Puja Action: Fashion show to fun contests, technology tool to theatre

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 17.10.14

Chinese opera, made in India

“But I don’t speak Chinese!” This was the first thing Debanuj Basak thought upon hearing that he would have to stage a Chinese Opera for their AB Block puja on Panchami.

Debanuj and Adit Bhattacharya, both Class VI students, have been staging plays in their neighbourhood for years and they also learn drama at the Ta-Thoi Cultural Institute in their block. “We’ve performed several plays before but we were stumped when our drama teacher told us we were to stage a Chinese Opera this time,” said Debanuj.

But their teacher, Utpal Chakraborty, ensured that his two actors needn’t speak the language in order to stage this play. “I had watched a troupe from China perform their traditional opera at Rabindra Sadan in the 1970s. It was a wholesome entertainer complete with songs and action, much like our jatra. But before the full-length opera, they staged a curtain-raiser. This is a skit, usually in the form of a mime, and with comic undertones,” said Chakraborty, who is an actor with Manoj Mitra’s theatre group Sundaram.

So when Chakraborty was asked by the block committee to ready a children’s skit in seven days, he thought of presenting the skit he had seen before the Chinese Opera. “And I chose the same story that I had seen as it would require minimum actors and have no dialogues,” recalled Chakraborty.

The audience didn’t know what to expect but as they sat to watch, they saw the master of a house, played by Chakraborty, lock his house and leave. Little did he know that a thief, played by Adit, had already broken into the house beforehand and was hiding inside. With the door bolted from the outside Adit now had nowhere to go and decides to take a nap till the house-owner returns.

That’s when another thief, played by Debanuj, breaks in through the window and starts to snoop. Soon both the thieves can sense the other’s presence but with the lights of the house switched off, cannot be sure. They keep quiet but start wielding their sticks and knives in the dark hoping to hit the other. And just when they catch hold of the other and are about to rain blows, the light switches on and they see each other. Both the thieves are friends!

“We shall also stage Bhim Bodh later and while that took 30 to 35 practice sessions, the Chinese Opera took just five or six sessions,” said Adit after the show. “But I would say this was much tougher than Bhim Bodh as we could not fall back on dialogues to express ourselves. Also, our movements had to be accurate throughout the skit as it was all action-based.”

The boys used props like tables, sticks, toy knives and torches, had a pre-recorded background score playing and some of their thoughts were mouthed from backstage by Chakraborty. “The original Chinese Opera artistes wore Chinese traditional clothes but in order to Indianise it I changed their costume to track pants. I also changed swords to sticks and knives. But other than that, there is little difference between a thief in China and a thief in India,” smiled Chakraborty.

The audience applauded the effort to present something new and the boys’ families were proud of them. “I think my son deserves an Oscar,” declared Adit’s father Biswarup Bhattacharya after the curtains.

Brinda Sarkar


Clowning about at circus puja

The BB Block pandal had replicas of horses, elephants, monkeys, nets and trapeze bars hanging from the roof. But what really made the circus theme come alive were the jokers, jugglers and men on stilts who shook hands, posed for pictures and made even the most uptight visitor break into a smile before leaving the pandal.

“The children don’t want to leave,” smiled Ajoy Pal, painting his face white and red on the first floor of BB Block community hall before starting work on Sashthi. “A circus is not a circus without jokers and we are happy to oblige.”

The artistes roamed not only the pandal but also walked up to First Avenue to attract passersby to the pandal. And their antics were a laugh riot.

A joker started walking behind two teenagers, one of them with a guitar strapped behind his back. When the boys noticed him they started walking faster but the joker gave chase. Finally he took the instrument and started singing and air-guitaring passionately and the boys doubled with laughter.

“I would never have allowed a stranger to get away with this but with jokers, its all in good humour,” said a visitor Swarnali Bhattacharya, after being serenaded and kissed on the hand by a clown.

There were six jokers, two jugglers and two men on stilts at the pandal, all from Rahul & Jeet Event Organisers in Chandernagore. “But some people are refusing to shake hands with us or are getting irritated if we prance about,” said Pal. “Not everyone knows how to loosen up.”

