During the month of November every year, I attend out of love and duty, what I feel is one of the finest fringe theatre festivals in the UK. As a staunch supporter of local arts, I have always tried to contribute however I can in ensuring these traditions continue in our urban spaces. This festival is called The Season of Bangla Drama, spearheaded by a good friend of mine and also a fellow theatre lover Kazi Ruksana, whom without, this festival would collapse. She, with the help of the Tower Hamlets Council and all the wonderful festival volunteers and venues, leads this annual celebration from inception to delivery – and it has gone from strength to strength every year.
The festival offers a diverse range of plays with Bengali sensibilities from the UK, Bangladesh and West Bengal. It aims to explore how Bengali culture and heritage can be exported across continents and reinterpreted using a mixture of innovation and tradition to inspire a new generation and develop new audiences. The festival is also a great platform for emerging writers, directors and performers to showcase their talents. . I am asked every year to review the plays, which is both a pleasure and challenge, especially for the really good ones where I’m often lost for word and just want to say ‘incredible’!
Kuthai Gele Mukthi Milea
The last play of this year’s Season of Bangla Drama was one that I will never forget. I walked in anticipating the delivery of what I thought was going to be the delivery of Biswanath to Bricklane. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, the cast and crew were not able to come to the UK to deliver this. We were told that Liza Asma Akther (the writer, director, actor) would instead, deliver a new piece to us. One that was written by her on the flight to the UK and with 24 hours to rehearse.
We were a little confused. As a theatre loving audience eagerly awaiting to see something we had anticipating, hearing it was no longer and we would see something else already put a little caution in the air.
But we continued, and somewhat appreciated the warm theatre seats and atmosphere as an agreeable compromise.
The stage was dimly lit, flickering tea light candles, a blood red piece of fabric, and the silhouette of one woman. Liza. A woman who held and delivered one of the most powerful, moving and passionate pieces of theatre I have ever seen…. all by herself.
Her analysis and alternative approach to expressing the many consequences of war on women, and the concepts of ‘birangona’ (women who were forced into prostitution, raped, and used as sex slaves by Pakistani military during the 1971 war between east and west Pakistan), the afterbirth of war and the birth of Bangladesh as we know it, was compelling and incredibly engaging to say the least.
The excellent use of just a handful of props, with the red fabric (symbolising blood and birth and knots to so many ideologies), was used in an incredibly powerful way. Liza grew in all of us. Angry, Sad, Frustrated, Fierce.
The audience was silent throughout. Tears rolled down some of the faces as Liza spat word after word of broken moments and dreams and hypocrisies of our world today. It was spine tingling and mesmerising to say the least!
Her role, Pushpomala/Kali was one of the best deliveries of any character I have seen in a very long time. It was natural. For me, it felt like Liza was not acting. Kali was an extension of her beliefs, her charity work in Mohamedpur with children and rejected women, her passion, her zeal and her unshakeable values. Liza and Kali were one. And towards the end, I too found myself shaking inside with emotion I had not felt for a very long time on issues that had always touched a nerve – the imbalance in our world today, and how despite the many progresses, women across the world are still at the burning end of prejudice, abuse, oppression and rejection. I became Kali but carrying the burden and guilt of the many who had and still do not say or do enough about these issues.
An ode to fearlessness and the real freedom fighters at the birth of Bangladesh and of our time!
I congratulate Liza for a tremendously poignant, relevant, timeless and powerful performance and piece.
© 2014 Shroomantics ~ Rahima Begum