Rafi Hossain: Welcome to Uncensored with Rafi Hossain. Today, we are here with Sarah Zaker. In 2018, ‘Nagorik’ held their 50th anniversary, and to celebrate it, they announced that they will be holding a festival which would focus on new artists. The festival has been very successful because it showcased seven new plays directed by new directors. I would like to congratulate Sarah Zaker Bhabi on arranging such a successful festival. Did you come up with the idea of this?
Sarah Zaker: All of us at Nagorik came up with the idea for this festival. When we started planning, we decided to use it to debut many new plays. Our plan was to bring forward upcoming artists and showcase their plays throughout the festival. In the end, the audience loved their performances, and I also noticed that the new theatre directors have a different style of their own. I think that the newcomers rely a lot on dancing and singing in their plays. I would not say that it is a bad thing as that is what they prefer to do. I think that since it is very challenging to do just dramatic theatre, they rely a little on other things as well.
Rafi: You may disagree with me on this, but I think that our industry lacks powerful actors. What is your take on that?
Sarah: I think so too. In some plays that I have watched, due to the acting being below par, the quality of the play was affected. I have also seen instances where the mics weren’t placed properly, and the lines couldn’t be heard clearly by the audience. When we used to do theatre in the past, we didn’t have mics, so we would have to scream to make sure our dialogues were heard. This way, we got to see more of the dramatic theatre. Now, due to advancement in technology, actors don’t have to be that dramatic for plays.
Rafi: Where does the crisis in theatre lie?
Sarah: The crisis lies in the size of the audience. We did seven different plays at the festival, and no one can say that any of their work was better than the others. In the past, we only had a few prominent theatre troupes that did many projects as the others weren’t good enough. Now, however, we have so many great theatre troupes. I find it so unfortunate that even though Dhaka has a population of two crore people, we don’t find a big audience for theatre. I think that the overall quality of theatre has to improve. If I open the newspapers and check the entertainment page, I see that only television and films are getting the spotlight, while theatre is put in a corner. I hope that soon we can make a regular audience for theatre. I think another reason theatre falls behind is because it isn’t that glamourous.
Rafi: Do you think theatre is lacking in promotion?
Sarah: Everything is very digital now. Recently, we used digital platforms to promote our work. We used half of the promotion money for newspaper adverts and the rest for digital promotion. We got a lot of feedback that way. The thing is, theatre doesn’t just lack in promotion. We also have to improve our quality enough that people are prepared to do anything possible to come and see the stage plays. When Aly Zaker and Asaduzzaman Noor Bhai took the stage once again for Galileo, so many people came to watch. I’m sure that if we do good projects, people will want to watch them.
Rafi: How long has it been since you started acting?
Sarah: I started acting in 1973. I mostly acted in theatre. I could never really act much in television as my children were quite young and I wouldn’t have been able to give them much time. I didn’t do many television dramas early on in my career, but later on, I did a few. I think a main reason I preferred to not work in television is that I feel that I’m not very fit to work with close-up cameras. I could do television projects now, but I can’t manage the time, and there aren’t many good characters that are of my age.
Rafi: Do you ever have the urge to do cinemas?
Sarah: If a good director gives me a good offer and I can manage to find the time, I would love to do a film. I did Tareque Masud’s film, Ontorjatra. I worked very hard for that film.
Rafi: Theatre is the main platform you like to work on?
Sarah: After doing theatre for a long time, I don’t want to do anything else. Now, if I’m busy with my personal life, I sit with the writer for a play and discuss how I would like to see the play come to life onstage. Whatever I do nowadays, it has to be linked to theatre. I acted in plays in 2018, but for me acting is not the most important thing. I don’t mind working in the background of a play. I get satisfaction by simply being attached to a play.
Rafi: It seems that you have balanced all the aspects of your life. Is that true?
Sarah: My star sign is a Libra, so of course I can balance my life (laughs). I know my priorities, so it’s not that difficult for me to balance my life. I prefer to stay home and spend more time with my family now instead of going around performing onstage. I have performed a lot in my life, so I would rather spend time with my family. I do what I have to do to earn my living. I know that I won’t get time for my family if I do films or television, so I stick to theatre as I know it better than any other medium.
Rafi: If you look back on your life, do you have any regret?
Sarah: When I was young, I was pretty. I regret that unlike many other actors, both current and from the past, I didn’t celebrate my body. I sometimes think back and wish that I wore whatever clothes I wanted and dressed myself up regularly.
Rafi: Do you have any parting message?
Sarah: I would like to tell the audience to keep on reading printed material. We may be heading towards a digital Bangladesh, but we can’t let printed materials become a dying form. I would also ask the readers to come and watch theatre. If you come to watch plays, you can feel closer to the story and the characters. Please do come and watch theatrical plays.