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     Volume 8 Issue 77 | July 10, 2009 |

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The Wind of Change

Ershad Kamol
A scene from Kanthalbagan.

It is all about the change of the social structure: the fall of feudalism and the rise of a newly rich class. Set against the backdrop of an unknown village in Bangladesh Aly Zaker's play Kanthalbagan, the latest production of Nagarik Natyasampradaya, reverberates with poignancy and yearning, lost love and lost hope. Yet it is infused with beauty and renewed optimism. It is tragic yet has moments of comic relief.

In the brochure of the play, the dramatist has mentioned that Kanthalbagan is neither a translation nor an adaptation of Russian drama legend Anton Chekhov's last drama The Cherry Orchard. However, Zaker has also mentioned that he has been highly influenced by Chekov's drama when depicting the change of the social structure in rural Bangladesh.

The play begins with the scene in which a middle-aged Adu (Aly Zaker), who has been serving Zohra's family for generations, is waiting for the arrival of Zohra (Sara Zaker). Through the dialogue Adu and his daughter Miju (Jhumu Majumder) the story progresses with Zohra and her family members returning to their feudal estate after five years of being completely out of touch. Meanwhile, Adu has deprived the owner of the estate from the huge earnings the Kanthal (jackfruit) orchard owned by Zohra.

Zohra, with her daughter Tamanna (Tahnina Islam) and her younger brother Tasadduq (Pantho Shahriar), returns to the estate in the countryside.

However, the reunion with the people whom they are surrounded by, a truly motley mix of classes and occupations-- becomes very tearful. Adu greets them with bad news: The entire estate will soon be lost, due to nonpayment of the mortgage taken by Tasadduq cheating his elder sister. Yet in spite of Zohra being broke, she constantly throws her money away. Adu offers a plan whereby she can save the estate. But the plan offends her sensitive, aristocratic sensibilities, for in saving the kanthalbagan she must destroy it and that she cannot do.

The family members all display great emotion, weeping uncontrollably, not just over each other, but over the impending doom of the jackfruit orchard and the house, but even for the nursery and its furniture.

Zohra (Sara Zaker), is devastated by Adu’s (Aly Zaker) news about her beloved ancestral home.

The style of presentation is also different from earlier plays produced by Nagorik, which has always presented classics for theatregoers. But Kanthalbagan appears more for a mass audience in terms of dialogue, diction and directorial composition. Aly Zaker himself has directed and adapted many classics by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Moliere, Brecht, Zuckmayer, Ionesco for his own troupe earlier. But his approach to Kanthalbagan is quite different from his earlier works.

Aly Zaker's vibrant directorial composition emphasises on the portrayal of a wealthy family that loses its beloved kanthal orchard and estate to a man, who, for three generations had served them; many logical arguments for the development of the climax of the play have been avoided.

Following the current trends of infusing traditional performing art forms in urban theatre, baul songs are an important element in Zaker's directorial compositions.

The use of baul songs as a major element in a play like Kanthal Bagan is very logical, since the actions of the play takes place in the countryside where the central character of the play Zohra is overpowered with nostalgia for her roots that compels her to return to the ancestral estate after five years. But the use of baul songs in the play sometimes appears ornamenal: the way the baul troupe, performed by the troupe members, has been introduced on the stage does not go well with the sequence of the play.

Sara Zaker's return to the stage after so many years was certainly welcomed by theatre-goers and she portrays the diverse character of Zohra who upholds the romanticism of a dying aristocracy and faces many brutal experiences with finesse. Aly Zaker as the opportunist Adu gives a vibrant performance.

However, Pijush Dastidar's set design could have been more thoughtfully done. He has simulated created a realistic outdoor scene of an estate in the countryside where all the actions of the play takes place. But the overly ornate sofa set was a bit incongruous with the other sceneries. Nasirul Haque Khokon's light design deserves plaudits, especially the use of symbolic light effects.

Kathalbagan, the 40th production of Nagarik Natyasampradaya, was premiered on July 4 at the Experimental Theatre Stage of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.


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