“Iblish” is a socio-political satire drama that tells the story of Rafik, played by Saju, who has, to put it simply, a difficult relationship with his imam father Munshi, played by Shah Alam Dulal
The first stage play I had been to was 16 years ago: my mother took me to a play at the Bangladesh Mahila Samity auditorium, in Dhaka’s Bailey Road. Since I was very young at the time, I could not remember the details of the play. What I remember, though, is how fascinated I was with the whole production. Little did I realise that fascination would later go on to shape my career in film-making.
I also remember meeting theatre genius Mamunur Rashid before the show – he was the director of the play and also played one of the central characters.
“Iblish” it was, renowned and performed by popular theatre troupe Aranyak Natyadal.
Sixteen years later, I leaped with the same excitement as I had felt back then when I learnt that Aranyak would stage the play again this year.
I decided to go down memory lane, and re-live my childhood experience. On Tuesday evening, I went to the National Theatre Hall of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, where the play was scheduled to be staged.
Reaching the venue an hour before the show, I found long queues at the ticket counters, with many more who had already pre-booked their tickets – like me.
The play began to a house full audience, and I realized once again why it was such a critically acclaimed production.
“Iblish” is a socio-political satire drama that tells the story of Rafik, played by Saju, who has, to put it simply, a difficult relationship with his imam father Munshi, played by Shah Alam Dulal.
An ardent devotee of God, Munshi lives with his family in a home built on a piece of land donated by his fellow villagers. Rafik, he has another son named Talbelem, played by Azizul Hakim, and daughter Ruku, played by Rubli Chowdhury.
Rafik earns his father’s ire because, unlike his brother, he did not complete his education in a madrasa. No, Rafik goes on to become educated in a school and a college in the town nearby.
Munshi believes his son could not have made the decision to get “westernized, evil” education by himself, and he must be possessed by the devil himself. So he feels right to address his son as “Iblish” – one of the devil’s many monikers.
As angry as he is at his son, Munshi is also constantly worrying about the fact that Rafik prefers to consult doctors during illness, instead of opting for the age-old cure of “pani pora” (holy water), or the fact that he believes child marriage is wrong. What is worse is that Rafik goes on to spread his terrible ideas among the uneducated villagers, who are mostly farmers and fishermen.
Mamunur Rashid plays the role of Ekabbor, a local politician and member of the local Union Parishad. During the first half of the play, he seems to be a harmless, down-to-earth man who cares for nothing but the good of his villagers.
However, as the play progresses, he turns out to be colluding with the evil landowner Fazal Sikder, played by Sarwar Chowdhury, and also with Munshi.
Sikder is the personification of the small, rich and powerful class in rural Bangladesh which is the all-powerful sect ruling over the ordinary people in the countryside. The play beautifully tells the story of the uneducated and impoverished people in the country’s rural areas who no land or farm of their own to live on. They have been strategically kept under the poverty line by characters like Sikder, who has the local politicians, police, religious leaders and even goons under their payroll. Garibullah, played by Fazlur Rahman Babu, is a paid goon who does the dirty work for Fazal Sikder.
Rafik is the “Iblish” who rejects the power structure in his village, a remote one that is kept in the dark both literally and figuratively – there is no school and college there, nor an electricity connection. Sikder has personally seen to it with the help of UP member Ekabbor, law enforcement members, Munshi and his personal thugs, because then it is easier to exploit the poor illiterate villagers. The villagers cannot protest as they do not know anything else than farming and fishing, and most of the agricultural land and water bodies are owned by Sikder.
However, Rafik manages to convince the farmers that they had been long deprived of progress. He takes them to a friend who owns a clothing industry at a nearby village, where even women work – a concept that is a taboo in Rafik’s village.
Together, Rafik and company finally manage to stage a movement against the ruling class in their village.
The play speaks about the age-old issue of how the rich and powerful in Bangladesh’s rural region still dominate the “so-called” lower class. It tells us the story of Rafik who, despite all the trouble, rebels against these atrocities and successfully manages to convince a huge number of locals into breaking this century-old cycle.
The production was simple, yet neat; every actor’s performance was top notch.
What I found really interesting is the audience’s response to the witty and satirical dialogues of the play. From corrupt local law enforcement members, to politicians, to bribed priests – whenever the protagonist pointed out their corruption or outsmarted them, the full house applauded, cheered and whistled in celebration.
In a recent press statement before the revival of the play, director Mamunur Rashid said: “Though it is a very old production, the relevance of ‘Iblish’ is still very strong in current settings.”
Indeed. After over a hundred shows since the 1980s, maybe that is the reason behind the huge turnout till this date. Maybe Dhaka longs for a hero, rebel, leader and an “Iblish” like Rafik.
Siam Raihan is a film editor and a sub-editor at the Dhaka Tribune’s Showtime Desk