How DFW Play brings Bengali American stories to life in Dallas
Sudhanya Basu remembers a childhood surrounded by Bengali culture. Growing up in Kharagpur, India, she spent days reading Satyajit Ray’s mystery novels and watching director Mrinal Sen’s award-winning films.
Basu now lives in Coppell and has a 10-year-old daughter. Worried that her daughter would get disconnected from her Bengali heritage and history, she joined DFW Play, a local Bengali theater group. The group has around 60 members and puts on plays and traditional dance dramas across North Texas and the country. They also host group improv workshops that are open to anyone, irrespective of whether they can speak Bengali.
DFW Play hosted its annual Fest O’ Theatre last weekend at the Moody Performance Hall. Rajarshi Bhattacharyya, who founded the organization in 2015, said that the festival aims to give a platform to Bengali culture, which doesn't get much representation in America.
“I wanted to bring like-minded people together … and give them a free hand to express their artistic sensibilities,” Bhattacharyya said.
Four shows were performed during the festival organized by DFW Play, including a play from Basu.
"The One, Forgotten," written by Basu, is a bilingual play about an immigrant to the U.S. remembering his time as a student in India in the 1970s. Back then, a movement about income inequality in Calcutta erupted into violent protests at Presidency University.
“The police brutality was so high that some of the students … would be tortured so badly … students whose parents were influential in society had the opportunity to send their children away to countries outside India, but not everyone could do that,” Basu said.
Though she had never written an original script, Basu said Bhattacharyya encouraged her to write "The One, Forgotten," knowing that she was an avid reader and liked to post her writing on Facebook.
“Earlier, we mostly [performed] adaptations of writings from Bengal’s rich literary history. Rajarshi started conceptualizing how we can create original works of art and asked me to write something,” Basu said.
Out of the four shows in Fest O’ Theatre, "The One, Forgotten" was the only one with a youth cast. Basu said she wanted to help Bengali American children in her community learn about their culture through the play.
“Our generation, we have heard [about the violent protests of the 1970s] firsthand, from our parents. … It is important that our children know about this incident … because it basically changed the political structure of Bengal,” Basu said.
Vedant Bhattacharyya, 18, son of DFW Play’s founder Rajarshi Bhattacharyya, played Anik, the protagonist of "The One, Forgotten." He’s been acting in DFW Play shows since the fifth grade and said it has helped him learn about Bengali culture.
“I did grow up in a pure Bengali household [but] I am very Americanized to that same extent, so I get to learn about it a little more through every different play we do,” Vedant Bhattacharyya said.
In addition to "The One, Forgotten," DFW play also produced a performance of "Chandalika," a classical dance drama written by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore that explores caste discrimination in Bengali society for the festival.
Fest O’ Theatre was also a stage for Bengali artists outside of Dallas. Washington D.C.-based company Ebong Theatrix put on "Beporowa," a farcical play about a woman coming back from the dead. San Francisco-based group BAAT performed "Asol Kotha Holo," the story of two college friends reuniting.
Rajarshi Bhattacharyya said that he hopes events like Fest O’ Theatre help to tell the unique story of Bengali immigrants in the U.S.
“Our story, … the Bengali story [in America]… needs to be crafted in an original way,” Bhattacharyya said. “We could simply pick a story from a writer back in Calcutta — and preserving our culture is important — but we have a lot of stories to tell ourselves.”
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