Dr. Israfil Shaheen

Dr. Israfil Shaheen (Mohammad Israfil) (b.1964) is a director based in Bangladesh and a Professor at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Dhaka. After completing his undergraduate studies in Political Science from University of Dhaka, Dr. Israfil pursued MA in theatre direction from National School of Drama, India. In 1999, Dr. Israfil was conferred PhD by Rabindra Bharati University for his research titled “Street Theatre of India and Bangladesh: Politics and Poetics of Performance.Dr. Israfil served the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies as its Chair from 2006 to 2009. In a long career as a trainer, academic mentor, and creative director, he taught at different universities and conducted numerous workshops on theatre and performance at various cultural institutions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, South Korea, China, Russia, UAE, USA and United Kingdom, Egypt, Philippines, Spain, Italy, Poland, France, and Czech Republic. He has participated in several international theatre festivals as a jury member, director, and speaker.


Israfil Shaheen brings with him more than three decades of work and experience in the fields of performance, theatre education, and cultural activism. In the field of theatre and performance studies Dr. Israfil has worked as a creative director, mentor, and academic guide to PhD, post-graduate, and undergraduate students at various universities in Bangladesh and abroad. Israfil Shaheen’s performance credit include direction of over 40 plays spanning over major western playwrights such as Pinter, Ibsen, Chekhov, Shakespeare, Moliere, Agatha Christi, and Beckett and classical Sanskrit dramas of Sudraka and Bhasa.

Before entering the world of theatre as an academician, Dr. Israfil had spent a brief, yet formative period as a theatre worker with Bangladesh’s prominent theatre group Aranyak, which also opened opportunities for him to engage with a form of community based theatre that became popular under the concept of “Mukto Natok.” Roughly translated as “free theatre,” “Mukto Natok” brought forth a new dimension in Bangladesh’s theatre scenario, which was predominantly focused on proscenium stage in urban centres. Mukto Natok allowed Dr. Israfil to get acquainted with the artists and performers living and practicing in far off corners of Bangladesh. As a young theatre activist he conceptualized and organized Mukto Natok events in distant towns and villages which are truly the nerve-centre of Bangladesh’s performing arts. This experience of working with marginal community paved the way for Israfil to seek mentorship under legendary Indian theatre activists: the agitprop artist Safdar Hashmi and third theatre theoretician Badal Sirkir. Both Safdar and Badal were instrumental in forming Israfil’s own theory of conceptualizing a new theatre for and by the socially ostracized members of a community.

Dr. Israfil’s approach to directorial method has been going through significant changes in the past few years. Having been trained into the realist-classical school, Israfil has recently been focusing on collaborative-interactive method to in order to accommodate opinion, critical insight, and even judgments coming from the end-line audience. Israfil Shaheen’s emphasis on pre-production collaboration with prospective audience necessarily involves a more inclusive and radical approach to theatre-making. Israfil Shaheen believes that this participatory directorial method can be highly effective in site-specific performance, which takes place in public thoroughfares, historical sites, or in unconventional performance spaces.

It is not surprising that Israfil Shaheen will later base his future academic research in the domain of street theatre, the idioms of which he had learnt under Safdara Hashmi and Badal Sirkar in the turmoiling days of 1990s. Thus, Israfil Shaheen’s unique approach to theatre is informed by two apparently opposite forces. On one hand, he is eager to explore the methods and idioms of modernist western theatre that bears the legacy of western classical tradition. On the other hand, he seeks to explore the ‘populist voice’ through the vehicle of street performance, popular theatre and performative rituals. Today, Dr. Israfil’s characteristic features of theatre-making can be identified by (a) methodological acting blended with unique local technique; (b) ethnographic research for characterization and content development; and (c) minimalist approach to theatre-making. Dr. Israfil’s exploration for a new approach to theatre-creation has developed into a separate school or a particular trend in Bangladesh.

During 2020-2023, Israfil Shaheen has initiated several research and performance projects that addresses the issue of theatre for people under social and institutional confinement. Engaging researchers from different academic backgrounds, these projects shall explore the effectiveness of performative art in rehabilitation and restitution of people in various types of confinement such as prisons, rehabilitation centres, reform houses, and correction facilities. One of these projects, prison theatre, has received funding from University of Dhaka for conducting research and publication.

Dr. Israfil founded the Bangladesh Centre for Performance and Cultural Studies (BCPCS) in 2010 with a view to train researchers in hitherto unexplored areas in applied theatre in public spaces. In the past few years Dr. Israfil had been developing an ideologically novel form of popular theatre with a view to engage marginalized voices as active creators and participants. He believes not merely in a cultural production but in a cultivating process where theatre is not a production but a processual action. His theory of theatre embraces the public sphere by making theatre an instrument of social, cultural and political resurgence.




1983 to 1988

BSS (Hons.), Political Science, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

1988 to 1991

MA, National School of Drama, (NSD), New Delhi, India.
Subject: Theatre Direction.

1992 to 1997

PhD, Kolkata Rabindra Bharati University, India.
Title: Performance Studies: Street Theatre of India and Bangladesh on Politics and poetics of Performances in context of India and Bangladesh.

1997 to 2000

Lecturer, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Dhaka.

2000 to 2003

Chairman, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Dhaka.

2003 to 2005

Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Dhaka.

2005 to 2009

Associate Professor, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Dhaka.

2009 to till now

Professor, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Dhaka.



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Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Dhaka, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh.

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