Durga Puja and Cultural Events: The 2009 New Jersey Lineup

Ujjaini MukherjeeIn New Jersey, Durga Puja is a special time when the festive mood brings with it a flurry of entertainment and cultural programs across the state. This year too the line up looks very promising although the spirits have dampened a bit due to the tough economic times and with the rejection of visas of few of the performers.  Still the combination of local talents and professionals from India is bound to enthrall the Puja attendees on the coming weekends.

I’ll try to briefly summarize the lineup this year, although the organizers have in many cases conveniently omitted the details about the local performers from their web sites. I tried to collect as much information I could manage. If any of you have more information, then please feel free to add them to this post as comments. Continue reading

Goat and the Bengali Intelligentsia

goat The intelligentsia (as defined by Wikipedia) is a social class of people engaged in complex mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them.  You can very well attribute this term to the Bengali society who fits this definition quite well.  But what does a timid and herbivorous (although Bengalis think goats to be omnivorous – chhagole ki na khay) mammal like goat got to do with this elite group of people?  The answer to this is well known to all of us – Bengalis love goat meat. Although in other parts of the World, goat milk and milk products (cheese) are also extremely popular, but we the Bengalis don’t care much about the milk.  It is the meat that is most important to us – the ultimate food in any Bengali plate.  Historically, goat meat is the only kind of meat that Bengalis (especially the Hindu Bengalis) ate. Goats were the most popular offerings to Goddess Kali and Durga – and the meat then cooked in a recipe void of any garlic or onions and hence termed as “vegetarian meat”.

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Bannya Concert in New York

A unique concert of Tagore songs with the accompaniment of Indian and Western musical instruments is planned for Saturday, July the 18th, 2009, at 6-30 P.M. at the fabulous sanctuary of the futuristic Saint Peters Church in the heart of New York City at 619 Lexington Avenue (corner of 54th Street), New York City. Rezwana Choudhury Bannya, the famed Tagore singer, will be the solo vocalist. Among the instruments will be Piano, Violin, Saxophone, Harp, Cello, Veena, Sitar, Flute, Tabla, Mandira etc. The musicians who will play these instruments are all accomplished artistes in their respective areas. This is the first time that such a concert is being offered where so many Western instruments will be played with Tagore songs (or any other Bengali song genre, for that matter) at the same session. As planned, Ms. Bannya will sing an average of two songs with each instrument individually. At the end, two or more songs are expected to be offered with all the  instruments playing together.

Suggested donations for the concert has been set at $100, $50 and $25, to defray the costs for the concert. Guests are requested to arrive on time and take their seats by 6-30 pm so that the session may start on time. The entrance is through the 54th Street south side doors, less than 50 feet from Lexington Avenue while walking towards Third Avenue. Discount parking is available at Metropolitan 51 Parking, 569 Lexington Avenue, south side of 51st Street, between Lexington and 3rd Avenue ($15 for upto five hours).. For getting the discount, the tickets have to be endorsed by a seal at the reception desk at the church entrance.

Those interested to attend the concert and collect tickets are requested to ontact: 347-570-7787, 917-770-0146, 718-414-9743 or send email at following adresses:
email: smullah41@yahoo.comsarwarharun@gmail.com

Habib Tanvir : The Legend Lives On

Habib TanvirVery few theatre personalities in India have become legends in their life time. Habib Tanvir was one of them. Born as Habib Ahmed Khan on September 1, 1923 in Raipur, Chattisgarh, Habib Tanvir has reinvented Indian folk theater and brought it out on the world stage in its full glory.  I still remember the evening in Calcutta when I watched his brilliant creation “Charandas Chor”.  The presentation of the play in a traditional folk form looked so modern, so fresh, that I couldn’t think of anything comparable in contemporary theatre. Habib,  through is work, has left a legacy that is difficult to carry on – because it demands a level of dedication that many of our modern theatre workers will fail to match. The sensitivity with which he nurtured the folk forms, experimented with content and presented them with such grace and simplicity – only a true genius can achieve such excellence. 

Habib Tanvir passed away on June 8th, 2009, but the lengend he became still lives on and inspires theatre workers all around the globe.

Thank You

Suranjana and Pallab in BanaprasthaI’d like to express my sincere thanks to all those of you who came to watch our play “Banaprastha” (The Retirement).  We had full houses on all the four days and it was a testament to the fact that New Jersey Bengalis like to watch quality theatre if we can offer them. However, it was not only Jerseyans who came to our show, people came from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York city and even Buffalo New York. The overall feedback has been extremely positive,  and people are asking for more shows.  Such encouragement is what makes all this hard work worth it and drives us to our next venture. We hope that with your good wishes, we’ll be able to keep up with your expectations and put New Jersey on the map of serious and quality Bengali theatre for time to come.

Thank you once again for supporting us.

