Back to ‘Brick Lane ’78’

What do you do when you are absolutely helpless? What can you do when the system and the local majority want to crush you? Think for a moment, you are in a foreign land, with no social protection, no power and a large group of radicals want to harm you and your family?

Published : 19 May 2018, 09:00 PM
Updated : 19 May 2018, 09:01 PM

How do you survive their relentless attacks?

Either you perish into thin air or you fight back!

Fighting back! But if fighting back results in death of your dear one, what do you do?

On this charged background, Birmingham-based production company Purbanat’s stage drama ‘Brick Lane 78’ navigates.

Everything you expect from an emotional melodrama of a Bangla production, thankfully, is missing here.

Entirely based on true events, this drama is also free from the cliché of historic plays.

Its producer Murad Khan, the talented classicist famously known among Bangladeshi theatre goers for his performance in A Man for All Seasons, Koinna, Circus Circus, etc, persistently tried to introduce sustainable production to Bangla community in the UK.

Probably this phrase ‘sustainable’ needs a little more explanation. The Western world is a tough world. There is no room here for ‘shokher theatre’ or ‘drama as a hobby’ because you have significant bills to pay just to get by in the end of each month.

A lot of us tried and failed as soon as our theatre emotion was kicked out through the window by the capitalist ‘pay-first-live-later’ reality. Some tried to abuse the system only to get caught by the ‘system’ later.

Murad, a government officer in the UK by profession, realised the harsh reality rather soon than later. So his struggle was to form an organisation that would do productions professionally. And Purbanat is the result of his ‘almost arrogant’ dedication.

Back to Brick Lane ’78

Forty years ago in the heart of East London the Bangladeshi community faced constant persecution and then this dilemma- do you fight back or you go back? Do you stand up for your right or stand down and forget your right?

One humble factory worker, not an activist, not a leader and certainly not a politician, a simple lower-middle class factory worker Altab Ali changed the equation for the non-white community in East End once for and all.

Ali answered questions that the Bangalis couldn’t make their mind on.

On May 4, 1978, on his way back from work, Ali was brutally murdered for his skin colour!

It wasn’t the first racial killing and sadly not the last, but it certainly changed our presence in Britain.

The entire country saw this small community of peaceful people from Bangladesh wouldn’t take persecution anymore; these humble people could fight back and when they did, they fought back with everything they got.

Forty years on, the place is now known as Bangla Town, the largest concentration of expatriate Bangalis in the world.

Immediately after the play starts, the multinational performers draw you to the troubled times of 70s in a blink.

We the audience suck our stomach in and try to hold our breath until to a point that we realise we have to let it go.

The drama is not poignant, certainly not ‘action packed’, but it is so powerful that takes us to a very uncomfortable experience and we simply want to come out of that as any city-dwelling escapist!

This is where the performers, director Sudip Chakroborthy, the entire production team triumphed - connecting the audience to a point that we become numb!

Like the world famous lines of TS Eliot, we were like ‘etherised upon a table’!

This is what a lot of our stage productions, even good ones, miss now a days - connecting with the audience.

The only thing that defines stage production - a direct connection with the real human being and this is probably why theatre is still alive and kicking.

Often we watch a theatre, pat on each other’s back, go our own way and then we forget.

The non-extravagant production of ‘Brick Lane ’78’ is more than that - it made people even sob at the theatre!

I haven’t seen people sobbing and crying during a performance for a long, very long time.

The final icing on cake was the presence of those brave men and women, British white and British Bangladeshis, who fought against the racial discrimination and injustice in those days.

They were overwhelmed and emotional but we got to see them- the humble legends that we so easily tend to forget.

The light and the music of the production are simply complementary to the experience and it seems the director intentionally avoided extravagant components.

The set is minimal which is very well thought as health and safety and transport rules and regulations are very strict and can be very expensive in the UK.

But the mastery of the performers is evident when we see them utilising every bit of that minimalistic stage to its maximum potential.

And finally, ‘Brick Lane ’78’ draws its curtains neither in a sad tone nor with overly celebrated success of the Bangladeshi community.

It strikes the right note - reminding us all how the death of Ali and the voice of ordinary people will stay with us forever as an inspiration against racism, fascism and authoritarian oppression.

Bravo team ‘Brick Lane ’78’! Bravo Purbanat!

If you visit East London, just opposite Brick Lane, our Shahid Minar stands proud and tall. This park, previously known as ‘St. Mary's Park’ and it’s the same ground where the 14th Century White Church once stood before it was completely destroyed by the Germans bombings during World War II. The local area got its name a ‘White Chapel’ from this White Church and the ground was renamed as Altab Ali Park in 1998 to honour the sacrifice of Ali.