Motion pictures may have taken the world by storm with their easily accessible medium and their high VFX superhuman saviours; but where did art stand before this era? Before dubbing and detailed cinematography was theatre- a raw form of dramatic arts that paved the way for these polished two-hour long entertainment packages. It is said that the best of the actors came out of the theatre out of singing out loud, out of making people laugh and cry without laughing tracks or mournful flute music, out of fighting in tough war gear and making death seem real on stage without close-ups of gory 3D makeup. Reviving this dying art form with untold stories about powerful women is Komola Collective- a London based theatre and arts company that is made up of four women wearing multiple hats.
Leesa, Filiz, Sohini and Caitlin are a four women ensemble with diverse backgrounds like Bengali, Turkish/Kurdish and British who have joined hands to create this theatre establishment that questions beliefs, retells stories, challenges myths to bring out the truth behind and forces out a new way of thinking about age-old concepts. The stories they recreate need not be original- but the idea and thinking behind these stories always are. Together, these four women are director, actor, musician, illustrator, facilitator, composer and designer.
As any meaningful theatre art, Komola Collective fosters confidence and self-belief. It is a way to bring to light issues that plague our society even now and do so by reaching out to remote communities and providing them a platform to make their matters heard.
The list of accomplishments by Komola Collective run long. Projects like their office nominated debut in 2014-Birangona: Brave Women- speak volumes about the importance of the work being done at this company. A play that was the culmination of research and workshops done on war heroines of Bangladesh replayed the horrors of war they went through and explored the challenges faced by these rape victims today. This piece of work combined animation and shadow work to bring out a natural and eerily real depiction of the lives of these neglected women as a by-product of war. The play garnered appreciation from The Guardian, The Stage, London Theatre and others.
Komola Collective is the proud producer, in partnership with Openvizor and Making Herstory, of another award-winning feature documentary film Rising Silence by Leesa Gazi- a film that sheds light on the Birangana women. The film won the Best Documentary Award at the Dhaka International Film Festival and is a 2019 Moondance Winner. In October 2019, Komola Collective received the Asian Media Award for Best Investigation 2019 as well.
Other activities from Komola Collective include theatre-based arts and crafts like mask-making workshops, with children and the Tagore family workshop that had mothers and children exploring their relationship with each other through role-play on the poem “MatriBotshol” adapted into a story form. On the occasion of the Black History Month, Komola Collective held a scriptwriting workshop where participants wrote about their experiences of being a refugee in Britain and learned some quick writing lessons. The workshop helped participants understand the dynamics of playwriting.
Similarly, the Komola Collective participated in the Bloomsbury Festival where they presented Daughter of the Forest- a storytelling performance of Bonbibi through shadow puppetry. The response to the performance was overwhelming as audiences of all ages appeared to be enjoying the folktale. Their shows Women of Shakespeare and Women of Tagore celebrated female characters of literature on International Women’s Day.
The most recent feather in their cap- Aleya Twist is a modern-day spin on Oliver Twist, using the concept of domestic abuse for underprivileged girls, produced in collaboration with the British Council Dhaka, adapted by Leesa Gazi and directed by Filiz Ozcan.
Every story told at Komola Collective has a female narrative- be it an original production, or a rendition of past works. Ice spoke to Leesa Gazi to know the thought behind Komola Collective and the way it tells its stories. “We (Leesa, Filiz, Sohini and Caitlin) were working separately until we were signed on for a project together. That is when we realized that although we always enjoyed working with each other, the one thing that was meaningful to each of us was the female narrative. When we told stories of women, by women, it resonated with us on a whole different level. This is why we got together and decided to establish Komola Collective.” On asking her what was the broader vision behind this telling of untold stories, she said- “Through art, you can provoke change. “ Leesa, feels, as do many of us, that the world is walking backwards, rather than forward. Racism is making a comeback as are so many other problems we thought we had grown out of. It is important to realize this and work against the tide. “Change happens all the time. But it is an achievement that is never concrete. You have to keep at it. Each time we produce something new, we hope for ripples of change.” Leesa and her friends have enjoyed working in Bangladesh on several occasions and would like to come back and work here if a project spoke to them that way. “It’s always a pleasure!”, she says. And we agree, wholeheartedly. Komola Collective, is always a pleasure.