Boro Holo J (J Grows Up)
Written and directed by Sankha Bhowmick, this is Off-Kendrik’s fifth production. It is essentially a sequel to Sukumar Ray’s celebrated absurdist fiction Ha Ja Ba Ra la, set in the context of the global economic meltdown of 2008. In the original story, Ray’s protagonist finds himself in a bizarre world populated by talking animals and eccentric humans. After a number of outrageous encounters, a defamation lawsuit on a hot afternoon involving all the characters marks the climax of the story, which concludes in total chaos following the conviction of a scapegoat. Rich in its satirist potential, Ha Ja Ba Ra La is certainly inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, though there are a number of differences in plot, organization, and content.
A random composite of five Bengali consonants, the title of Ray’s book is pure gibberish. The ingenuity of the title of the Off-Kendrik sequel is that those same letters are rearranged to have meaning, via the nuances of Bengali pronunciation: the protagonist, here named Ja, “grows up”. Now older, all the characters in this equally absurdist story are working in a corporate house in Manhattan, except Nyara (the scapegoat in the original story), who hangs around the office as an aspiring singer. The avaricious boss of the company (Pyancha, or Owl from Ray’s fiction) warns Ja that failure to produce a data analysis with a profit margin by the following morning would cost him his job. Desperate to save his employment, Ja seeks help from his co-workers, only to discover the dark side of the company’s operation, fraught with vested interests and deceits. When an attempt to contain the boss with medication backfires, history repeats itself: Nyara is unjustly convicted yet again. And to save themselves from the boss’s wrath, all of Nyara’s friends, with the sole exception of Ja, turn on him.
The play was first performed at Boston University’s Dance Theater in September 2013 (one show), and at Lesley University’s Marran Theater in July 2015 (two shows). This proscenium edition was a hundred minutes long, complete with stage set and make-up. In between these two events, a much shorter version was presented at Washington, DC in May 2014, at a competition of twenty-minute-long plays in the street theater format. For this occasion, the play needed radical reshaping: the script was drastically condensed, without losing the basic content; the cast was reduced to only a few characters; the arena, devoid of stage set, was severely simplified; and more songs and choreographies were introduced. The performance won five awards, in the categories of Best Play, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Stage. The third and final edition was a combination of the first two; more accurately, it was an expanded version of the second forged back into the proscenium format. This project evolved following an invitation by DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) group to the Fest o’ Theatre at Dallas in April 2017. Just under one hour long and with almost a full cast, the production had more songs and choreographies than the DC version. What is more, the script was contemporized with new dialogs to reflect the current political climate of the United States. Since this performance involved travel, the stage set had to be drastically simplified, with a sole gobo projection in the background.