One of the youngest jokers was 14-year-old Rohit Debnath. “I am doing this job in my school break. I’m missing out on pandal-hopping but in our hometown it is Jagaddhatri puja that is more coveted. I shall be free then,” he smiled.

Sandip Som, with nearly 10 years of experience as a joker, felt the toughest part of their job was the get-up. “The greasepaint, wig, suit, gloves and boots are unbearable in the heat. It’s no joke making people laugh when you are so uncomfortable.”

Juggler Prosenjit Das would be hounded by requests from kids to teach them his acts. “So I would balance balls on spinning umbrellas and hand them over to the visitors. Some managed to keep it spinning. Others at least got themselves photographed before the ball dropped off,” he smiled.

The other favourites were the men on stilts. “My younger brother Parijat is taller in real life but I make sure I’m a foot taller than him on stilts,” laughed Prosenjit Sikdar, climbing onto his 7-ft tall wooden stilts and tying them to his waist and feet. “My favourite act takes the least effort. I just have to walk up quietly and stand behind someone. Then I wait for them to turn back and jump up in fright.”

The stilts, says Parijat, are almost an extension of their legs and they can feel it if someone tugs at their ends. “The stilts are our livelihood so we take good care of them. They are prone to termite attack so we rub them with kerosene every now and then.”

It took the men two years to learn the art, with Prosenjit having fallen and broken his hand twice. “But now I even lift our younger clowns on my shoulder and walk about,” he smiles.

Brinda Sarkar
Pictures by Mayukh Sengupta


Residents on the ramp

The fashion show at DL Block was announced just the night before the Navami event but still drew robust participation and an enthusiastic crowd.

The girls’ round saw lots of participants. As the song Jalwa from the film Fashion started playing in the background, some catwalked with deadpan expressions and others paraded happily in their new Puja clothes. “Had I known about this event beforehand I’d have saved my best puja outfit for today,” rued Aditi Pandey, who still looked pretty in a balloon top.

For Anusha Dutt, a Class X student of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, this was the first fashion show. “I learnt how to catwalk watching YouTube videos,” said the girl in an animal print shrug. Rupkatha Ray’s mother had helped her mix and match her colourful ethnic outfit and also done her make-up. The girl eventually went on to win the round too.

Some girls had accessorised with bags and shades and one blew glitter into the crowd along with a flying kiss. The crowd of parents and neighbours cheered, clapped, and blew the occasional whistle too. Even the cooks preparing community lunch behind the pandal stopped peeling potatoes and came to catch a glimpse.

“That’s my granddaughter Namashree,” beamed a proud Mukul Majumdar as the six-year-old walked up cutely. The grandpa himself wowed in the show’s general round later on.

Sadly, no women took part in the general round and it was men all the way. They wore jeans, trousers and dhotis and did the namaste or waved. Shyamal Chatterjee, in his black T-shirt and stylish aviators, did a few dance moves and sent the crowd screaming for more. D.N. Sen, a senior citizen, stood out by marching on the ramp and saluting the audience.

Ashok Panja, who had been watching from the audience, got summoned on to the stage on public demand. He won over the crowd by walking up and down folding his sleeves in style.

While there were ample pepper-haired models, there were only three boys. Rohit Roy, of Class VI, had been clicking pictures quietly from the crowd when his friends pushed him on stage to take part. Startled at first, Rohit won huge applause by doing the trademark Shah Rukh Khan move by raising both his arms together. “I learnt it from the film Main Hoon Na,” he smiled after the show, which he won later on.

Saswatik Panja, of Class IX, had the most elaborate costume. “My mother assembled it using my father’s maroon dhoti and a matching chadar. And this morning when I went to the mandap, the priest gave me a big tika on my forehead. It completed my look,” smiled the boy, who came second.

Brinda Sarkar


Camaraderie wins in contests

Bidhan Shishu Udyan in Ultadanga hosted five competitions on Dashami evening just before immersion. Although the centre is for children, the participants of the games were all adults, mostly from the neighbourhood.

