Ataur Rahman is a prominent figure in the Bangladeshi theatre scene. He is a veteran theatre activist and one of the pioneers of the theatre movement that began following the Liberation War. In a recent conversation with The Daily Star, he talked about the evolution of theatre, its present state and more.
Tell us about the early days of Bangladeshi theatre.
Ataur Rahman: Theatre flourished massively following the Liberation War and now it is one of the most developed sections of our cultural arena. Just after liberation, we did not have enough playwrights and for the sake of theatre, we had to translate and adapt foreign dramas into Bengali. We tried hard to popularise theatre across the country; as a result, a good number of works are being produced today and theatre has taken an organised shape.
How has our Liberation War been reflected in our theatre?
Ataur Rahman: Though theatre is possibly the best outcome of the Liberation War, the war did not appear directly in theatre. There are lots of plays that reflect the war, but the psychological state of people in the war-torn country is not reflected to a great extent. Though we have many stage plays, dramas serials and movies that are based on the war, we are yet to make plays and movies highlighting the inner conflicts of people during the war. The works of Abdullah Al Mamun, Syed Shamsul Haq highlight the theme of Liberation War; some works by Abdullah Al Mamun show how we are losing that spirit. Good movies and plays on the psychological aspects will emerge, but it will take time.
How far has our culture progressed in the past four decades?
Ataur Rahman: It is our independence that hastened our cultural development. Now we are doing everything as citizens of a free country; cultural sector is flourishing as a result of this freedom. Our free and creative thinking, intellectual progress are the results of our independence. We connect Shakespeare with the context of our own country; we now try to uphold our own tradition. We have a distinct and rich cultural background.
What is your take on the present state of the theatre movement?
Ataur Rahman: Following the independence we began the theatre movement with a new spirit; we staged plays in different parts of the country and travelled from one region to another to spread the movement across the country. The present progress is the result of that movement. We have shortage of venues, financial and other constraints; the people of Uttara, Mirpur and other distant parts of the capital cannot watch theatre plays as it takes long time to come to the Shilpakala Academy. Establishing theatre halls and subsidising the sector will help. The positive thing is that the young activists are coming to theatre out of passion, and this will help develop theatre further.
What are the philosophies that drive Ataur Rahman, the theatre veteran?
Ataur Rahman: Theatre is a form of art; it has to contain allegory and metaphor, so that it makes people think after the play is over. We have to ensure professionalism in theatre. Theatre has to bring new interpretations, new ideas. We have to prioritise the story, and most importantly it has to be intelligible to the audience so that they can connect it to their own lives. Establishing a dedicated institute for theatre will surely bring a very positive change to our existing theatre scenario.