“Behular Bhasan”appeals with its tone and tenor.
“Behular Bhasan” presented by Department of Theatre, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh at Shri Ram Centre this past week is remarkable for its rich music score, creative choreography and emotional depth. As part of South Asian Women's Theatre festival, it is a musical par excellence with various theatrical means of expression intricately woven into the narrative structure. It unfolds as a complex theme derived from the “Padma-Purana” with focus on Behular whose husband died of snakebite on the day of wedding, condemning her to the stigma of widowhood. The travails of her journey, confronting brutal and sexually rapacious forces with a view to bring back her husband alive with the blessings of Lord Shiva are depicted vividly.
Derived from the Behular legend, the script is recreated by various scholars to give it the contemporary connotation of gender struggle in a society dominated by men. The play is directed by Syed Jamil Ahmed, who was trained at National School of Drama, New Delhi and later did his M.A. from the University of Warwick (England) and Ph.D. from Dhaka.
After teaching at various universities in the UK and USA, he is presently professor of theatre in Dhaka University and is engaged in creation of an indigenous theatre in Bangladesh with contemporary sensibility.
An author of several books on theatre, he has directed 20 plays, apart from designing sets and lightings. His productions of “Behular Bhasan” displays that he is a highly imaginative and sensitive artist. There is no false and pompous theatricality in his production. The silence he creates at places evoke profound sense of pathos. The dance movements, the singing, the sense of timing appear to be flawless. In this nearly two hour-long show the action flows in a seamless manner, touching the emotional chord of the audiences.
The sets conceived by the director himself provide the right ambience for the action. A platform is erected over the stage with two stairs joining the upstage and downstage with enough space for uninterrupted movements for performers who are consisted of large numbers. At places one or two wooden blocks are placed. This device enables the audience to view vital scenes more clearly. The use of scrolls and huge pieces of draperies impart the production with visual appeal which are suggestive enough to show the locale of the action. The stage compositions are aesthetically composed, pregnant with deeper meanings about life.
One of the highlights of the production is the way chorus is conceived which is formed by two groups – male chorus and female chorus – who display consummate skill as singers and dancers. Acting as narrators, they repeat the lyrics after the performer has finished his or her lines. They keep on moving while singing and often taking part in the action. The orchestra consisted of traditional instruments provide excellent support to the vocalists.
Though all the members of the cast give excellent account of themselves, Kazi Tamanna Haque as the lead narrator and Behula is the cynosure of all eyes. Her voice is beautiful, fully modulated; it is soft with a range, dramatically intense and at the same time harmonising with orchestra. When she would render lyrics in a low voice, almost in whisper to create effects she is audible to the packed hall.
This production from Bangladesh would be remembered for long for its rich musicality drawn from traditional sources, excellent performances and the artistry of the director.