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Bridge between Bengal and Boston

It was a Girish Karnad play Hayavadana that brought the two together in faraway Boston, though their roots were firmly entrenched in Indian soil. While Sudipto Chatterjee began his journey from Beleghata, his current professional partner Samrat Chakrabarti, though born in London, had strong Barasat connections. Circumstances, and Karnad’s creation, brought them together in Boston, “where began a quest to spread Indian culture in our area, called Medford”.

In their late 20s, these boys from Bengal are doing what they can to spread their culture in America. “Boston has 30,000 Indians, while in New York the number could be five times that,” says the duo. The Boston Brahmins is what the two plan to call themselves, as they go about making a mark in the world of music and theatre.

Sudipto, an assistant professor with the department of drama and dance, Tufts University, and Samrat, with a Masters from Harvard in theatre, have taken it upon themselves to stage plays, arrange musical sessions, organise workshops and perform Off-Broadway to carve a niche for themselves.

Initial inspiration and the right kind of company were not hard to find. Hollywood star William Hurt (Children of a Lesser God), Hank Azaria (voice of Homer Simpson in The Simpsons), Oliver Platt (Cradle Will Rock) and Bollywood actress Amisha Patel were other well-known names at Tufts. “We knew Amisha as just another student. In fact, she was supposed to be a good classical dancer but I do not remember her taking part in any of the activities. She was more into academics. Much later, when a professor and I were in Mumbai, we were amused to see huge cut-outs of her in the wake of Kaho Na… Pyar Hai,” recalls Sudipto.

The late Ajitesh Banerjee had trained Sudipto in theatre. This has paid dividends, helping him deliver lecture-demonstrations at the Practice Performing Arts School in Singapore and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “He (Ajitesh) was a great trainer, though quite possessive about his disciples,” says Sudipto.

The journey began with Hayavadana, that the two brought to Boston. “We followed this up with another play, Nural Diner Sarajibon, where we got five Americans to perform,” say the duo. Later, Sudipto staged many plays Off-Broadway often involving Indian taxi drivers, waiters and children in them.

The duo also discovered a common interest in music — Samrat plays the piano and the tabla and was associated with groups like Hyannis Sound and Jyde while Sudipto was already earning a name for himself by producing a CD-ROM in Sanskrit at Tufts and penning lyrics. “I was already part of an award-winning album (the famous CARA award for best original pop score What’s It All About) and performing at major hotels in the Caribbean, when I decided to form a steady partnership with Sudipto,” says Samrat.

His companion, on the other hand, was busy arranging workshops of Habib Tanvir and Mohan Agashe and getting theatre personalities like Chandan Sen and Sumon Mukherjee down to deliver lectures at various universities. But in 2000, they decided to “take a hard look at their own talents” and decided to open a cultural corridor between Bengal and Boston.

Their present trip to Calcutta combined business and pleasure. Samrat has specialised in Acappella — a form of music where the sound of accompanying instruments can be ‘mouthed’. At one go, Samrat can produce the sounds of various percussion instruments, an organ, a flute, the works. “We have decided to put this to good use when our new album Kalpanar Kantha releases. The album will have contemporary Bengali lyrics but in some of the songs, we will have Acappella. This is the first time, of course, this concept is being tried in recording rooms,” says Samrat.

Sudipto, who has made a documentary on singer Kabeer Suman, is gearing up to stage a play called Birpurush at the Academy of Fine Arts before he heads back to Boston. The duo has big-screen plans too — a modest-budget feature film to be shot in Calcutta and Medford, “underlining the Indian music culture”.

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