June 19, 2013 | 04:22 PM (BD Time)
19 June, 2013 Wednesday
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Pioneer playwright Nurul Momen
Dr. Faisal Mahmud:
Nurul Momen (Natyaguru), (1908-1990) educationist, playwright, director, humorist, lawyer, broadcaster, philanthropist and essayist of Bangladesh. He pioneered modernism in the theatre of Bangladesh and was the dramatist and director of the first couple of modern plays of East Bengal. He was also the playwright and director of the first experimental play of Bangladesh. For his contribution to drama he has been bestowed with the title of "Natyaguru" [The master of drama]. He was also the pioneer of Satirical Essays in Bangladesh. It is rare to be the pioneer in two fields of literature. Nurul Momen paved the way for the modern Bangla dramas and satirical essays of the post-forties.
Nurul Momen was born on 25th November, 1908 in 'Khan Bahadur lodge' of Buraich, ALFADANGA, in JESSORE. ALFADANGA is now part of FARIDPUR. He was son of Nurul Arefin, a ZAMINDAR and physician. Nurul Momen had primary education in CALCUTTA. In 1916, he got admission in KHULNA Zilla School. In 1919, his first poem in the form of a play, "Shondhya" (Evening), written in same verse as TAGORE's "Shonar Tory", was published in the reputed journal "Dhrubotara". A famous translator of Rubaiyyats of Omar Khaiyyam, Kanti Chandra Ghose, praised that verse-play profusely and took 10-year-old Nurul Momen in his lap. In 1920, he was enrolled in DHAKA Muslim High School. He resided in famous Dafrin Hostel. In 1924, he matriculated obtaining the 32nd position in the entire country. He then studied at Dhaka Intermediate College. Passing intermediate, he studied BA at the newly established University of Dhaka from 1926. He was resident of the only Muslim hostel 'Muslim Hall'. His dormitory was Burdhawan House which is now BANGLA ACADEMY. In 1927, he became first Bangalee-Muslim student to win in several athletic events in DHAKA UNIVERSITY's annual sports. Later that year, he was crowned as champion at first drama festival with all three halls (Dhaka, Jagannath and Muslim) combined. He acted in the role of 'Botu' in 'Muktodhara'(1922), which was then a new play by TAGORE. No other muslim students took part in theatre or performing arts before that, let alone getting a prize. Through Nurul Momen, Muslim Hall participated in any cultural or sports activities for the first time.
In 1928, only two students from Dhaka University got First Billet Intelligence Test (which was later known as 10 test) prize.One was Nurul Momen and the other, BUDDHADEV BOSE. Nurul Momen passed his B.A. examination from the University of Dhaka in 1929.He studied M.A. in Calcutta. He studied law at Calcutta University College and passed his B.L. examination from there in 1936, following which he started practicing law at the Calcutta High Court.
From the onset of establishment of All India Radio in Dhaka in 1939, he began broadcasting talks written and read out by himself. He was the first muslim playwright of Dl:1aka Radio. In 1942, he wrote and directed the first modern play of Bangladesh 'Rupantor' (The Transformation) for Dhaka Radio. 'Rupantor', a comedy, had a progressive, urbane & contemporary plot; which was a striking contrast as opposed to the historical, Islamist heroism-based plays written by earlier muslim playwrights of Bengal at that time. The protagonist, the only female character in the play, 'Rijia', a Muslim girl, takes up a job at her husband's office in disguise. It was an epoch making idea in favor of "women's lib". Even in real life in society at that time, no muslim girl could even dream of taking up a job. It became so popular after being broadcast, that he decided to show it to Mohitlal Mojumder in KOLKATA. It was the Durga Pooja season. M. Mojumder was ecstatic after hearing the entire play read out to him by the author himself, and wrote a letter to the editor of Anandabazaar Sharadia special issue to publish it. It was only 5 days before the issue hit the newsstands. 43 pages of already composed and published matters were cancelled to print Rupantor in pica bold letters spreading over 43 pages of Anandabazaar Pooja Special. Only two other items were printed in pica bold in that issue. One was a one-page poem by TAGORE and the other was an essay by Nandalal Bose. This event put the Bangladesh (East Bengal) theatre in the map of modern Bangia drama as well as in the theatre scene of entire INDIA. After being published it was so popular that it remained the talk of the town of CALCUTTA for a long time.
The second modern play of BANGLADESH named 'Nemesis' was written by Natyaguru Nurul Momen in 1944. It was the first experimental play of Bangladesh. Only two playwrights on the earth did this experiment before him. In the books preface Nurul Momen wrote, "From the beginning of world theatre, Greek tragedies theoretically adhered to the perpetual trio of unities: Unity of Time, Unity of Place and Unity of Action. Keeping the format of these unities intact a fourth unity is being introduced (Unity of Person) to make a new experimentation."
It was a two-and-a-half hour play with only one character. Throughout the history of world theatre ranging over 3000 years, only two plays were written with one character before 'Nemesis'. One was Eugene O'Neal's 'Before Breakfast' and the other was Jean Cocteau's 'La Voix Humain' (The Human Voice). But these plays were not more than thirty minutes in duration. So, 'Nemesis' was the first full-length single-character play in the history of world theatre. It was a tragedy, based on the backdrop of 1943 FAMINE of Bengal portraying the life and death of the protagonist, 'Surajit Nandee' and his ill-gotten wealth amassed at the cost of the lives of millions of unfed people. It was praised as a world-class play by the world famous critics Malcolm Muggeridge, Peter Archer, Marjorie Jones, Shajanikanto Das, Ashutosh Bhattacharya, Mohitlal Mojumder and others.
In 'Bangla Natyashahitter Itihash', the most authoritative reference book on Bangia theatre, Ashutosh Bhattacharya discusses elaborately only on Nurul Momen among the playwrights of Bangladesh. His detailed research highly praises the comedy 'Rupantor' and the tragedy 'Nemesis'.
He hails Nurul Momen as "acting as a bridge between the earlier and later playwrights in terms of content and style". About Nemesis he said, "Nemesis is a long one-act play. The craft of its writing is unprecedented. The planning of Nemesis is unique and the entire play is narrated through a long monologue of only one character and the entire gamut of one character is depicted successfully." The title 'Nemesis', naming after a Greek goddess, was in itself a big challenge in midst of a conservative Muslim society. It was published in 'Shanibarer Chithi' in 1945. It was directed and acted by Nurul Momen in Calcutta later that year.
Nurul Momen joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Dhaka in 1945.He was accorded a reception on his joining, by the theatre loving students of him, headed by Munier Chowdhury. Nurul Momen suggested Munier, noticing his talent, to read Barnard Shaw and write plays. He later translated 'You Never Can Tell' and Natyaguru Nurul Momen directed it.
At the Department of Law BANGABANDHU SHEIKH MUJIBUR RAHMAN was a dear student of Nurul Momen. Sheikh Mujib started reading George Barnard Shaw and Bertrand Russell at the insistence of Nurul Momen (as he insisted all his students). As a result, Bangabandhu became a lifelong fan of them along with TAGORE, as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's teacher Nurul Momen was.
In 1947, 'Rupantor' and in 1948, 'Nemesis' were published as books from his own publishing company, Momen Publishing House. Nurul Momen was himself the artist of Nemesis' cover. It was the first 'surrealist' painting of Bangladesh. It depicted a neo-realistic view of the Greek mythological
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