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Boro Holo J: A Bengali Play By Off-Kendrik

Shanto Ghosh

Review: Boro Holo J: A Bengali play
Produced by Off-Kendrik, a Boston-based theater group

Off-Kendrik, a Bengali theater group based in the greater Boston area, traces its theater roots to the Kolkata group theater movement.  Over the last five years, it has focused on experimentation-oriented 'original' theater tradition serving as a voice of the expatriate Bengali community . Off-Kendrik’s work draws on various contemporary issues faced by the rapidly evolving Bengali community, both at home and abroad. Their plays draw from various genres and their production style is inspired by a minimalist approach drawing from black box theater.

Last weekend, I witnessed Off-Kendrik’s latest production, Boro Holo J (Baw-ro-holo-jaw) -- a contemporary satire based on Sukumar Ray’s  timeless children's classic, “Hajabarala”. The team of actors, directed by Sankha Bhowmick, was able to pull off a great show that blended an intelligent script, great acting and a fine juxtaposition of music, light and set. All of these components came together to deliver a very satisfactory experience to the audience and it was a pleasure to watch this show and it is indeed a shame that such a great production has no forthcoming shows for others to cherish.

Before getting into specifics, let me start with some high level comments. Perhaps the best feeling after the play was the recognition of how seamlessly it was able to adapt the original children’s story into a modern day Wall Street, corporate setting – while retaining the same sense of nonsensical humor and satire – and delivering a commentary on degrading social values with great finesse.

For its uniqueness alone, the script deserves immense credit.  Boro Holo J (J comes of age) is an anagram or rearrangement of Ray’s Hajabarala and Off-Kendrik’s play marks a point of departure from the story where the hitherto nameless narrator "ami" grows up to leave the pages of the storybook.  He acquires the name J, learns math and like many immigrants in the globalized economy, lands in the pits of Wall Street in a futures trading company.  There he finds all the characters from Hajabarala also trying to make a living in lower Manhattan.  Kakkeshwar (Crow) is a portfolio manager and Udo and Budho are consultant scientists in the same firm where Pencha (Owl) is the Big Boss.  Then there are Beral (Cat), the suave consultant; Sheyal (Fox) and Kumeer (Crocodile) -- partners in a law firm; Byakaron (Goat), the Iron Chef who runs multiple franchise businesses; and Sojaru (Porcupine), the duped client.   Nyara (the Minstrel) is the odd one out, trying to make it in the theater circuit.  Hijibijbij, the prankster, remains timeless through all this.  The play is set in the doldrums of the Wall Street crash where pandemonium breaks out once the company doesn't perform as expected.

Next, the acting was seamless. Here I should mention briefly that the acting crew came together for this project (like all Off-Kendrik projects) solely because of their passion for acting. None are actors in their daily professions – while the director and lead actor Sankha Bhowmick portraying the protagonist J is a professor at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth -- others share a diverse background from being graduate students at Harvard and Boston University, to faculty at Lesley University, working professionals in hardware and software engineering -- and consultants from law firms and energy companies.

But the great sense of connectivity achieved in dialogue delivery, bi-acting, and coordination was testament to the chemistry shared between the actors. Of special mention are the characters of Hijibijbij, played by 10-year old Aunnesha Bhowmick; Sheyal, the “Fox”, played by Shouvik Gangopadhyay; Kumir, played by Jayanta Mukhopadhyay, Byakaron, played by Debashis Roychowdhury, Beral, played by Rajarshi Mukherjee, and Nyara, played by Indranil Sarkar.

Indranil as Nyara left a special mark with his songs touching a chord every time and the audience was left craving for more. Hijibijbij dazzled with her stage presence and free flow acting. She was a delight! I loved Sheyal -- the impactful delivery of his punch lines achieved just the intended effect -- and drew the audience into the scene. Byakaron was a great choice and his on-stage presence gelled beautifully with the character of a successful entrepreneur. Kumir and Beral were equally effective. It was truly gratifying to see such engaged actors who were able to pull off their respective roles with such ease and perfection.

I also think that it was a great decision to not have an intermission in this 90-plus minute play. The pace of the play was just perfect for the latter two-thirds of the play. The initial one-third started a bit slow but the pace picked up soon and engaged the audience for the rest of the play. The stage was used effectively and the creative set design allowed the actors to flow in and out of the scenes easily. Light design also deserves a special mention – it was simple but effective.

I look forward to more such productions from Off-Kendrik through which we can keep alive the love of theater among us, whether we are from Kolkata or not.  In addition, their work will hopefully create a space for playwrights to write about the 'global' Bengali community and serious theater enthusiasts to explore their passion and express themselves on stage.

For more information on Off-Kendrik: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Off-Kendrik/225017470845587?ref=br_tf

Email Contact: sankha_bhowmick@yahoo.com

Photo Credit: Dyuti Majumder Photography(http://dyutimajumdar.com/)

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