Nagarik’s Raktakarabi

Sunbeams at Midnight
Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelley
Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders) is one of the most touching among the timeless creations of Rabindranath Thakur. It brings to sharp focus the sprightly strength of the eternal human spirit against the backdrop of the dark cruelty of monstrous organisations that have lost their souls. The theme is instinct with rare majesty of ideas. Consequently, it is not an easy task to stage the play and put its message across anywhere in the world.

drama01Given the familiar limitations it is even more difficult to successfully stage this highly appealing but complex play in present day Bangladesh. Yet “Nagarik Nattya Sampraday” (Nagorik Drama Group) has ventured to do exactly that and apparently achieved eminent success. For Ataur Rahman the helmsman of the group, it has been an act of raw courage that brought rich rewards.

Nagarik’s Raktakarabi is one of the best things that has happened in the realm of Bangali theatre of Bangladesh. A section of the informed audience in this region earlier shared the exquisite experience of the play as staged by the “Bahu-rupi” group of Kolkata in the 1950s and ’60s. The legendary duo of the theatre-world of Kol-kata, Shambhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra succeeded in staging masterly presentations of the play. During the year 1980 the dynamism of Mustapha Manwar, then of the Bangladesh Television (BTV) succeeded in presenting Raktakarabi on the TV screen.

In the beginning of the third millennium and 21st century, a new generation has stepped into youth. The youth of the 1960s and ’80s has advanced in years. In becoming older they too have changed. It is a new generation of audience who need to be aquatinted with the moving message of Raktakerabi. This is the need that Ataur Rahman and his competent colleagues in the Nagarik group have sincerely strived to fulfill.

drama02Poet Rabindranath Tagore himself described the play as realistic; it is neither mythological nor allegorical. He wrote, “according to the poet’s knowledge and belief the content of the drama is real. This challenging story of life unfolds in the land of the Mammon: Jakkhapuri. Underneath the earth in this land lie buried treasures of Mammon. That is why, the work of digging tunnels proceed apace there.”

“The King of the realm, popularly called Mokorraj gives selective audience from behind a net that hangs on a window in the outer walls of his palace.The Sardars (headmen) are competent and experienced.”

“The Morols (sub-headmen) themselves were, at one time, tunnel diggers. Their own abilities have caused their elevation. There is also a religious leader, a priest: Goshai who depends for his subsistance on the Sardars, despite his avowed devotion to God.”

Rabindranath further writes with penetrating sarcasm: “As in the case of fishermen who often net creatures which are neither edible nor saleable, but only serve to tear the net, so also in this play a young woman called Nandini appears by sheer chance”. She is something beyond the dark experience of Jakkhapuri. She represents love, light and vibrant life. What she does literally is wreak havoc on the established manners and customs of the land”.

drama03The core content of the writing was brought fourth in clear light by the author Tagore himself in response to some English critics’ charge of obscurity against the play. Writing in October 1925 (The Viswa Bharati Quarterly) the poet observed,… “I think, in justice to myself, I should make it clear that it has definite meaning which can legitimately claim literary expression. There was a time when, in the human world, most of our important dealings with our fellow-beings were personal dealings, and the professional element in society was never hugely disproportionate to the normal constitution of its life.

“…Today another factor has made itself immensely evident in shaping and guiding human destiny. It is the spirit of organisation, which is not social in character, but utilitarian… .”

drama04… But the personal man is not dead, only dominated by the organised man. The world has become the world of Jack and Giant the Giant who is not a gigantic man, but a multitude of men turned into a gigantic system”.

The author leaves us in no doubt that the essence of the glorious human spirit is love. It is personified in the heroine, Nandini who runs like a sparkling and lively subterranean stream in the dark caverns of the Kingdom of Mammon, “Jakkhapuri” of the South Asian lores.

The spirit of the play has been exquisitely captured in the lively portrayal of the character and personality of Nandini. Aupi Karim gives a superb account of herself as an actress who blends with easy elegance into the role she performs. Her faithful acting brings the essence of Nandini’s personality into full play. Ataur Rahman, the director of Nagarik’s Raktakarabi, in the role of the forlorn ruler faithfully depicts the inner helplessness of a leader presiding over a Leviathan that holds him in irredeemable captivity. Rajib Dey as Gokul and Rakaet as a principal Sardar, Amal Biswas Katha and Khaled Anwar as Morols do a splendid job manifesting the ways of a giant of an organisation that runs and controls a dark realm. Fakhruzzaman Chowdhury as Gonsai, through his engaging acting, brings to humorous focus the hypocrisy of the self proclaimed man of God.

Ananta Hira in the role of the Professor, as usual, performes splendidly. Again, Shirin Bakul and Shabnam Shathi acting alternately, adequately perform their part. Lutfur Rahman Goerge in his portrayal of Fagulal easily reaches the audiences heart.

Khaled Khan in the role of Bishu deserves special mention. He did a splendid job by unearthing different layers of human sensitivity in his dealing with Nandini and other inmates of Jakkhapuri.

Rawnak Hasan as the Junior Sardar, Sandeepan Das as Puran Bagish, Abdur Rashid as Garju Pahloan, Omar Ayaz Oni as the Mejo (Deputy) Sardar – all contribute significantly to the total success of the performance.

drama05Despite severe constraints of the Mahila Samity Auditorium, Md. Saiful Islam does a commendable job in designing the stage. K B Azad in his direction of background sound and music, Aminul Islam Hiro in Choreography, Aditi Mohsin in training of music and Azizur Rahman Tuhin in playback, all contribute to the overall success of the play. Masud Kazi in designing costumes and stage decoration, Kazi Raquib in the design of poster and souvenir, Nasirul Haque Khokon in direction of lighting, Tapan Kumar Das in makeup, all add ably to the creation of the grand harmony manifest in Nagorik’s Raktakabari.

The care and devotion of the entire team led by Ataur Rahman diligently contribute to Nagorik’s success. Pitfalls and inadequacies are there but the entire experience is so enriching that those shortcomings are easily forgotten.

As a matchless, poetic creation Raktakarabi is an exercise to bring penetrating shafts of loving sunlight in the heart of darkness. Nagarik’s performance ably strives to do justice to this masterly creation and succeeds in projecting radiant sunbeams at dark midnight.

* The author, a noted thinker, litterateur, writer and social scientist, is the founder Chairman, Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh (CDRB), Overseas Director, American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS), Editor, quarterly “Asian Affairs”.

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