Lalon: Heart of Madness
Lalon: Heart of Madness
Filmed Theatre Review by Nasreen Akhter
the drama by weaving the past of Lalon’s era and the present of Luna’s dilemma
between independence and betrothal. The songs were beautifully re-enacted by the
performers, Delwar Hossain Dilu and Sadia Chowdhury. And the message was
profound: based on Baul philosophy, the irrelevance of barriers such as caste, class,
and religion and, in particular, the fluidity of gender and women as the embodiment of
fundamental powers and nareer shakti conveying her power to choose.
A young woman, born and bought up in the so called ‘modern world’ yet living under
a strong patriarchal system (emphasised ironically by her widowed mother who ‘now
wears the trousers’), Luna realised that she had the shakti inside her to choose the
‘madness’ of the divine universe rather than the ‘maya’ or veils of deceptions erected
by people. Inspired by the philosophical songs of Lalon, she discovers the strength to
resist social stigmas and slurs at such a woman as ‘a slut’, or ‘a mad and bad woman’
in the eyes of the world.
Even though in a patriarchal society like in Bangladesh, women have been considered
as submissive and dependent on men – father, brother, husband - the drama shows
how this phenomenon continues to apply to women from more modern contexts such
as London. In this respect, Lalon was a revolutionary and a visionary: at a time when
the norms of society were regulated by gender, religion and caste, Lalon spoke, or
rather sang out against their artifice and evils so many years ago. Luna chose to
respond to this message.
I’m Waiting) by what appears to be a woman dressed in white walking through a
forest. Lalon’s songs are then conveyed through a male figure. This transition was
intriguing and powerful as if it did not matter who wrote or performed the song. It is
the song’s lyricism and significance that mattered the most.
The songs immediately transported me to the Lalon Akhra, where Lalon’s followers
and Bauls made their home, and annually celebrated with a festival. Though it was
an artificial set, I felt that I was walking amidst the magic of that spiritual land. The
sounds of the river - finely edited by the filmmaker Tarun Jasani and the sound
designer Sarah Sayeed - reminded me that we are all but one miniscule part of that
river, every person flowing and mingling like the rippling and cascading currents no
matter what their individual identity. It was an evocative metaphor for each of our
– people, life, death, and different times and spaces. She wants to reconnect with her
brother as much as she does with the spirit of her father, also an enthusiast of Lalon.
She wants to forget the Whitechapel that she came from in east London and explore
the Asian shrine that inspired her in north Bangladesh.
Provoked by her conservative elder cousin (Rez Kabir), she realises it was this spirit
that she needed to chaperone her, not a male relative. She discovers that as a woman
she has the shakti to overcome the hurdles and carve out her own path even though
she might be called a slut, beshya, were she to do so. Through Lalon’s vision and
calling, she finds the power to shake off social shackles and become her true self.
In one of his most famous compositions, Lalon said: 'Everyone asks, to which caste
does Lalon belong?
A Muslim is marked by the sign of circumcision; but how should you mark a woman?
If a Brahmin male is known by the thread he wears, how is a woman known?’ Way
over a century ago, Lalon noted the limitations of identity for a woman, but this
message is still relevant to the contemporary, materialist world of the new millennium
where women and their roles continue to be defined by menfolk.
were the prime priest, respect women for the shakti she holds. Everyone has a choice’.
And when a Baul extends an invitation to Luna to join the madness of the universe
rather than the maya of the world in the drama, Luna inevitably chose madness –
the true reality beyond the veils of caste, class, religious and gender distinctions.
This is the most enthralling theme of all - who are we to categorize or
compartmentalise the universe or those within it? The drama elevates this theme
with elan, prompting me to think that we all are part of the flow of the river,
enhanced by the sounds of its currents and the place at the creek‘where different
rivers meet and merge into the sea of oneness that is deeper, richer and more
Lalon’s philosophy proclaims manobotabaad (humanity and humaneness) where
there is no discrimination. It is a humanist vision but not one that owes to
Eurocentric Enlightenment ideas that, however enlightened, still discriminated
against women and other races and ethnicities. Lalon: Heartof Madness is an
instructive reminder that Europe is not the only origin or fount for free thinkers and
progressive philosophers. In an original and alluring way, the drama emphasises
that philosophers, secular thinkers, or progressive free-minded intellectuals
emerged in the Global South as well. It also highlighted how women always had
and have the power to choose, to carve out their own path, that South Asia is not
just the site of their submission.
challenges to our everyday lives. But it also brought profound creativity, amplified
by digital platforms. Even though I could not applaud the drama as I might as part
of a live audience, I applauded it and all those involved in it from the madness of my