Neaz Subhan makes a point of tackling domestic violence through drama

Neaz Subhan has been in the performing arts for a whopping 30-plus years and he still plays a very active role today. He is a familiar face on the National Communications Network’s ‘Guyana Today’ Morning Show and a notable voice on the state’s radio broadcastings popularizing Indian and Bollywood music.

Just a few months ago he was awarded Best New Guyanese playwright for his play When Chocolate Melts which was entered in the Full-Length Category of the 2013 National Drama Festival.

The play, produced by the Indian Arrival Committee and directed by Neaz, gained nine award nominations: Best New Guyanese play, Best Costuming, Best Production, Best Set Design, Best Lights and Best Cast, Best Director (Neaz Subhan), Best Actor in a lead role (Chris Gopaul), Best Supporting Actor (Mahadeo Shivraj), Best Actress in a lead role, (Nirmala Narine). The play was runner-up for Best Production Award in the Full-length category and of course took home the award for Best New Guyanese stage play as aforementioned.

Neaz Subhan
Neaz Subhan

In February 2007, Neaz taken up the administrative position of directing the Government Information Agency (GINA), it is a post he has held on to ever since and is one he described as “challenging”. Asked how is it he manages the government’s news agency and has time for the demands of theatre, he explained that although he finds it difficult to do both sometimes it becomes easier because of his passion for both jobs. He can spend countless hours at work but when an idea for drama pops in his head, he takes the little free time he has to fully indulge his imagination, jotting thoughts down on paper to create a first draft. “It is extremely difficult to manage my day duties and theatre,” he said, “but the fact that I enjoy it… maybe that’s inspiration by itself.”

When Chocolate Melts shines the spotlight on domestic violence which continues to be a bane in Guyanese society. According to the director’s notes, the play challenges our perception of domestic violence, now labelled in our context as gender-based violence that continues to plague societies with devastating effects in many instances. “Often death, which seems an ultimate outcome, overshadows the lingering trauma, faced by surviving members especially the children who had witnessed it all. Their challenges in a broken home while brought to fore in a headline case are quickly banished from the media spotlight because cases are swiftly replaced by others on the front page. The cycle continues,” he said.

Neaz is a strong supporter of the fight against domestic violence. What the play wants us to see are the different perspectives on domestic violence, the change in mentality and even stereotypical insights we have instilled in our minds. Neaz painted such a picture to have his audience know that abuse can affect any family; even the ones that seem the happiest and the slightest slip can cause an unstoppable mudslide. The production, very relevant to our modern view of the household, shows that things as common as lack of communication, gossip and mistrust can be just as detrimental as infidelity, aggression and all the other common factors that lead to abuse if not curbed accordingly.

He hopes to have the play produced sometime later this year since the issues are part of our lifestyle. “It is to heighten the awareness and benefit of the knowledge when one can see the complications of abuse in a community,” he said.

 Neaz Subhan (second left) receiving his National Drama Festival award last year
Neaz Subhan (second left) receiving his National Drama Festival award last year

The way the play is written, it is easy to see how misconceptions through typical stereotypes in culture and habits can paint a different picture of characters. Neaz affirmed that intervening in the cultural aspects of how people see things can cloud a view of unity and support.

Unlike his other plays, he did not include songs or dances in this production since he strongly wanted to send a message that domestic violence is nothing to celebrate or be entertained by.  Neaz is known for his Indian related theatre. In 1988 he directed Tulsidas, taking the film and adapting it for stage. He said the catchy and enjoyable songs and dances make adapting Bollywood films enjoyable.

In 2009 he directed Baghban, another Bolly-wood adaptation, showcasing the neglect and abuse suffered by parents from their ungrateful children and their families.

