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Kalo Joler Kabbo: Asaduzzaman Noor's take on Shakespeare's Shylock

  • Published at 10:16 pm December 2nd, 2019
A scene from Kalo Joler Kabbo
Both Asaduzzaman Noor and Aupee Karim delivered power-packed performances in Nagorik Natya Sampradaya's Kalo Joler Kabbo | Courtesy

In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Shylock was a symbol for those who were wronged by anti-Semitism. In Kalo Joler Kabbo by Nagorik Natya Sampradaya, Bhangari symbolizes those who are bullied and ostracized for their questionable origin

At the ongoing theatre festival Notuner Utshab 2019, which is being held at the National Theatre Hall of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, the play Kalo Joler Kabbo was the first to be staged. This production is inspired by William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and through it the thespians in the country got the opportunity to see Asaduzzaman Noor act in a new theatre production after 17 long years. Was the play a success? Absolutely!

Let us begin with the set design. The setting of this production is in a Bangladeshi ship-breaking yard near the sea. To create the illusion that the audience were really in such a chaotic location, the stage design consisted of overhanging chains, metal crates, and various lengths of iron rods. To complete the illusion, the actors in the play had actual tools such as large hammers and rod-cutting machine, which were operated by them in some scenes of the play to depict the action in a ship-breaking yard. The very real yellow sparks from the electronic rod-cutter often hit nearby actors, just as it actually does in an actual ship-breaking yard. I think this was a very authentic depiction of the hazardous life in a ship-breaking yard.

To further inject the feel of authenticity and present life in a ship breaking yard, the play shows the frequent deaths in the families of these characters, due to their hazardous work. It is only in Bangladesh that women wail with a rhythm upon hearing the news of a death, and such wailing was frequent in this play. Even the shocking news of deaths are shouted out by actors, just the way they are spread in the villages and slums of Bangladesh where everyone knows everyone. 

The Shylock of this production is named Bhangari - the role played by Asaduzzaman Noor. The Portia of this film is called Poddo, portrayed by Aupee Karim. Both actors delivered power-packed performances. The director of the play Pantha Shahriar also acted in the production, and his role is that of a corrupt police inspector, whose sniveling voice and creepy sing-song speech pattern work on two levels; it serves as comic relief and as a very accurate depiction of the behavior of some policemen around the impoverished people of this nation.  

Bhangari's motivation

The play is inspired by The Merchant of Venice and is not a direct adaptation. I will not reveal much about it, as I sincerely hope the readers will go and watch this production the very next time it gets staged. But here goes my attempt at discussing the themes explored in this production.

Bhangari's origin is ambiguous. Some of his dialogues suggest that he is the son of a sex-worker, and some suggest that he was born an orphan and came by the ship-breaking yard when he was a child. However, what is very easily discernible is that Bhangari was extremely ostracized for his background or lack thereof, and this created all the hatred he holds for people. 

One of Bhangari's oft-repeated dialogues is: "Humans like to eat human flesh." This definitely was intended to foreshadow Shylock's eventual demand for human flesh as recompense, but the dialogue serves a deeper purpose. It exemplifies the level of revulsion Bhangari feels towards humans, because of the unfair treatment he was subjected to while growing up. In his quest for vengeance, he has become a money-lender who exploits the ship-breaking workers with high interest rates. The dialogue also informs the audience of the alienation felt by Bhangari.

In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Shylock was a symbol for those who were wronged by anti-Semitism. In Kalo Joler Kabbo by Nagorik Natya Sampradaya, Bhangari symbolizes those who are bullied and ostracized for their questionable origin. The life of undeserved condemnation, faced by the children of sex-workers, is a tragedy people either ignore or do not know about. However, what that condemnation does to  a human being, is laid bare in this production. The darkness spread and maintained by one such character is what symbolically turns the ocean's blue black.