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Selim Al Deen: The playwright beyond theatre

  • Published at 07:46 pm September 14th, 2017
Selim Al Deen: The playwright beyond theatre
Selim Al Deen’s journey as a prolific writer, which spans over four decades, has two major turning points. In the early years of his life, Deen had always wanted to be a vibrant poet like Kazi Nazrul Islam. But soon he discovered that he could become anything but a poet. So he gradually stepped into the world of drama, of theatre to be precise. His writing, since then, was basically for the stage, meant to be acted out. He also started writing extensively for television and radio. But soon he re-discovered himself as a poet. Deen turned into a poetic playwright as he consciously rejected the European style of writing plays with Kittonkhola in the late 1970s. He completely turned his back to western theatrical conventions and returned to indigenous non-generic literary forms. He wrote Chaka in the early 1990s, which was no more a typical act-scene-dialogue-based play. A long epic narrative, Chaka, is essentially poetic as it exposes an unexpected and seemingly never-ending journey of an anonymous dead body across villages. Thus he introduced “kathanatya” (narrative play), merging traditional form of storytelling with age-old theatrical performance. Deen’s re-discovery of his own poetic self coincides with the failure of his readers and audience to locate him in mainstream Bangla literature. Unfortunately, most of the people, both who have read his works and who haven’t, are more or less blinded with a number of prejudices and assumptions. They somehow like to believe that Deen has written only for the theatre people as he is widely regarded as “Natyacharya” (great teacher of the theatre). He is also respected as one of the most prominent playwrights after Rabindranath Tagore. But an attentive reading of his later works, from Chaka(1991) to Dhabaman (2008),would transform his image from a successful theatre-based playwright into a multi-dimensional genre-free writer.
While writing a single text like Joiboti Konyar Mon (1992), Deen appears as a poet, a storyteller, a cultural theorist, a futurist, a historian, a playwright and a lyricist. A very poetic opening of its tripartite story presents a mysterious setting where a woman from the medieval Bengal, Kalindi, who has just killed herself is carried all the way to the God's abode
While writing a single text like Joiboti Konyar Mon (1992), Deen appears as a poet, a storyteller, a cultural theorist, a futurist, a historian, a playwright and a lyricist. A very poetic opening of its tripartite story presents a mysterious setting where a woman from the medieval Bengal, Kalindi, who has just killed herself is carried all the way to the God's abode. She repents for the mistakes she has committed in her lived life and applies for another opportunity. The rest of the story goes on like a mythological epic. A Bengali woman lives two different lives in two different centuries. However, her psyche does not change and it eventually leads her to the same ending, twice. The author here sounds like a foreseer, a fatalist, and also a historian. He succeeds in depicting both a medieval rural Bengal and a colonial Bengali town. Joiboti Konyar Mon proves that while writing for the stage, Deen did never want to reduce his authorship to a dialogue-writer. He rather started exploring the shared areas of different literary genres like music, dance, epic, fiction and poetry. My interest in Selim Al Deen began when I came across the film adaptation of Chaka by Morshedul Islam in 2007. Then I started reading his books beginning with Kittonkhola. The last book I read was Nimojjon(2004). I also had an opportunity to explore his works on stage as a member of the audience, a good number of times since 2008. Though he has gradually emerged as a famous “writer of the theatre,” to me, Deen is, until now, one of the most underrated authors of Bangla literature. His plays (as I would love to label them) are not mere plays. What we experience on stage, as both performers and audience, are only adaptations of the stories, poems, music, myths, memories and amnesias already included in his written text. There is always possibility of different sorts of adaptations on different levels. Even as an individual reader, one can independently interpret Deen’s texts in his/her own way. So a text as Dhabaman(2008), Putra(2008) or Prachya(1998) can be read as anything: Long narrative poems, fictions or plays. Selim Al Deen, if successfully re-discovered, would appear as a re-incarnation of the kobis (poets) of pre-colonial Bengal where the word “kobi” used to mean everything: An author, a storyteller, a musician, a historian, even a philosopher. So, until we can dive into his works to find him as a modern reincarnation of a successful pre-colonial Bengali poet, he will remain in darkness as one of the most under-appreciated literary figures of our culture.
Abdullah Al Muktadir is a lecturer of English at Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University. His debut poetry collection, Onyo Ganger Gaan, Samudrasaman, was published in Ekushey Book Fair 2016.