Veteran theatre activist Tabibul Islam Babu is one of the major figures to have shaped the theatre industry of Bangladesh and witness its evolution very closely. A guardian figure of the theatre movement, Babu shed some light on his overall career and expectations for theatre. Excerpts from a recent conversation:
Tell us about your childhood.
TIB: I was born in 1944 at Khidirpur in Kolkata. As I was born in a staircase of a building during a blackout in the Second World War, I was called “Boma” meaning a bomb. Gradually Boma became Babu. Though my ancestral home is in Bogra, I spent the golden period of my childhood in Barisal as a student of Barisal Zilla School thanks to my father's job as an Income Tax Officer in the town. I recall the day when we, the students of Bogra Zilla School, staged an agitation and stoned at the Barisal Circuit House as a protest when then Chief Minister Nurul Amin came there sometime after the Language Movement.
How did you venture into acting?
TIB: During my school days I used to participate in 'Dress As You Like' performances and win prizes. That was how I discovered that I am a performer. At Alekanda in Barisal the play, “Kothar Herfer' by S Wazed Ali was staged and I had a role for the first time in my life. Due to my father's transfer to Narayanganj I had to join Tolaram College where I made my debut as Shibcharan in Rabindranath Tagore's drama “Shesh Rokkha” on the big stage.
How would you shed light on your theatre career?/Give us a glimpse of your theatre career.
TIB: Along with many other prominent figures like Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Abdullah Al Mamun, Ramendu Majumdar, Ferdousi Majumdar, Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, Ahmed Zaman Chowdhury, I am a founding member of the troupe called Theatre. Under my active involvement, the troupe performed at various parts of India and was the first from Bangladesh to go beyond the subcontinent. In 1981 Theatre went to Seoul's Third World Drama Festival to stage “Payer Awaj Paowa Jaye”. I have acted in roughly 30 stage plays and directed two. “Kobor”, “Subochon Nirbashoney”, “Ekhon Dusshomoy”, “Senapati”, “Charidikey Juddho”, “Payer Awaj Paowa Jaye”, “Othello”, “Jamidar Darpan” are a few plays I acted in. I founded Natyajon in 1997 and am the president of the troupe. Presently, I am directing two plays in Natyajon - “Sheshrokkha” and “Ghritangpibet”.
What are your thoughts on today's theatre scene?
TIB: In our country, theatre artists are subsidising the industry, whereas thespians are affluent in the West. We cannot expect a resident of Uttara to fight traffic to watch a play in Segun Bagicha. We need sufficient auditoriums to stage plays. To follow an example from Kolkata, we should have theatres at district levels as well.
What is your advice to the younger crop of theatre artistes?
TIB: Young artistes are energetic, but they lack dedication; they want to be stars overnight. They should have a learning attitude by starting off from theatres. With time, stardom will follow. An actor must delve deeply into a role to act well, and theatre is the right place for that.
The author is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.