Kanyadan, yet another play from a Bollywood film was his first on domestic violence a few years ago. He also worked on a play Namaste, in which he paid tribute to legendary Guyanese writer, Sheik Sadeek. Namaste incorporated excerpts from three of Sadeek’s plays: Black Bush, Goodbye Corentyne, and Namaste. It was Neaz, who brought Guyanese theatre the brand “Gana Bhagana” which will feature its fourth production this year. It is Indian comedy with a Bollywood flare but of course satirical with a view on Guyanese social culture.

He has acted in many plays aside from being director and producer. He was in the Link Show a few years ago and now serves as the main writer for NCN’s “This is We” year-end comic production.

Neaz ventured into drama though a rather odd process. Serving as one of the best fast bowlers in his St Joseph High School cricket team, he came back from a match one day to have his teacher asked him to participate in a skit for the upcoming Phagwah celebrations. Without hesitating, he shot it down. “I was a cricketer,” he said, “I had no idea about acting.” But he eventually tried the play and to his disappointment it was a disaster, not a complete one as he described but not nearly the best of plays! The entire production as he recalled was a bit of a shocker. He began to think of how he could have made the play better. One day, still in school and nestling in the science lab (one of his favourite places at the time since he had a knack for science) he stumbled uninvited onto a meeting in the next laboratory that was ongoing. It was the school’s Hindu Society and they were planning a concert, the contents of which young Neaz found disappointing before he (still uninvited) made recommendations: a concert with songs, dances and skits.

He wrote a skit for the society and they loved it; he was then put in charge of producing and directing the entire concert. Although not experienced, he took up the task and was successful. He was then elected unanimously to lead the Hindu Society despite being a Muslim, re-elected unopposed the next year and later served as Vice President for the inter-schools Hindu Society.

In 1986 he wrote and produced his first full-length play Maa Ka Pyar (Mother’s Love), while serving as a science teacher at the Houston Community High School where he only stayed for six weeks before being offered a job at the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) Central Labora-tory.

His passion for drama pulled him towards the GuySuCo Drama Group which was vibrant back then. In 1987 he acted for the first time at the National Cultural Centre in Feud, which was produced by the late theatre legend Andre Sobryan. Soon after, he was approached by theatre veteran Ron Robinson to act in his play Night of January 16, this was Neaz’s first paid performance and the play that launched him in so many ways.

“I always say drama is a discipline. It takes discipline and if we are to adhere to the lessons it teaches us in life then there would be a lot of respect and cooperation amongst us as characters in the same play,” he said. “People should only be in drama if they like it, only then will you put your heart into it and eventually realize your dreams. When I am directing a play I always tell the cast that the most important requirement is your interest – with interest, commitment will follow and your entire heart.”

Asked to talk about last season’s National Drama Festival, he said he was impressed with the writing, directing and many of the actors he saw. “The National Drama Festival is something we need. I believe if this trend continues we should be seeing a lot of youthful development. The festival showed that the actors and actresses have the heart, they just need the stage to express their talents; this is the platform,” he said.

Neaz was born and raised in Peter’s Hall, East Bank Demerara before moving to Craig in the same sub-region at the age of nine with his parents. He grew up with the 14 children his mother took care of. Neaz being the 13th enjoyed his young days.

Today he enjoys the blessing that both his parents are still alive. He has four sons and two daughters and has been married for the past 11 years. He loves music and enjoys that same passion he had for theatre three decades ago; he loves his job at GINA and faces the challenges it offers.

He seldom socializes, never drank or smoke and is practically disgusted at just the smell of alcohol, blaming this on a possible genetic trait but after a brief discussion on his past, agreed that perhaps it was from a bad experience.

Neaz has also ventured into film, including Mahadeo Shivraj’s A Jasmine for a Gardener and Brown Sugar Too Bitter For Me.”

He has recently written a screenplay, Upriver, that he is excited about. Upriver captures the beauty of the hinterland, reads like a murder mystery and can even classify as an adventure and a journey through various parts of the country. He wants to bring this screenplay to a level of acceptable international standard. He describes the work as a very ambitious product.

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