Burnaby Comedy Troupe

Bollywood comedy troupe up to shenanigans again

Kallol Mitra can’t find the Indian food section in the supermarket, but he has no trouble finding comic fodder in his own South Asian culture.

Mitra, 30, is a member of Bollywood Shenanigans, a collective of South Asian writers, actors and dancers who are preparing to present the latest in their series of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken comedy shows, The Fellowship of the Butter Chicken. The group takes a comic look at everyday issues like marriage, dating, parental expectations, family dynamics, sex and race, but from a South Asian angle.

And yes, there’s also music and dancing.

A technical director at Electronic Arts by day, Mitra is one of the non-professional performers in the troupe. In fact, he’s never had any kind of acting or singing or dance training at all. But, he says, he’s “always been witty.”

A friend’s participation in the outdoor play Bollywood Wedding led Mitra to audition for a part. He got it. Then he had to deal with actually performing it, a bit of a stretch for someone used to crunching computer code in an office.

“It was nerve-wracking,” says Mitra, a Burnaby resident.

He also had to learn how to memorize lines, listening to the other performers with his whole body and then playing off them to say his parts, or at least say something that made sense in the scene.

Three years and dozens of performances in, the butterflies still punch his belly before the show.

“I kind of like that feeling, it gets your adrenaline flowing,” says Mitra, who joins his cast mates in vigorous jumping and improv exercises before taking the stage.

But once the curtain rises, “there’s nothing like hearing an audience laugh,” says Mitra.

Rich culture ripe with quirks

And working with such a rich culture ripe with its own quirks, there’s plenty of joke material available. Some of it can get a little racy.

The process to put this latest show together began months ago. Leena Manro and Munish are the main writers, but the cast meets every Sunday evening to brainstorm and flesh out ideas that are then developed into sketches.

“There’s a lot to talk about,” says Mitra. “We have so much going on in our culture. It’s a different world.”

To ensure everyone in the audience gets the jokes, the punchlines are often performed in Punjabi and Hindi, and then immediately translated into English.

“It’s very organic,” says Mitra. “We never really know what’s going to make people laugh, so we just try to stay true to ourselves.”

The result is a fast-paced show in which everyone in the cast appears in almost every sketch. That means a lot of quick costume and character changes. Mitra says he can be the straight man in one scene, then “completely out there” in the next.

And while the show is aimed at a South Asian audience, the material crosses all kinds of cultural boundaries, especially in a multi-cultural city like Vancouver.

“At the end of the day, it’s a very Canadian show,” says Mitra.

This article first appeared HERE.