August 14 2015
It’s that time of year when many of those interested in artistic creations, head up to Edinburgh for the festival…
By Sailesh Ram and Suman Bhuchar in Edinburgh
WHAT do a couple of doctors, a former accountant, a one-time journalism student and a white Scottish-schoolboy obsessed with Indian classical music, all have in common?
They are all performing at the world’s largest arts festival – the Edinburgh Fringe and www.asianculturevulture.com caught up with the four to see what they are looking to get out of the experience.
Chandrayee Sengupta (pictured left below) is by day a consultant paediatrician, based in South London, but over four nights at the end of this month, she will embody Magarita de Cunha, of Portuguese descent and a grand old lady of Goa, who really has little idea of what is happening to her in 1958 as it becomes clear that Portugal cannot remain a colonial power.
Performed in Bengali but with English surtitles, the play, “Uttoradhikaar” (‘The Inheritance’) is written by radiologist Debasish Banerjee, who has also a part in the production and is the director.
In 2012, a group which loosely had the same creative and intellectual interests, had formed to perform at a Bangla/Bengali theatre festival in Tower Hamlets and from this the production house, Eastern Thespians was born.
“We were encouraged to do something about the second generation but Debs (as they fondly call Debasish) said I am an outsider (as a first generation migrant) and he couldn’t write that, but he wanted to explore issues of identity and insecurity and look at a bit of Indian history where the outcome was very stark.”
Sengupta comes from an illustrious Kolkata family of intellectuals and writers – her grand uncle was the famous early 20th century Bengali actor, Charu Ray who starred alongside another stalwart of the industry Himansu Rai in the Franz Osten directed, “Throw of Dice” (1929).
Her family further back, had mixed with Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and her more immediate family knew legendary director Satyajit Ray.
“There has always been a strong culture of theatre and I was exposed to a lot of world theatre in Kolkata and we want to recreate that here.”
They premiered “Uttoradhikaar” to rave reviews when it was staged at the Chelsea Theatre in May this year.
“We are very serious and Debs has very high standards. We want to continue the tradition of Bengali theatre in Britain and by going to Edinburgh we want to show what we can do and get sponsors,” explained Sengupta.
Gurpal Gill (pictured right) jacked in his job as an accountant about six months ago, to pursue a career in comedy. He can be seen almost every day at lunchtime performing his “Gurpal Gill – India’s strongest man 1982”.
A mixture of character role-play, a film and more traditional stand-up, his 50 minute act, has gone down well with punters and comedians alike – well known comic, Paul Sinha (see listings) has already voiced his approval, Gill reported.
The 1980s reference really refers to a period before political correctness, especially in India.
“It was a little different back then,” Gill told www.asianculturevulture.com.“It gives me a licence to be silly and politically incorrect, but it’s completely harmless.”
Some of the interplay with the audience is about the strong man’s keenness to impress members of the opposite sex and the character states that one of the attractions of becoming India’s strongest man, was ‘for the sex’.
“He sees himself as a 1980s sex symbol and says funny things – nothing offensive,” he reassured.
Gill has been ‘flyering’ (with so many shows and productions at the fringe, handing out leaflets and flyers is a vital part of getting an audience) in costume.
The 27-year-old singleton hasn’t quite been propositioned on his first dedicated stint in Edinburgh, but did reveal: “One woman said I had nice legs and came to the show to see them.”
Gill is hoping his appearance at the fringe will raise his profile he looks to establish himself as a comedy pro.
“I tested the character in a lot of pubs and it went down well but it’s better in a stage environment, interacting with an audience and having their full attention,” he explained.
Saikat Ahamed (pictured left) has also been keenly ‘flyering’ for his one-man show, “Strictly Balti”; a former Cardiff University journalism student who has a rich and varied theatre career – he has just completed a tour of the US and South East Asia in a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by director Tom Morris.
He wants folks in Edinburgh to see he can write as well as perform.
He also has the unusual accolade of learning ballroom dancing when he was just 11.
“I’ve been acting now for over 15 years and two years ago, I started creating my own work. If there’s one thing I’d like to take away from Edinburgh is people noticing my writing abilities and going ‘this boy can write’,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com in Edinburgh.
At his first fringe, the 41-year-old Bristol-based writer-performer’s “Strictly Balti” is an exploration of his upbringing in Birmingham.
His father, Masud, a doctor and Bengali playwright, and his wife Hashi came to the UK from Dhaka in 1971 and instilled not only a sense of Bangladeshi culture but insisted he learn ballroom dancing and Latin.
“The play is fundamentally about my relationship with my father,” he explained. “I have been very truthful about my life and not sugar coated or overdramatised it. It’s a very emotional piece.”
Produced by the Bristol’s Travelling Light, a national tour has already been planned.
Simon Thacker, a well-known guitarist-composer, brings a relatively newly formed outfit to Edinburgh.
It was as a teenage schoolboy learning guitar that Thacker was introduced to Indian classical music.
“I’ve been obsessed by it since I was 12/13 and first heard an album,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com, speaking from his home in Edinburgh.
Since then, he has travelled in pursuit of his passion, visiting both India and Pakistan to play music and explore potential collaborations. Svara-Kanti comes from just one such trip.
In November last year year in Kerala, Svara-Kanti performed at a festival to great acclaim.
Thacker explores the possibilities different traditions offer to produce something new.
“It’s not fusion,” he was at pains to explain. “That is quite simplistic, glib, and easy. We take a tradition as it is preserved and seek to enhance it – you have thousands of years of tradition sometimes – and we want the essence of it and by adding other elements, producing something you have not heard before.”
Actor and singer Japjit Kaur is one of those Thacker has actively collaborated with. She joins Svara-Kanti as a Punjabi vocalist. Thacker, who plays around the world, has been recognised as one of the leading practitioners of his art and is part of the festival’s ‘Made in Scotland’ strand.
This highlights locally based artists at Ed Fringe and provides a platform for them to seek further international collaborations and opportunities.
Thacker will be off to New Zealand after Svara-Kanti’s Edinburgh performances – a result of a previous stint at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
• ‘Uttoradhikaar’ (‘The Inheritance’) from £8,from Friday, August 28-Monday, August 31, 9pm, Spotlites, 22 Hannover Street, EH2 2EP.
• ‘Gurpal Gill: India’s strongest man (1982)’ continues till August 30 (no show on Tuesday August 18) – 1pm (free,ticketed), Just the Tonic at the Mash House, 37 Guthrie Street, EH1 1G.
• ‘Strictly Balti’ – continues until Monday, August 31. 1.45pm Gilded Balloon; Teviot House, 13 Bristo Square, EH8 9AJ.
• Simon Thacker’s Svara Kanti (from £8) – from Saturday, August 15- Sunday, August 23, 9.05pm. Summerhall, Summerhall, EH9 1PH.
More on Asian acts at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival coming
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014 – http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/three-faces-edinburgh/
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 – http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/women-on-the-verge-of-great-things-in-edinburgh/