Yes, I am talking about Mahasthan, a play written by Dr Selim Mozahar (apologies for not being sure about the English spelling he prefers), visualized and directed by Liaquat Ali Lucky, and fascinatingly performed by an over 300 casts aided by another almost 100 off-stage supports like props, costumes, light and music at the place that bears the witness of the long history of almost 2500 years of Bengal. The play is classified as protnonatok in Bangla, a genre that is claimed to be belonging to archeological play (perhaps a new coinage), meaning the history of the past reconstructed by scanning the excavated buildings and objects spiced up with imagination – as sans imagination no artistic form or innovation can sustain or be sapid.
My memory gives me a hint that in one of his essays on literature and history, Rabindranath mentioned historians often fail to write unbiased chronicles of a nation for they in one way or other suffer from some kind of illiberal beliefs affected by the time and ambiance they live in. But the real, uninhibited and authentic history of a society, civilization or for that matter a nation can be found in the artistic and literary creations of the time, and that is the distinctiveness of the works of art. I truly subscribe to this view of the great writer. With the amount of imagination Selim as the playwright and Liaquat Ali as director have depicted the history in the play Mahasthan, it truly is the honest and spectacular narrative of three thousand years of evolution of our language and land.
Both the writer and the director have denotatively taken up a wide canvas that bears a horizontal and vertical space—especially when we see the open-air performance done at Mahasthangarh, an archaeological site in Bogura, and a befitting venue for chronicling these particular events of the past. The initial narrative done by Asaduzzaman Noor with his sedate and compelling voice immediately creates the aura that is essentially necessitated for such an imposing performance. It is really amazing that Lucky has been able to paint the vast and massive space so adroitly, and also concertedly conjoin the fragmented episodesof historical narrative by means of convincing props, glaring light, assertive sound, apt music and glowing costumes. The entire performance has flawlessly ensued a grand spectacular and there is not a moment of boredom felt by the audience. In fact he has synchronized and linked the dialogues and acting done at different corners and spaces of the performing-frame in such a way that the play has assumed the form and shape of an adorably consummate whole.
But there are places where I have personally felt the play could be more artistically accomplished. Some of the anecdotes, I presume, have given impressions that the play overtly tries to disseminate a particular political message. Though it is not unimportant or untrue altogether, it has conspicuously and obviously stalled the very vital breathtaking continuum of the play. This could have been done more covertly and artistically.
I have no hesitation saying that I have never had any aesthetic experience of the kind that I had on November 23 evening when the play had its debut performance at Mahasthangarh. I heard about the adaptation of the Indian epic poem and subsequent stage play of the Mahabharata by Peter Brook. But that too was a proscenium performance. With the history of the past Liaquat Ali Lucky has created a history in the open space no doubt – he has told our history in a spectacular manner.
The writer is a theatre activist, playwright and theatre critic. He is also a Bangla Academy awardee for translation.