The Season of Bangla Drama is a cultural infrastructures who's existance; makes me glad, matures with time and generally leads matters of pluricultural delight. It's like a more resource intensive Brick Lane Circle's Bengal History Week, a period of intense reflective, and by definition, creative collaboration.
This year is the tenth such season, courtesy of Tower Hamlets Arts, the Brady Centre and participating theatre groups. You can see whats coming up, and what you've missed already on the brochure here.
Tonight (Friday) I had the chance to see a performance of Culturepot Global's Bonbibi at the RichMix complex on Bethnal Green Road. Bonbibi is an elastic folk tale that does tremendous work, particularly the morality of relations between creation. Think Jungle Book (which probably drew from this and similar cultural resources), collided with a Qur'anic truth or two (pieces of the the life of Nabi Ibrahim and clearly a strong dose of Hazrat Khidr), Avatar and Moulin Rouge.
Ok, but why not?
Ably narrated and sung through by Lokkhi Terra's versatile Sohini Alam, a packed venue was treated to a family orientated 55 minutes of shadow puppetry, expressive dance and moody folk-rock groove. Was this to be the kind of thing Ali Shariati was talking about when he spoke of the Extraction and Refinement of Cultural Resources?
The storyline probably deserves a look in at this point, and we'll start with Bonbibi, the lady of the forest, who was found and brought up by the animals of the forest in The Land Of The Eighteen Tides, by which we understand Sundarbans forest of the Bengal Delta. This liminal space between ocean and land gives way to all sorts of balance-talk and works to decenter the human. In fact the animated earth becomes almost second nature. Its sad how modern life sciences have proceeded to make things so dead. Enchantingly live descriptions abound, one particularly beautiful line talks of sundar trees in eternal conversation with the sky.
Bonbibi is a background character who frames the storylet however, in fact all the actors seem to play the role of visual props to wrap movement, narrative and songlines around. This is probably just as well because as soon as voice duties were shared we got corkers like Bumbibi (heehee) and probably the least-menacing-tiger-growl-of-all-time-bro-pull-it-out-for-next-time-maybe-its-your-strat? Still its refreshing to see white people as puppets on a string for a change even if they are officially actors.
Back to the plot and the stage we follow for the most part the lives of two siblings, a brother and sister, orphaned by the swallowing action of the sea, who play and live in the forest. They forage quite harmlessly on the riches of the forest, namely fruit, wood, honey and fish. Up until the point when the brother gets a quite greedy and upsets the balance.
How much is too much? Too much is how much
Cue the shalwar kameezed mangrove forest, the generation of a fierce reactionary force and the funkiest prop of the night, Dukhin Rai, the Brahminical* tiger, who proceeds to eat the brother. (and I think, poos him out)
Dukhin Rai, Manush Khai.
*Brahminical because he started off as a Brahmin but became a tiger-demon in anger at humankind's exploitation of his brother creation. Problem was that his vengeance doesn't stop with human flesh and he soon becomes a tyrant in of himself, arrogantly proclaiming sovereignty of the forest. Sound like anyone you know?
As is par for the course, a little Islamic magic is inserted into the storyline at this point. Allah summons Bonbibi, the purest of the land, to Makkah in order to get the blessings of Bibi Fatima, mix soil of the two regions (very Shah Jalal) and have a showdown with Dukhin Rai. Read these symbols however you like, I need some time.
Seven days it lasts, until Bonbibi clinches it 'by staring back at him with her wisdom, asking him what his root problem is, accepting it and setting forest sharia that would make the Earth Rights Movement dance'.
Humans will only enter the forest with empty hands and clean hearts
I enjoyed it most for singing voice that would make accountancy magical and the recruitment of the the Al Qaiger metaphor. Its a pity that they aren't playing more dates as many would benefit.