Where death lives

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  • Published 28.05.08
Swapnasandhani rehearses for Hargaj. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha

There are no bodies on display but the stench of death, the tattered limbs, the bloated torsos and the river of blood are an assault on the senses as Bangladeshi writer (Late) Salim Aldin’s play Hargaj raises serious questions about mass devastation. Produced by Swapnasandhani, Hargaj will premiere on May 29 at Sujata Sadan as part of the group’s anniversary celebrations. The other two plays to be staged during the three-day festival are Andho Beraler Galpo (May 30) and Dakghar (May 31). Koushik Sen tells t2 why he chose such a gut-wrenching play...

Aren’t you apprehensive that people may not like such a dark play?

Hargaj isn’t a play I just happened to pick up. I have been nursing the desire to do this play for the past four-five years. Even Aldin knew about it. So when he passed away this January, we felt doing his play would be the best way to pay a tribute. Yes, the picture Hargaj presents is quite bleak because it talks about a village close to Manikgunge which had really been ravaged by a tornado. I hope the audience likes it even if it shocks them because the play carries an important message, almost like a warning. The havoc wrecked by the tornado in Hargaj is like the recent earthquake in China or the tsunami some time back. It exposes the fragility of human existence.

Talk us through the production...

There is my usual team of actors; the light design is by Ashok Pramanik. But it’s a very different production. I have been planning it for so long that I have discovered many ways to develop it. Written in 1992, Hargaj is one of Aldin’s so-called katha-natya plays that draw on the pre-colonial narrative traditions of panchali, jaarigaan and kathokatha. There are no sets here; minimal costumes, bits of recorded sound and live folk songs. The cramped interiors of Sujata Sadan will heighten the claustrophobic feeling. We are using mannequins and audio visual snippets from ads and a bit of footage shot by Atanu Ghosh.

You play a key role in Hargaj...

I play Abid, a young urbanite who leads a rescue team to Hargaj. Just the previous evening, when Dhaka was reeling under a heat wave, Abid had been sitting in an AC auditorium watching a dance performance by his girlfriend Elissa. So the shock when he lands in Hargaj is huge. When he finds a dismembered hand, he wonders if it is Elissa’s.... The play ends with the team returning from Hargaj but as Abid says, after seeing so many deaths it is not going to be a return to the world they knew. The play ends with a video footage of Abid running through a narrow passage, which ends in a tiny cage with its door open.

Your wife and son are also acting in the play...

My wife Reshmi plays Elissa and another bit part. There are four child actors in this play, they are the lost students of a Hargaj school. One of them is (son) Riddhi.