‘AN INSPECTOR CALLS’: A message that is relevant for all times

by Roohi Huda

messageJB Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’, produced by Jatrik productions, was a sheer pleasure to watch amidst many other spectators at Gulshan Club on May 28, 2016. There were two shows on May 28th and one on May 27th. The play was adapted and directed by well-known actress Naila Azad who acted in Hollywood movies such as Crossing Over and television series such as Lie to Me, CSI etc.
It is a drawing room drama that exposes the hypocrisies of not only Edwardian England, but of today’s society as well. It is one of Priestley’s most well known works, first staged in the Soviet Union in 1945 and then in the UK in 1946. The setting was the fictional town of Bonobagan in Bangladesh on a single night in April 2012, exactly a hundred years from the original time of setting in Brumley, England. The names of the characters were changed to fit the Bangladeshi context and the reference to the Titanic as the unsinkable ship was changed to Rana Plaza as the ideal garments factory.
The plot of the play revolves around a young working class woman Ava Alam who committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. An inspector comes to interrogate the wealthy Borhanias (father, mother, son, daughter and her fiancé) as each of them had played a role with their actions and decisions in Alam’s life that led her to commit suicide. The mysterious inspector Jinnah arrives in the midst of the family celebrating their daughter’s engagement with a diary he found in Ava’s room where she mentioned the Borhanias’ names. And while asking questions to each member of the Borhania family, he separately shows them a picture of the deceased woman. They in turn recall and share the part they played in Ava’s life.
We were shown how through a series of unfortunate events, Ava Alam came into contact with each of the Borhanias and in a case of haves against the have nots, their morally questionable actions led her further into despair and ultimately caused her to end her life. In a twist, we found out that Inspector Jinnah actually does not exist and a real inspector was coming to call after the mysterious death of a young girl.
All cast members are promising actors and actresses. They have a passion for theatre and most have formal training and experience in acting. Munize Manzur brilliantly portrayed her role of Mrs. Borhania, wife of a wealthy businessman and a mother who chooses to ignore her son’s drinking problem, and who at the same time refuses to take any responsibility for Alam’s death. And so did Kazi Toufikul Islam in his role as Mr. Borhania, a businessman only concerned about low cost and high profit, and someone who wants to avoid scandal at any cost. He too shrugs off his responsibility in the chain of events that caused Ava to commit suicide. These kind of characters, obsessed with wealth, status and scornful towards the poor exist in abundance in every society.
Shaan Rahman beautifully played his role of a son with a drinking problem and one who steals money from his father’s office, but one who nevertheless challenges his father’s business ideology and feels sorry for Ava. Afia Rashid successfully played her role of a daughter of a wealthy businessman who is used to getting everything she wants, but someone for whom her guilty conscience becomes the biggest burden after she gets to know of her part in the chain of events that led to Ava’s suicide. Shaan Rahman and Afia Rashid clearly portray the fact that the younger generation of the Borhania household is more impressionable.
Nafis Salman, in his role of the future son-in-law of the Borhania family, and the son of a business tycoon wonderfully portrayed how he, despite belonging to the younger generation shares the same ideology as that of his future father-in-law regarding business matters. The fact that he is an unfaithful lover is something that is not uncommon even today. Ariq Anam Khan played his role as inspector Jinnah with his brilliant style of asking questions that ultimately show how the working class girl Ava Alam, and later Daisy Islam, was exploited by each member of the Borhania household. His sturdy muscular physique made him well suited for the role of an inspector.
The role of Ava Alam/ Daisy Islam played by Shormymala, who in spite of not having any dialogues effectively portrayed through her movements and facial expressions, (along with the others telling her story), how the poor are unjustly treated and are made to suffer silently. Shakil Ahmed plays the role of the Borhanias’ domestic help, in addition to small roles alongside Shormymala.
The people involved with the set construction, as well as the light assistants did a commendable job in creating the ambience that transported the audience into the Borhania’s living room and inside Ava’s shabby dwellings. The red light falling on Ava’s face after she committed suicide was a great way to mark her tragic end. The costume of the cast members along with the makeup was appropriate in terms of their social class and lifestyles.
The play, a combination of Priestley’s original and Ajit Gangopadhyay’s ‘Thana Thekey Ashchi’ was a representation of any society where the poor are unjustly treated and exploited. Even in contemporary times, we are driven by greed, irresponsibility etc and we often shrug our shoulders like Mr. and Mrs. Borhania and refuse to accept responsibility. The play compels us to ask ourselves if we are in fact putting on different faces for different people, and urges us to be more humane towards the less fortunate.
The most powerful message of the play that is applicable even now was delivered in the last lines spoken by the inspector before he departed. He says that we are part of one body, and are responsible for each other. He adds, ‘And I tell you that the time will soon come when if man will not learn that lesson, they will be taught it in fire, blood and anguish.’ Our actions and decisions have an impact on those around us, so we have to take responsibility. We cannot just be oblivious about our wrongdoings. Ultimately, we will be confronted by our own conscience (the inspector in the play), before we face the authority.=