The stage lights are hot, bathing me in a very warm glow. Sweat is glistening on my forehead from the action.
“Someone’s missing, we need someone to do something!” – I hear from backstage behind me. One of the chanters had missed their cues and was delayed. I’m still in the wings. Without even thinking I bound back out onto the stage and start screaming to motivate my band of fellow actors on stage:
Amar netha, tomar netha, Sheikh Mujib Sheikh Mujib!
Amar netha tomar netha, Sheikh Mujib Sheikh Mujib!
(My leader, your leader, Sheikh Mujib, Sheikh Mujib)
My voice is higher by a few octaves – it reverberates through the stadium. The audience are still. It works. From dazed. Panicked looks, my fellow actors, playing Bangladeshi citizens, nationalists, freedom fighters, activists, all smile back and their eyes light up. And they start chanting back the same to me, repeating after me. It’s magic. I could even hear people in the audience chanting it. The stadium air is filled with this energy which is hard to describe, but it was amazing.
For just a split second I wanted to pinch myself to believe this was actually happening. A boy from the leafy suburbs of Sydney, working for the Australian Government, I never thought I’d end up performing in front of close to 40,000 people. Yes, that’s correct. I still can’t believe it…
Okay, before I get even more carried away, I need to start providing context!
On 14 May, 2017, I played a part in a stage theatrical play put on by Poth Productions called “I Am Thy Father”. I played the roles of a refugee and an activist. It was without a doubt the most magical and amazing experiences I have had to date as a young actor in Sydney. This performance happened at the ANZ Stadium (formerly the Sydney Olympic Stadium) for the Boishaki Mela (Bengali New Year Festival) – in the spot where Adele once performed no less (whaaaat??).
The Boishaki Mela for the Bengali community in Sydney is like the equivelant of a combination of a Prom/Formal/Ball/Christmas all rolled into one. It’s the first day of the Bengali New Year (14 April), it celebrates new beginnings, the combination of the finest traditional Bengali cuisine, girls and guys dressing in their best desi outfits. It really is like a Ball, a cultural Ball where you see everyone you hadn’t seen in the past year (or years!). It’s a hallmark day in the calendar. And 2017 was the 25th Anniversary of the Boishaki Mela being held in Sydney. Poth Productions wanted to do something special this year for our entertainment lineup.
I was very new to the acting scene. I had just finished a one year acting course at a screen acting school here in Sydney called Screenwise – juggling a full time job in the legal industry and government, acting classes and family life in general. At the encouragement of my best friend Rupanty (she had worked with Poth Productions before), I decided to go along to the first meet up in February to get to know the organisers, the team: Faisal Hossain, Nahid Rupsha, Tasnuva Amin, Russel Ahmed, Gazi Diti, Chadni Gomes, Shawon Arijit are the ones I met on that day. Everyone seemed so nice and friendly and encouraging. I filled out the sheets that had been given out, ticking boxes for what I was interested in – bit of acting, bit modelling of desi clothes. Why? I wanted to build up my confidence, and really just have fun! And it really was so much more than that.
And so began our Saturday weekend rehearsals. We worked hard. We listened to feedback. We amended. We twisted. We strutted. We ran. We cried. We laughed. Everything you can think of that could happen during rehearsals happened. We wanted to create magic. The artistic visions that Faisal and Rupsha had were inspired. I really enjoyed the approach of the director, Rupsha and one on one coaching and mentoring provided by another important team member Hafiz Sadullah.
One of the highlights of the whole show was that Poth Productions brought in the top and most well-loved actor in Bangladesh to Sydney to play Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation. My mum and cousins in Bangladesh love his movies. And I must say, watching him up close, I can see why Bangladesh loves him – he did an amazing job playing his character!
As for me – I had never acted in front of this large an audience until that moment. In January and February I had performed in my first two plays but the crowd didn’t exceed 700 people. This time it was different, I was in front of thousands. A bonus was that I got to act with my best friend I mentioned earlier – Rupanty. We played a family members fleeing our homeland, from the Pakistani army butchering everyone. It was actually a very emotional experience for me – more than once I was actually in tears, thinking about what it must have actually been like for the people who lived this.
What has all this meant to me? More than words can express, but I will try anyway..
Performing with Poth Productions has been liberating. I played characters on stage, in front of an audience numbering the thousands, it was exhilarating. There is something about theatre, about connecting to an audience in real time, which is incomparable to anything else. It felt good to be given a special role within such a special play. I feel so much gratitude towards Faisal and Rupsha for having faith in me, and giving me the honour to play a role I revered – I think they saw how passionate I felt about acting – and Poth Productions gave me a platform to express my creativity, the creative energy I always wanted to express.
Being a PP performer reminded me of the discipline I needed as an actor and performer, to engage and connect with an audience. Coming to rehearsals, being on time, collaborating, and communicating. These are skills I already had but I was able to polish them even further.
My motherland, Bangladesh, was born into a bloodbath. Millions died for the freedom of Bangladesh to be an independent country. Millions of lives taken, millions of families torn apart. Bangladesh is where I took my first breath, where I began my journey in life, and I keep ties with my extended family there and go back to visit every few years. Being in this play was my tiny, tiny small way of honouring Bangladesh and all it had been through. I am a proud Australian but ofcourse, part of my soul will always be Bengali, it felt really meaningful to reclaim my heritage by being in this production. Ironically, if I grew up and lived in Bangladesh I don’t think I would have been given this kind of opportunity or would have had the time or space to pursue this (I probably would have been married with 3 kids by now, too busy to pursue acting!).
I moved to Australia at the age of 6 and most of my friends are born here. By being involved in Poth Productions, I got to know Bengali international students, and other community members and performers who quickly became awesome friends. The laughs shared, friendships forged, absolutely special. Up until this point, I didn’t have any ties to the Bengali community other than close family friends, and it felt special to connect with more Bengalis in Sydney. I got to practice my rusty Bengali and polish it!
Poth Productions, from my experience, is an amazing organisation. PP creates opportunities, gives people a chance to gain confidence, contribute, be part of something. PP values it’s performers and took an interest in me and my development as a performer, and for that I am grateful. Everyone in PP treated me very well and I really feel like we’ve become like a close-knit family. I think that’s the thing that sets Poth Productions apart – it’s the beautiful souls who work hard, tirelessly to make magic happen. They helped me give myself permission to shine. Thank you so much team, I will love you always!