Let the drums beat, the tiger’s roar and the acrobats swing

By Towheed Feroze

As the mellow yet captivating tone of the flute fills the air, the reddish stage light creates a haunting atmosphere. The shadow in the dark gets molded with the hissing fog, the shapes with a slow but, steady pace takes material from, the eyes are defiant, the contumacious attitude, a bold answer to unimaginable odds- the members of the GREAT Bengal Circus. And Circus Circus is their presentation, a buoyant realization of human existence.

Talking about theatres in Dhaka, one seldom gets the pleasure to immerse oneself in a sea of gaiety and jest. The predominant theme that I have found is tragedy, tragedy and at last more tragedy. It however would be incorrect to suggest that weepie is the lone premise. There are variations but, very few. Circus Circus is an exception in the sense that it eschews the sniff and tears theme and emphasizes the merriment of life. Of course, there is a tragedy but, it is so very deftly coated with a joviality that one for once gets a relieving respite from a depressing after-thought.

Circus Circus is a stage production from Prachyanat– a troupe of theatre activists sworn to serve Dionysus with dedication amply geared by sophistication. A relatively new group, it is Azad Abul Kala’s becoming tribute to the finer qualities of survival.

The story centers around a struggling circus group whose owner, Sadhan Das, has inherited it from his brother, Lakshan Das. Struggling it may be but the performers have a sense of dignity, esteem, an unusual feel of confidence. The troupe is invited to a Nabagram to perform. There the main incidents brew up. The local fundamentalists vehemently oppose this sort of diversion. The fun, the power of the circus circus transforms the prosaic life of Nabagram infusing the long-needed jest in it. The extremists are not at all happy- after all, this zestful luster in their eyes is the elixir of suntan. Warnings are quick to come but, Sadhan Das is unable to comprehend how he and his circus group are vitiating the principles of morality. He is busy with arranging things, one of the tigers has been taken ill, and there are other complications. Adamant, the so-called defenders of the faith against the infidels (in this case, the circus performers) stamp posters threatening Sadhan Das. The owner of the troupe in a stubborn stance defies the threats and carries on. Like a death in masks they came- their wrath unchecked, overtaken by pyromania they razed the circus to ashes. Their objective materialized, the hatred towards merrymaking manifested they departed shattering not just the circus but the essence of joy or as the French might put it Joie de future. As a despondent air hangs over the ashes of life, the fumes still whisper determination. The faces taut by the slogan – shsbash, Great Bengal Circus – is still as gallant as ever, even the fire could not put away the flame of all flames- the will to carry on.

Circus Circus is a candid presentation of the determination that often is visible in men who are deemed uneducated, uncultured. This is a celebration of man’s right to defend his principles. The characters in the circus party are ordinary humans, not free from the usual foibles, there is lust, greed, deception, and sloth yet, under the surface of all these frailties lie e unique sense of unanimity. There is this insurmountable satisfaction in the acts they perform. An unassailable pride shines with unusual luster in the face of Sadhan Das. The roles of Kesha, the ringmaster, and MP’s younger brother were done with striking consummation.

“Incredibly funny, it is a contorted picture of the pathological aspects of society that many a time manages to undermine sane living and free-thinking,” remarked Fizul Bari, a professor. Beautifully acted, it is close to perfection. The subtext is excellent and overall it is an absorbing piece that has the potentialities to match any Haymarket production, remarked Shahryar, an expatriate Bengali living in London. “The most wonderful thing about this production is that it is neat, implacably funny, and magnetically enthralling,” said Khasru, a local theatre activist.

Relevant to mention that many of the actors have not had any professional theatre training, but their performance was absolutely charming. Due to a large number of characters, different roles had to be portrayed by the same person. This is what you will like the most, the versatility of young people and their perfect blending with each character.

One other thing that deserves hearty applause is the stage setting. The lighting was magnificently done. The scenes of the acrobatic performances were complemented with brilliant that for once gave one the illusion of being inside a real circus show. The beginning done with red lights concocted with artificial fog was a mesmerizing introduction to the overall professional lighting.

“One amazing thing is that such a superior class production isn’t staged regularly. It is really weird that productions far less gratifying get regular shows but this is staged at big intervals,” said ManjoorHaq, a college teacher with regular exuding from his voice. “We are facing problems and complications in booking halls. There is a sort of antagonism towards our group that hinders regular shows,” said a member of the group.

Let our theatre para get all colored up for Circus Circus, let the drums beat, the tiger’s roar and the acrobats swing. Let the slogan be,” Sabash, Great Bengal Circus”.

Towheed Feroze: Critic

The Independent

Wednesday 19 August 1998, Dhaka