In the first event, participants had to light the most candles with one matchstick. Of the 40 participants, winner Pratima Dey managed to light 13 at a go. “I was lighting the candles from the side of the matchstick and moving to the next without waiting to see them light up,” Dey shared her secret.

The conchshell-blowing contest drew 35 participants and winner Sudipta Halder blew the conchshell for 24 long seconds. Halder won the uludhawni contest too. “I just joined the competitions for fun,” she smiled.

Next was a dhak-playing contest, where the judges felt Biplab Dey was the most rhythmic. Dhunuchi dance was the last contest for the evening. “As a child I used to dance with a dhunuchi every puja and I still do it now,” said Dey after winning this prize.

“It gives us immense pleasure to see such togetherness,” said secretary Gautam Talukdar. “We’d started off knowing that very soon we’d have to bid goodbye to Durga but the event has given us enough joy to last the rest of the year.”

After the prize distribution ceremony, the immersion of the idols took place in the lake within the premises of Bidhan Shishu Udyan. Everybody went home consoling themselves with the adage “Aaschhe bochhor aabar hobe.”

Aniket Sil
Picture by Saradindu Chaudhury


Drama against drugs

EE Block staged a play with a social message on drug abuse on Panchami. Scripted by Tapas Das, Abartya narrated the story of Manoj, a village boy who comes to Calcutta for his graduation. His ailing mother and economically backward family had to sell off their land to fund his education. But Manoj gets lured by a senior mate into the dark world of heroin.

The drug takes over his life, to the point where the only thing he is bothered about is raising money to buy his next dose. He sells his wristwatch and even the news of his mother’s death has no effect on him. Finally, a roommate helps Manoj overcome his addiction.

After the play, director Tapan Roy, a resident of the block, and the actors came up on stage holding placards with anti-drug messages. The audience gave the show a standing ovation. “The performances were powerful and our neighbour Rupam Bhowmick’s original background score was emotive,” said Debajyoti Chatterjee, who was a part of the audience.

“Drug abuse is a curse on contemporary India and unless initiatives are taken, it cannot be overpowered,” said Roy.

Aniket Sil
Picture by Mayukh Sengupta


Science against magic

“Asun dada ra, didi ra 420 Babar jadu bhora maduli niye jan,” blared the speakers set up near the BG Block pandal. As curious residents and pandal-hoppers inched closer to the stage, they were fretted with a sight more in tune with tantric practices than a theme puja pandal set up in a sylvan locality.

A skull adorned with a blood red hibiscus garland was placed on a table along with like a whiskey bottle, potions of various kinds, curiously-shaped stones and an assortment of fruits and vegetables. A blindfolded “magician” sat on stage while another went among the crowd and asked his partner to identify what a guest was wearing or holding in his hands. The blindfolded “baba”, complete with a “blessed” amulet, identified each item of clothing and even got the colours right.

“I just can’t believe what happened. I was standing at quite a distance from the stage and there is simply no way he could have seen what I was wearing,” exclaimed 60-something Ashok Mandal who had come to visit the pandal. A few seconds ago, the blindfolded “magician” shouted “red” as his assistant asked the colour of Saha’s shirt.

It was later revealed that the assistant had been speaking over the mike in code language to inform the “baba” of the person’s attire.

So this was hardly a black magic show. Organised by the Paschim Banga Bigyan Mancha, Higgs-Boson Bigyan Mancha Salt Lake chapter, the event was organised to quell superstition and to explain how self-proclaimed godmen dupe the innocent.

“We organised this show on Panchami as there is an urgent need to make people aware of such mindless activities,” said Debashis Sinha, president of the Dum Dum area of the organisation that promotes logical thinking.

“I believe if children understand the logic behind so-called magic tricks they would get curious and try to perform magic on their own. This show will force them to think how Harry so easily stupefies his enemies,” said Kakakli Bhattacharya, the secretary of the Salt Lake wing of the society.

