dhaka. Apart from the sudden emergence of a relation, her niece, the old lady's only strong connection with other people is through the telephone calls she receives from the only son living abroad. The urban condition of living in isolation -- in total obscurity -- is only disrupted when a man comes to pester her to give up her land to a certain developer. The events that follow see a group of young men, who were suddenly discovered when she enters her home coming back from the bazar with her groceries, taking over her house and continuing to live there. They, the thugs, forcefully become houseguests. Some of them even take part in cooking and in running errands. Although their motive was sinister, it was to force the old lady in signing the contract, the author of the drama brings in a lot of wit and develops emotional tangles to tone the otherwise hostile situation with intermediary colours.

The drama loses its footing only when the obstinate lady almost becoming psychotic. She first tries to poison them by mixing rat-poison in their tea, which fails as the rat poison was already being replaced by sugar, and later she almost attempts to stab one of the five gang members. These scenes, especially the latter one, fail to address the emotional turmoil the lady (played by Dilara Zaman) finds herself in. All in all, her relationship with these ill-intentioned men seems bereft of any real sign of foreboding. This is where the director could really have made a difference. Although the last minute skirmishing among themselves left their leader dead, that dramatic development too, it seems, needed a high pitched delivery in the tone of hostility.

Still, as a witty and visually interesting drama, “Nandan Kanan” deserves kudos. It was the 11th production of Dibyo Dristi. The drama was directed by Akram Khan and premiered on 23 January 2004 at the auditorium of the Russian Cultural Centre.



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