‘Public Obscenities’ is the Most Bengali Play

Choton and his partner Raheem visit Kolkata to document the lives of LGBTQ Indians. They discover far more.

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'Public Obscenities' (Julieta Cervantes)

Snigdha Sur


January 19, 2024


8 min

“Bhalo chele. Hath diye khachche,” Peeshima (Gargi Mukherjee) says, before animatedly talking about the show she saw about Vietnamese food, where they stuff pumpkin flowers with meat and shrimp. “Bengalis also make this. We call it kumro phool,” she explains to Raheem (Jakeem Dante Powell), her nephew Choton’s (Abrar Haque) partner, as she keeps feeding him at her Kolkata dinner table. But Bengalis don’t stuff their flowers, she adds, they fry them. Bengalis love talking about how everything connects to something Bengali. And Bengalis love reminding those who aren’t lucky enough to be one what they’re missing out on. And so begins Shayok Misha Chowdhury’s latest play, Public Obscenities, which ran at the Soho Rep in early 2023, and is now back — this time at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn. The nearly-three hour production follows Choton, a Bengali American man getting his Ph.D. at UCLA, and his Black partner, Raheem, a cinematographer. Choton aims to document the lives of LGBTQ people in his ancestral city, Kolkata, bringing along Raheem to get it all on video. But, despite its name — a nod to a ludicrous British Raj-era law (what else?) — the play isn’t only about dismantling colonialism. Rather, it grapples with what we think we know about ourselves and our family, what language can elevate and obscure, and — that perennial, thorny question for those in the global diaspora — what, exactly, is home.

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