Dhaka’s Bailey Road Theaters
Running through Dhaka’s Shantinagar suburb, connecting Kakrail-Ramna Road with Siddheshwari junction, Natok Saroni is the hub of the city’s theater community. Previously known as Bailey Road, and still often referred to as such, the road was renamed Natok Saroni (Theater Road) in 2005 in acknowledgement of the theaters located along it and its cultural significant in Dhaka. The two main theaters on Natok Saroni are the Mahila Samiti Auditorium and the Guide House Auditorium, and in addition to these theaters, the road features restaurants, cafés and retail stores offering good food and an array of high quality garments.
Located on the premises of the Girl Guides Association of Bangladesh, the Guide House Auditorium has been hosting live theater performances by various theater groups since the early 1980s, many of which have addressed social and political issues in thought-provoking ways. Among these has been the dramatization of the novel Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) by Bengali literary genius and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Written in 1916, the book depicts the conflict that Tagore faced within himself regarding the revolution against Western Culture and the ideas Western Culture offered. This conflict is portrayed in the story’s two main characters, one who is rational and against violence (Nikhil) and the other who will go to any lengths to reach his goals (Sandip). The opposing ideals of these characters illustrate the history of the region and how this has impacted its contemporary issues. Other performances presented at the Guide House Auditorium include the Hindu epic Shakuntala, Padma Nadir Majhi, Merchant of Venice, Hallucination, Putul Khela, and Bibisab, to mention a few. The auditorium was also the venue for performances by Dhaka Pantomime between 1991 and 1993.
The Mahila Samity Auditorium played a significant role in promoting theater in Bangladesh after the country had gained independence. The first production at the auditorium in 1973 was a play by George Bernard Shaw, presented by the Drama Circle theater group. Other productions at the Mahila Samity Auditorium over the years include Sajano Bagan by Indian-Bengali playwright, actor and director Manoj Mitra, and Indian playwright, social commentator and literary essayist Vijay Tendulkar’s Chup Adalat Chalchhe. The first Bangladeshi pantomime group, Dhaka Pantomime, staged their plays at Mahila Samity Auditorium in 1989 and 1990. It is at these theaters on Bailey Road that many tales have been told and will hopefully continue to be told in the future.