Community News Bites: Banaprastha and Urhalpool

ECTA’s latest production “Banaprastha” premiered at the Edison Valley Playhouse on May 16th in front of a full house. The play was very well received by the audience as you can see in the accompanying video.  The second show was held on May 17th. Besides the video comments, here are some of the comments sent over the email.

We thoroughly enjoyed Banaprasta. This is a very timely production. I wish this drama can be viewed by millions Indians in India in view of the fact that India is crazy about Bollywood. Once again congratulations for presenting a great drama.” – Aurobindo Mukherjee

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Banaprastha Rehearsals in Final Phase

Parijat (Subhodev) and Pallab (Shamyo) in BanaprasthaAfter a long preparation phase, the end is now in sight. In two weeks time, ECTA will be launching their latest production, “Banaprastha” or “The Retirement”. ECTA’s play have always generated interest amongst the theater lover audience of this area and “Banaprastha” is no exception. People are eagerly waiting for the new play with lot of expectation. We hope this play will live up to that.

“Banaprastha” will feature some of the regular performers of ECTA along with few new faces. Shamyo Goswami, a newcomer to New Jersey will be appearing for the first time on NJ stage. Although Shamyo’s primary interest is in film direction (he has directed and produced a Banga Tele-serial featuring some of the top actors of Bengali screen), he is also an excellent actor. Subhodev Das, after a long hiatus, will be performing the role of the protagonist character – Dr. Parijat Sen.  Another newcomer is Pradeep Ramdas. Although not a native Bengali speaker, his love for Bengali theater is no less than any Bengali. In India, Pradeep was involved with the street theater movement. Pradeep plays the role of Ashok Diwan, a young business man of Kolkata.  Kaninika Dutta’s debut in New Jersey theater was with Pratham Alo, where she acted in the key role of Bhumisuta. Kaninika, after a long break, returns to the stage as Sudeshna. Gargi Mukherjee, the well known actress (you cannot miss her in Mira Nair’s film – The Namesake) also returns to an ECTA production after a long time. She performed in ECTA’s first production “Phera” (The Return) in 2004 as a guest artist. In Banaprastha, she performs in the role of Suranjana – a character that will touch the hearts of many. Kaushik Dutta, who won the hearts of many with his role of Nando in “Ron”, will also feature in an important character role.

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Banaprastha and AIDS – The Genesis

HIV AIDS Red RibbonI think it was in 2004 when I met Pranay Dutta, an AIDS activist from Calcutta who was on a world tour attending several AIDS conferences in Europe, Asia and America. Pranay Dutta was then (and I understand he still is) the secretary of Sonata Foundation, an NGO in Calcutta who was trying to spread AIDS awareness in West Bengal and India through music, documentaries and performing arts. His theory was that HIV/AIDS awareness through print media was bound to be a failure in India where the majority of the affected people are illiterate. He thought that if this message can be spread out using music and performing arts then it could have the greatest impact. During my discussions with Pranay, he told me numerous incidents of how HIV and AIDS are affecting the poor Indian population. But what struck me most was the fact that how this disease was surreptitiously spreading amongst the educated, urban middle class. He told me several incidents of well-to-do middle class families affected with HIV and their attempts to hush it up, just like the way people used to do in the early half of the twentieth century when people got infected with TB or Leprosy or something similar. The fear of social back lash was more than the disease itself. Anybody infected with HIV is immediately branded as an immoral social outcast – some one who does not have the right to exist amongst the social elite. Most middle class family consider themselves immune to HIV and think that this is only a poor man’s disease. As Pranay says in one of his interviews with Voice of America, people in our society doesn’t care about HIV until someone in their family is infected. It is difficult to make someone aware when he or she doesn’t want to be.

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BSL : Bangla as a Second Language

I had often been requested to write plays for our children. With our kids in mind, few years ago I wrote a play titled BSL or Bangla as a Second Language. BSL is a hilarious short play for children (pre-teens, teens, young adults) of Bengali origin. Neil, Nick, Jay and Seema live in USA. But like all children of Bengali speaking parents, they are being forced to learn Bengali (or Bangla) against their will. Neil, the most innovative and smart kid he is, invents a device that can make one learn Bangla (or any other language) in seconds. Nick agrees to be the first guinea pig for the trials of this machine and the results are – quite unexpected to say the least. Continue reading

ECTA Looking for Actors and Actresses

ECTA (Ethnomedia Center for Theater Arts) is looking for actors and actresses for their upcoming production to be staged in late November 2008. Previous acting experience is nice to have but not necessary. Love for theater and performing arts is a must.

If you are interested please attend the following casting call.

Play: Banaprastha – a play in Bengali by Sudipta Bhawmik
Directed by: Indranil Mukherjee

Date and Time: Friday Sept 5 at 7:30pm
Place: 28 McBride Way, Bridgewater, NJ 08807

To RSVP send email to indymukh@gmail.com or bhawmik@gmail.com