As the evening progressed with the shakes drumming up a frenzy in the background, the skull calmly smoked a cigarette, one of the magicians lit a fire without any matches or lighter, ate literally smoking rosagullas for starters while the main course consisted of broken glass shards: all tricks that are performed by so-called godmen across the country.

“I had heard about a particular seer who can get rid of the evil eye by moving a lemon in circles in front of a person and if it catches fire then the work is done. To my amazement these people did the same,” gushed Tarpan Saha, one of the residents. The lemon was coated with metallic sodium that catches fire when in contact with air, explained Tapas Ray, one of the performers.

“It was a splendid show and very informative. I saw first-hand how magic can be explained logically,” said Suparna Mukherjee, a homemaker, who followed the show with rapt attention.

However, for the likes of Prakash Maity, a Class VII student who watched the show along with his group of friends, there was no way that Harry Potter’s magic could be explained.

“They did not show the Accio charm,” he said, arms crossed, referring to the famous Summoning Charm in the Harry Potter books and films. “They also did not show how Harry and his friends can teleport so I would still say that Harry, Ron and Hermoine rock,” Maity declared before rushing off to fire their toy pistols at the “magicians”, who tried to challenge their favourite magician.

Snehal Sengupta


Ray’s film on stage

AB Block, that shot to fame this year with their Hirak Rajar Deshe theme pandal, also staged a play based on the Satyajit Ray film on Saptami.

The story was the same — that of happy-go-lucky Goopi and Bagha taking on the tyrant king and much of the dialogues were the same too. “I would watch the film at home and pause the scenes to note down the dialogues,” said director Parikshit Brahmachari, who also enacted the role of Udayan Pandit.

Apart from the humour, what kept the audiences glued to their seats were the Jantar Mantar Ghar and the tiger which Goopi and Bagha come face to face with. The former had brilliant lighting and the tiger, played by a boy, looked too real for comfort of the young ones.

Songs from the film were played in the background and Goopi sang along. Hirak Raja’s statue was shown using a projector.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed the show. “We rehearsed for 15 days and were fortunate to have such a good Goopi in Protyush Dutta. He has a golden voice,” smiled Brahmachari. Bagha was played by Ankan Goswami and the villain Hirak Raja was played splendidly by Dipankar Mukherjee. “I generally do negative roles as I find them more challenging. But people shouldn’t imagine that I have a negative streak in real life,” laughed Mukherjee.

Aniket Sil
Picture by Saradindu Chaudhury


Website launch

Former vice-chancellor of Presidency University Malabika Sarkar came to BA Block on Sashthi to launch the block’s website: www.bablocksaltlake.com at their community centre.

“It’s a matter of great pride to have our own website. It will help us be updated about our neighbours,” said resident Satyabrata Chakraborty, who demonstrated the tabs and menus on the site.

The BA Block Residents’ Association website has membership forms for the residents’ association, notices and announcements regarding upcoming events. The list of events for Durga puja was also uploaded so residents could find out the timings for specific events.

The site also has a feature for residents to fill up their details so they can read and get to know one another better. “We are also asking members to fill in their blood groups. That will save time if someone needs blood of a rare group,” said resident Arunava Das.

Aniket Sil
Picture by Saradindu Chaudhury


Down but not out

One of the most special performances on the BE (West) stage this year was by Soumyadeep Basu. The 22-year-old, diagnosed with Down Syndrome, had an ear-to-ear grin on his face as he danced to his “dadu” Rabindranath Tagore’s Tomar khola hawa lagiye paley.

“He thinks every Bengali song is written by Tagore,” smiled Soumyadeep’s father Subhas Bose, after the performance. “He loves Tagore so much that he folds his hands to a namaskar before the bard’s photograph first thing every morning. He calls Tagore his dadu.”

Soumyadeep also danced to Manna Dey’s Baaje go beena and as the audience broke into applause, the announcer remarked how residents wait every year to watch Puchu — as he is fondly called — dance.

