Silence: crucial and cruel

Muhammad Ibrahim Ibne Towhid writes about mime, silent performance, and its prospect in the country

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SILENCE at times tells more than words. And mime is a strong way to deliver messages. This form of entertainment, done with gestures, mimics and dance, communicates and entertains without using words. The white face helps the audience to see the performer from distance. The design on the face brings the character to life and expresses emotion without verses. For instance, a tear-drop refers to sadness.

The mime makeup is interesting. Wetting white pigment paint using a foundation brush dipped in a little water, painting the face until skin does not show through and leaving eye lids bare, enhancing eyes with matte eye shadows and lining across lower lashes, making a red cheek with red lipstick over liner and then painting a tear drop with the black eye shadow to create reflection with glitter glue, a little more glitter on the lips and at the centre of eye lids to add more drama completes the makeup.

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When one speaks about performance without words, the first character that comes to a common mind is Sir Charles Spencer, ‘Charlie Chaplin’. This English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer rose to fame during the era of silent films. The world has moved half a century without seeing Charlie performing live. His works that spanned for more than 75 years is enjoyed only in records.

Chaplin never spoke more than cursorily about his filmmaking methods, claimed ‘such a thing would be tantamount to a magician spoiling his own illusion.’ Throughout his lifetime, little was known about his working process but research from film historians were done years after his death and later presented in the documentary Unknown Chaplin (1983) revealing his unique working method.

However, Chaplin believed his first influence was his mother, who entertained him as a child by sitting at the window and mimicking passers-by: ‘It was through watching her that I learned not only how to express emotions with my hands and face, but also how to observe and study people.’

A silent film is a film with no synchronised recorded sound. The silent film era lasted from 1895 to 1936. The dialogues were transmitted through muted gestures, mime and title cards with a written indication of the plot or key dialogue. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as film itself, but because of the technical challenges involved, synchronised dialogue was made practical only in the late 1920s. But some silent films were made even later with interesting plots.

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The 2011 French film, The Artist portrayed the struggle of a silent artist. Its story takes place in Hollywood, between 1927 and 1932, and focuses on the relationship of an older silent film star and a rising young actress as silent cinema falls out of fashion and is replaced by the ‘talkies’.

 

 

Mime in Bangladesh has a history. Partha Pratim Majumder, a mime maestro is undoubtedly a forerunner in the field of mime in the country. He has been living in Paris for the last two decades and has bagged the highest honour of Bangladesh Ekushey Padak in 2010.

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Bangladesh Mime Federation was formed in 2011. The chairman, Jahaid Ripon says, ‘Partha Pratim Majumder, Quazi Moshurul Huda and Zillur Rahman John started mime in the country during 1975-76. They brought in western thoughts into their sketches but all of them are now living abroad. There was a gap in mime in the country. Now we are trying to revive this form of art. Initially formed with 25 teams, now our federation has 35 teams from across the country.’

Talking about the prospects of mime with New Age Xtra Ripon says, ‘The sub continent has a history of its own theatre style. We are holding workshops, training, festivals and seminars with the different teams. Mime requires a lot of preparation and practice but many artists want quick exposure. However, mime has an interest in the audience and through passionate performance it is being developed day by day.’

Recently the TSC auditorium of University of Dhaka hosted the first International Mime Fest where mime teams from 6 countries performed their sketches. It was organised by DU Mime Action, a mime team which started its journey since 2011. As it begun showing its silent skills with 7 members, now it has performed more than 350 shows in different parts of the country as well as at stages abroad. The first and only mime team in the university has been able to become one of the prominent clubs throughout its 6 years of passing. Each year they recruit more than 30 members and this year for the huge number of enthusiasts, it recruited 60 students.

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The founder of the club Mir Lokman says, ‘I have taken mime as a career. Each year we arrange series of mime workshops which runs for six months. Currently our 8th batch is being trained and I am hopeful that mime can be a career. Cricket was never thought to be a profession until recently, so I believe within the next few years, people would find ways to set a career in mime. I am working to find out ways so that mime can be promoted through other entertainment channels and becomes affiliated with marketing policies.’

An artist entertains the audience but lives of artists are not always entertaining. Sudip Chakraborty, chairmen of Theatre & Performance Studies at University of Dhaka says, ‘Mime and theatre are interlinked. In our department, students have to take courses of mime. However, art is always a struggle. Still today, theatre is struggling to survive. In the world of digital art, theatre, music and mime are the form of art that looks for existence through passion driven efforts. So mime needs to go a long way. However, it can be a career for the mime performers of the country only with dedication towards it.’

Cultural activism is necessary for social justice and political change. There is a saying ‘only silence communicates the truth as it is…’ Art with all of its forms has always played critical roles to change or make situations better. Mime and silent performances conveys long lasting strong messages.

The non verbal communication is self explanatory but also multi interpretive. When silence conveys messages, it also is cruel at times because of the crucial role it plays, of denial and rejection. At times silence is the symbol of consent and at the same time it can be the symbol of denial.