Published:  12:00 AM, 10 November 2016

Back the wilderness, take away the town

Back the wilderness, take away the town

About ninety years back Rabindranath Tagore felt very apprehensive about the rise of too much of materialistic approaches in our so called civilized society and expressed his uneasiness in at least three-if not more-of his literary works: Raktokarabi, a play; SabhyatarSankot, an essay; and SabhyatarPrati, a poem. This anxiety of profound thinkers or to be more specific, of the members of the literary world has been both overtly and covertly gliding throughout the existence of human race posing a crucial question against the very definition of civilization.
Maatbring (that's how Bibartan Jessore spells the Garo word) is another theatrical addition to that persisting anxiety of mankind in line with Bon Pangshul by Selim Al-Deen, Rarang by Mamunur Rashid or Droupodi, a Monipuri play by recently expired Thespian OjaHeisnamKanhaila. These three plays are thematically alike-as all of them narrate stories of marginalized existence of different tribal people of this subcontinent-Maatbring is of course aesthetically more straightforward and less substantiating than two others, though Sadhana Ahmed, the playwright, and Yusuf HasanArko, the director, collaboratively have an spontaneous message to impart. But there are other parallel themes too-love and back the wilderness, take away the town.

The play begins in a festive mood as the Mandimen and women, a branch of the Garo tribe enter the stage with brightly-colored placards carved with designs of the flora and fauna of their dwelling place. It has immediately created a befitting ambiance for the narrative aided with right light shades and music. Interludes of such festivities, music and light-shades undoubtedly have given an apt impression in the audience though it cannot be called that unique.

To quote Rabindranath once again, 'Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven'-the play has a similar maxim propounded through Tatararabuga, the creator of Garos who dreams of 'founding an illumed world that will have the sun and the moon after the colour of his eyes and his holy attire will spill all heavenly seeds on the barren earth to sprout countless trees and plants.' But Sanwar Alam Khan Dulu has not been able to create the exhortation the character needs and his divinity has not been properly incorporated into the audience. Jahidul Islam Jaduin the role of Kanu has been quite articulate and with his costume, props and especially his headgear he has acted with unbridled passion.  Most of the time he has been at-ease with his movements, positions, light facing and choreography.

The same goes with Tanjila Akter Jini who has played the lead female role of Mitti. I even think she has given her best on the stage and in many ways surpassed her counterpart Jahidul Islam. I express all my sympathy for Kolaboti Sangma played by Adity Sarkar Ruma. She had had the potential to be one of the core controlling characters of the plot but unfortunately both the playwright and the director have given her no space to amplify her role. In a tribal community, which is essentially a matrilineal society, the place of a personality like Kolaboti has a forceful projective importance. More so because ours is a patrilineal society where male egos dominate. Her torching death at the last scene could have created a meaningful and far-reaching impact on the audience. Susimi, mother of Mitte, played by Afsana Beauty, has been fluent and eloquent in her discourses most of the time but her expressions more often than not have failed to commensurate with her dialogue projections.  The play has had occasions of comic relief through Chamcha and Choto Saheb, and in spite of some witty slapstick comedies and sitcoms they remind us of any other sycophants of the modern day.

Both the playwright and the director have mentioned in their notes that Maatbring is a Garo vocabulary originated from A-chick language meaning 'tribes who live in deep forest.' The meaning is right though the study shows this particular dialect is not spoken by the Garos of Bangladesh. It is in fact the dialect of the Indian Garos, whereas the Garos of Bangladesh inhabited mostly in Sylhet division speak A-beng variety. Noticeably enough all the dialogues and songs are in promito Bangla and not a bit of tribal touch (at least addition of a few meaningful A-chik or A-beng vocabs could intensify the Garo ambiance) have been given in this particular area, which I think needed some homework or research. The music and songs have been adorable, inclusion of two western country notations have been admirably appropriate, but the rest had the scope of being adapted from Garo musical notations.

As for light, costume and props I must say they have been well concerted with the play. However, the costumes have been in a way seemly with the tribal semiotics but not authentic. Of course it has neither damaged nor added any essentiality in its storytelling as the audience; I am sure, has taken it for granted.  As director Yusuf Hassan Arko has played a vital role in adding love-theme into the plot as we get to know from Sadhana Ahmed's note, and he has done the right thing. In fact Arko has had three different roles to perform: directorial, music designing and set designing, and he has done all of them with commendable expertise.

Though I do not wish to be gender-bias and hate to mention that Sadhana is one of those few female playwrights who have achieved considerable success in our theatre world, she definitely has displayed her quality and flair in Maatbring. She possesses an intrinsic potent force for going a long way.  Bibartan Jessore, a off-Dhaka city theatre group has brought a wonderful production in the 19-day long National Theatre Festival 2016, arranged by Shilpokala Academy, and Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation, and sponsored by the Culture Ministry, Peopl's Republic of Bangladesh, evidencing that with right guidance and patronization road to aesthetics can be traversed smoothly.

The author is a Professor of English department at  Central Women's University

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