In Bangladesh, the boom of theatre is widely conceived to be a result of the Liberation War and the values and spirit it spread. Theatre, which saw a great surge following the Liberation War and enjoyed popularity during 1970-80s despite challenges, is showing signs of less popularity and sadly getting distanced from people at large these days.
New Age interviewed Indian playwright and theatre researcher Dr Asish Goswami, who has worked and written profusely on Indian Bangla theatre and Bangladeshi theatre, to get the seasoned researcher’s opinions on theatre in general and Bangladeshi theatre in particular, its challenges, possibilities and other related issues.
New Age: It is a pleasure to have you among us. You have come to attend the Bangladesh International Theatre Festival (which ended on Wednesday at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy), and let us begin with your impression of the festival.
Asish Goswami: It is an honour for me to attend the first-ever international theatre festival organised by the cultural affairs ministry here in Dhaka. It is a very welcome initiative and such festivals, if organised regularly, can help the local theatre scene greatly. Troupes from six countries, along with two Bangladeshi troupes, staged shows at the festival bringing the diverse and various experimentations that theatre activists do across the world at one place.
For any theatre activist, it is an opportunity to watch works that are being produced by others at other places. As for myself, I can say I was amazed and delighted to see Shakespeare’s Macbeth by legendary thespian Ratan Thiyam’s Chorus Repertory Theatre.
New Age: Even though troupes from six countries including India, China and France staged shows at the festival, most shows did not go houseful. Is theatre becoming a minority culture, practiced and enjoyed by a few?
Asish Goswami: Theatre has already become a minority culture. No doubt about that. It has distanced itself from the mass people. Its appeal has sadly been growingly narrow. I can remember one of our theatre greats Utpal Dutt in this regard. He said that since the day Bangla theatre, practiced in India (West Bengal) and Bangladesh, abandoned local traditions of performance arts and followed the path laid down by western theatre it distanced itself from the mass people.
This process of distancing has been going on for the last 30 or so years. There are, to note, many who have tried to bring theatre close to traditional performance arts or to incorporate traditional forms into theatre, but the attempt has not sustained on a grand scale which it should have.
New Age: How can theatre be brought closer to wider audience?
Asish Goswami: To reach a wider audience, I think, theatre style/ language and presentation need to change. We cannot expect the audience to come to shows whose stories are being ignored and who are being provided with tales of distant places and periods. Our theatre must address and touch our audience and it should be presented in the style and language that they understand and enjoy. Moreover, theatre has to be decentralised. Stages, open or studio, should be everywhere so that people can conveniently come and enjoy the plays. It is an age when products are taken to the doorsteps of the consumers; and if we consider theatre as a product, which it obviously is besides being an art-form, we have to take it to the audience.
Open and studio halls can help. There are very low cost open and studio halls in South Korea, even in Assam, India which are running very successfully and are enjoying tremendous popularity. In Bangladesh, theatre troupes can go for small studio halls or open stages to bring theatre to people. Government also has a responsibility to facilitate theatre by building or helping the troupes to build such halls and stages.
New Age: There is a growing demand in Bangladesh for salary grants for theatre activists, who are of the opinion that theatre must be highly subsidised. What is your take on it?
Asish Goswami: Theatre is subsidised in most countries and it should be, at least until it can become self-financed. In India, artistes, directors and playwrights of a few hundred troupes get salary grants. Only in the West Bengal, activists of 265 troupes get regular salary grants, though not a very high amount. Besides, production grants and festivals grants are also available. I know, there has been a continuous demand to introduce salary grants in Bangladesh too and I think the government should go for it.
New Age: You often speak of Bangla theatre as a distinguished theatre. Where does Bangla theatre stand in relation to theatre(s) practiced in the vicinity and in other languages?
Asish Goswami: Despite the wide and colourful diversity of Bangla theatre, practiced in Bangladesh and India, there is similarity in its language and style. Bangla theatre, I would say, has a very distinctive position in the South Asian countries where it is held in high regard.
New Age: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us.
Asish Goswami: You are welcome.
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