Group: ECTA (New Jersey)

Dramatist-director: Sudipta Bhawmik



Five Grains of Rice

Group: Ebong Theatrix (Washington DC)

Dramatist-director: Arindam Ghosh


Author-director Sudipta Bhawmik has earned a respected position in Bengali theatre circles for his original plays, invariably thought-provoking and often innovatively constructed. On Janmāntar, which his New Jersey group ECTA flew down this winter, he reveals a different dramatic side, lighter yet thoughtful nevertheless. He assures me that he has written several comedies that have not come to India, and is not as unfunny as his image presented by his works that we have seen here suggests.

In Janmāntar, a self-made man wills his substantial assets and investments not to his kin, but to himself in his next birth. Amidst much domestic consternation, a family guru affirms that the dead typically get reincarnated as babies within the family, setting off a chain of attempts to find the rightful infant inheritor. The situation made me think of Mahesh Dattani’s Where There’s a Will meets Moliere’s Tartuffe, but Bhawmik tells me that he has not read Dattani’s popular entertainer.

ECTA’s team grows more experienced by the year, with no shortcomings visible among the cast. If anything, Bhawmik could give his star thespian Soumendu Bhattacharya (the guru) a bigger role, to make his charlatanry more risible as well as culpable. And this time the set looked too basic compared to last year’s Āmi Jagadish.


Bhawmik’s achievement in putting Bengali-American playwriting on the map gathers able followers now, hopefully the start of a movement relegating pastime theatre to a bad joke. Thus, Five Grains of Rice in English, by Ebong Theatrix (Washington DC), scripted and directed by Arindam Ghosh, neatly twists the formula of a romantic triangle involving a face from the past. A scientist in Delhi (like Bhawmik, Ghosh sets this in India though it could happen anywhere), short of funds for his research project, agrees to meet a former girlfriend after a long gap, and the subject of suspicious teasing by his wife. The “other woman” makes them an offer that, after confabulation, they accept. Ultimately it raises an ethical dilemma that they must confront and that Ghosh resolves humanistically.

The acting trio give mostly believable and natural performances, particularly Shampa Basu in the easygoing wife’s part. However, their American accents sneak in and sound too implausible in Delhi. Ghosh also needs to correct a few Americanisms in the dialogue, such as “ZIP code” instead of PIN. Otherwise, Five Grains of Rice marks a distinct improvement over their last production in Kolkata, Bishanna Bārud. Its one-hour duration probably stems from the prerequisite at festivals in the diaspora. I recommend that Ghosh creates an alternate full-length version, not just for regular engagements but also to hone their own craft.


30 January 2024