Bonbibi, part the 10th Season of Bangla Drama

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?

Hmmm, nearly.

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.


Susan said...

Oh dear Oh dear Fug... where is the balance asked for by Bonbibi in your unbalanced and prejudiced review!!! Have you come with empty hand and pure heart? I think not, for in your hand is a pen of poison and a heart full of hardly disguised hate! I can only agree with you on the beautiful voice of Sohini, but she did not achieve the music alone and was inspired and supported by an ensemble effort which paid real respect and consideration to the ambitions of this story and the treatment of it by a fully committed and talented team of artists and players... why not ask Sohini if she would take all credit and not acknowledge the part played by others? Furthermore your mean spirited and prejudice ("still it is nice to see WHITE PEOPLE!!!!! as puppets on a string") extends beyond colour and mocks the northerners voice, playing to some working class stereotype of thickness by suggesting that he said BUMBIBI!!!! You know he didn't so you LIED...SHAME ON YOU FUGA...Beware Shaitan who can enter into your ears, and eyes mouth and heart! Does the Almighty see the colour of skin, or the accent of voices... or rather the actions and deeds and the openness of heart... You were disappointed by the roar of the tiger (which is no ordinary tiger but as you state Brahminical tiger-demon) Do you actually know what one sounds like? Not as cold and chilling I expect as the grudging growl of your review... It is a shame that there was only one performance, because you could clearly do with seeing and hearing this story again, and hopefully it's warmth humanity and optimism might begin to warm up a heart gone cold, through succumbing to the bountiful amounts of prejudice and lack of warmth and humanity which you have obviously had to endure. খ়ুদা হাফ়িজ়),

Fugstar said...

I can't do anything about your sense of humour failure but express how much I enjoyed it and how rich the production was. I tend not to pour praise onto things but because you've become so upset I will.

Congratulations to everyone involved from the tiger puppet to the script, shadow play, song and direction. You have put Bonbibi on a new map. I hope the future brings more success.

As for bumbibi, Its not a big deal but I heard bum, someone else did too, besides its funnier that way.

On your over reaction to "white people as puppets on a string", I think its a valid racial political observation in line with this blogs exasperation with native informants of the nation of brown not a prejudicial statement.

Two Steps From Home said...

Great post. Really wonderful show down. Thank you.
Two Steps From Home

greatoffer said...

Interesting article. Everybody must like this post. This is wonderful Drama.
My Complaint

Susan said...

I had a little bit of a humour by-pass when reading your original post Fug... However, my tongue was firmly in my cheek when submitting my OTT response to your review, perhaps my very sardonic humour did not fly so freely from the page as yours did... but you should recognise a certain rhythm of rhetoric, using quotes from the Bonbibi story, CAPITAL LETTERS, to shout at you, multiple !!!! and always my favourite to bring in good old Shaitan. However I stand by the sentiments and think that although I can just about accept your explanation re puppets on a string, it is just not so easy to completely swallow it, especially as your 'humour' was saved to pour over people who you would have hanging on those strings...(and did you do a poll of the audience asking did you hear the gora (not derogatory according to Urban Dictionary) say BUM)

city said...

thanks for share.

Trees Planet said...

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