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CAT's Stalin: A humane depiction of a totalitarian dictator

  • Published at 10:16 pm November 16th, 2019
CAT's Stalin 1
National Film Award winner Md Shahadat Hossain portrays the character of Joseph Stalin with a lot of emotional depth | Courtesy

The creative liberties taken by CAT are the real crowd-pullers of this production. Stalin and the members of his politburo (the policy making committee of a communist party) have many scenes in the play that induces laughter among the audience

The professional repertory theatre troupe Centre for Asian Theatre (CAT) staged their latest production, Stalin, twice more this year; on Wednesday and Thursday at Dr Nilima Ibrahim auditorium of Bangladesh Mahila Samity hall. 

With Stalin CAT is once again back in the theatre arena of Bangladesh after a hiatus of five whole years. Their last production was in 2014. The premier of the "Stalin" was held at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in June of this year. 

The drama Stalin, directed by Kamaluddin Nilu, and translated by Raihan Akhter, does not deviate from the historical facts in Joseph Stalin's life. The totalitarian dictator, portrayed by Md Shahadat Hossain in the play, had ordered many unjust incarcerations, torture, and executions of people who opposed his views. And some of these events were depicted as they were in the history.

Comic and tragic

The play is interspersed with scenes from films by Sergei Eisenstein, and historical documents from that era. A especially heart-wrenching moment was the Bangla narration of the letter, written by  theatre artist Vsevolod Meyerhold during his imprisonment, describing the torture he was going through.

The creative liberties taken by CAT are the real crowd-pullers of this production. Stalin and the members of his politburo (the policy making committee of a communist party) have many scenes in the play that induces laughter among the audience. 

The mental toll of being a totalitarian dictator is visibly represented through Stalin walking with an automatic rifle on several occasions, and pointing it at anyone that he suspects is conspiring against him. As a result of his erratic, and paranoid behaviour, the members of his politburo were also getting frightened for their lives. They either heap Stalin with a lot of praise, to ensure they are in his good books to avoid being executed, or they scheme to assassinate the dictator. 

One such attempt comically fails, as Stalin shoots the would-be assassin off stage. He later remarks "Am I responsible for the death when someone startles me by hiding in the bushes, and I shoot him?" His politburo members comically replies "No." 

However, politburo's vain attempts at flattery was not lost on Stalin, who in the latter parts of the play increasingly becomes melancholic, after realizing how lonely he really was. Especially, the scenes between Stalin and his daughter Svetlana, shows the dictator showing remorse, and a guilt-ridden conscience. 

Most memorable occasion on Thursday's show, was when actor Shahadat, while portraying Stalin in the moments leading up to his death, shed real tears. He was not seen going off stage for a long occasion before that scene.

The satiric portrayal of Joseph Stalin's politburo members induced a lot of laughter among the audience | Courtesy

CAT's comments

Regarding the emotional scenes between Stalin and his daughter, actor Shahadat told the Dhaka Tribune Showtime: "It is quite clear, that when Stalin interacts with his daughter then everything from his body language to expressions start changing. In the scenes with other characters Stalin acts in a much more comic, and fun manner. However, when he gets near his daughter, he becomes a very humane, and loving character. 

"After the script was written, we did not worry about the historical baggage of the character. As an actor, my job was to portray Stalin, as he was written in the script, which wanted to show how lonely he really felt in the later years of his life, after all the bad decisions he has taken," Shahadat added. Shahadat has also been recently awarded the National Film Award for Best Supporting Role in Gahin Baluchar for the year 2017.

Actor AK Azad Shetu told Showtime: "Another prominent idea in the play was to show how a certain group of people near powerful leaders starts to misguide the person in charge of a nation. The politburo's very artificial flattery in the play represents, this aspect of politics."

Playwright Sadhana Ahmed is the Vice President of CAT, and regarding the long hiatus in between productions, she said: "As a troupe we definitely try to stage productions as frequently as is possible. There are many factors contributing to the long hiatus. All the actors, and members of the troupe are professionally working in various films, TV shows and theatre, which is one factor. Plus our founder (Kamaluddin Nilu) is also working with theatre abroad. However I am happy to say that CAT is revived once again. We have gotten our own space in Mirpur, where we will make a theatre. Getting theatre venue is a real crisis in Bangladesh. As soon as we have our own stage, we will no longer have such long breaks in between productions."

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