Soumyadeep was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at an early age and has been studying at the Kankurgachhi-based school for special children Alokendu Bodh Niketan Residential. “He can read and write Bengali and English, knows mathematics and loves dancing and drawing,” said special educator Sujit Sen who has been his teacher for 10 years now. “Besides, dancing is a form of therapy that instils confidence in the dancer.”

Mother Sipra Bose recalls how her son has been keen in dancing since childhood. “He would watch television and dance on his own. We realised he has a passion for it and decided to hone his skills. He now learns contemporary dance from Sonali Basak of DB Block-based school Kolkata Uchchhas. He takes part in competitions too,” said Bose.

It was through a stage performance that Soumyadeep was spotted by his present dance teacher. “I saw him perform at an Inner Wheel Club function for challenged children and found that he danced with zeal and passion. He is a talented boy and if he continues dancing he can make a name for himself,” says Basak. “He adjusts easily with other students and everyone loves him for his ever-smiling face.”

He smiled happily through his October 3 performance too and joined his palms in a namaskar after the show. “Puchu has a great musical sense. Even when the dhakis play their dhaks during sondhya arati he claps his hands to the rhythm without missing a beat,” said resident Alok Dey, after watching the recital.

Besides music and dance, Soumyadeep is interested in sports. “He takes part in throwball and table tennis competitions for special students,” said father Subhas Bose, a retired engineer of the urban development department. Mother Sipra is a retired schoolteacher.

Though not very articulate, Soumyadeep makes himself understood. “I love biryani, Chinese food and fish fry,” he says, his speech interpreted by his mother. He enjoys watching action movies and wants to fight all the bad guys in them.

Sucheta Chakraborty
Pictures by Saradindu Chaudhury


Rhythm and words

For Manisha Sengupta of HA Block, a performance of poetry alongside dance was something unheard of. So she and her friends visited FD Park on Panchami night to witness Bhalobasha Kare Koi, a collage of poetry and dance along with a few songs.

The theme of the show was shades of love and so Somali Chaudhary and Pampiya Basu Nath recited love poems by various authors and six dancers acted out their words. Light instrumental music played in the background and the dance moves were gentle and elegant.

The selected poems were varied. Tagore’s Nababorsho was about the freshness of love, Krishna Basu’s Radhika Sangbad was about the pangs of separation that Radha suffered after Krishna left her. Birendra Chattopadhyay’s Godhulir Shaontal was about an extra-marital relationship and Beethe Chattopadhyay’s Oloukik was about Tagore’s relationship with his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi.

In between the poems, a script was read out to provide a link. The dancers broke into folk dance or Rabindranritya to songs playing in the background. “I tried to present the different facets of love through the combined medium of poetry and dance,” said Basu Nath of FD Block who conceptualised the event.

The show was well-received. “It was a splendid performance. The concept was good,” said Akhil Karmakar, who had come from BJ Block.

Shreya Chatterjee and Sucheta Chakraborty
Picture by Mayukh Sengupta


Children pose at a fashion show in BE (West). (Saradindu Chaudhury) A resident walks the ramp in BK Block. (Mayukh Sengupta)


Sculptor Niranjan Pradhan inaugurates the IB Block puja as wife and painter Suktisubhra Pradhan and MLA Sujit Bose (in yellow) look on. Picture by Saradindu Chaudhury
Devotees flock to offer anjali to the goddess at the CJ Block pandal. Picture by Saradindu Chaudhury
Actor Nigel Akkara at the AE (Part II) puja with a message against drug abuse; (below ) Actors and block residents — Anuradha and Debraj Ray — present an audio drama on Navami. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta
Residents of HA Block on their way to the immersion ghat. (Saradindu Chaudhury)
Women light up 108 diyas for sandhi puja in FE Block. (Saradindu Chaudhury)
Women of BG Block engage in sindur khela on the last day of the Puja. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta
Women smear each other in vermillion at the DB Block pandal. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta
HB Block women smear one another with vermillion before the Durga idol for sindur khela. (Saradindu Chaudhury)