Back to the roots Folk Theatre Festival begins at Shilpakala

The performers gathered in a circle and the ‘Gayen,’ narrator and protagonist, was singing his story to the audience. He is the king of Kharvan, and despite his endless riches, he wants to drown himself in the river Jamuna because he has no heir. The story progresses with moving songs and dance sequences, featuring the seven beautiful queens (all played by male performers). The ‘pala’ continued for hours; the city audience included several noted theatre and cultural personalities. The pala, “Gujra Satir Banobash,” was staged by Sundarganj Pala-gaaner Akhra from Gaibandha.

To promote the various forms and styles of folk performing arts from different regions of the country, Department of Theatre and Film, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA) has organised a weeklong Folk Theatre Festival. The festival started at the Experimental Theatre Hall of BSA on April 23, featuring seven troupes from Gaibandha, Tangail, Narail, Netrakona, Khulna, Manikganj and Sunamganj. BSA has organised the festival in cooperation with ActionAid. A workshop on folk theatre is also being held as part of the festival.

Ramendu Majumdar, president of International Theatre Institute, inaugurated the event, saying, “Since the proscenium theatre, following the English concept of the medium, was introduced here we moved away from our own traditional performing art forms. A division between folk and mainstream performing art forms was created. Our opulent folk traditions are now on the verge of decline, due to lack of interest and patronage. BSA’s initiative to turn back to our roots is a timely one.”

Pointing particularly to the importance of the workshop where the students of theatre can learn different folk performing arts, he expected BSA to continue the festival every year.

Sara Ara Mahmud, director of Department of Theatre and Film, BSA; Golam Sarwar, deputy director of the department and Abdul Mannan Hawladar, director of Training Department, BSA also spoke at the inaugural event presided by Kamal Lohani, director general of BSA.

“Gujra Satir Banobash” was composed by Palakar Subal Chandra Das. This particular form of pala is known as ‘Mati Khocha Gaan’ in the northern districts such as Sirajganj, Natore, Bogra and Gaibandha. It is believed that before the invention of plough, the farmers used to till their lands with their feet, singing this ‘pala’. Quite popular among the working class people, nightlong performances are held at the villages where several troupes perform at a competitive event known as “Gidaler Akhra.”

The second day’s (yesterday) programme included “Behular Nachari” by a troupe from Haripur, Tangail led by Palakar Rustam Ali. The troupe consists of marginalised Muslim farmers, tea sellers, rickshaw pullers and vendors from the villages of Tangail.

Today, “Nouka Bilash” will be staged by the troupe Pagal Bhai-er Ashtak Dal from Narail. “Nouka Bilash” is a traditional ‘Ashtak Gaan’ performance — a tradition carried on by generations in the village Hatiara of Narail. Ashtak Gaan is performed as a part of Shib (Shiva) puja at the ‘Chaitra Sangkranti’ (celebrating the last day of the Bangla year). “Nouka Bilash” is an adaptation of “Sri Krishna Kirtan” by the legendary medieval poet Baru Ch2009-04-25__a031andi Das.


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