balti headStrictly Balti

Birmingham Rep Door


HAILING from Birmingham, writer and actor Saikat Ahamed tells us that ‘all our lives are boxes’. In his hilariously biographical account of growing up in Britain to Bangladeshi parents, Ahamed relives the stories of his childhood to understand his own feelings of what it is to be British today.

Strictly Balti is Ahamed’s story alone. Deeply personal and raw with truthful emotion, Ahamed explains what happened throughout his childhood when being British was his own culture, but not the same for his parents.

What do you do when you are Bangladeshi at home and British at school? In his childhood, the only way Ahamed could link the two was to lead alternative personalities. Sid and Saikat were one in Ahamed’s body and the story deals with the struggle of ‘fitting in’, at school, at home and of course with what identity truly means.

The themes are relatable to anyone with family residing from other countries. Ahamed uses this universal reflection to create a one man show rife with humour, peppered with tender personal accounts of growing up as British Bangladeshi.

Indeed, like most of us, Ahamed’s identity is influenced by his parents. Throughout the play, Ahamed explains how Saikat was more prevalent in the presence of his pareSaikatnts and Sid was seen around friends. A cunning plan, but Ahamed did not necessarily think of the times when both identities had to face each other.

He the crossover of culture in a fantastically upbeat way. Christmas was particularly prominent. When talking about Christmas at school to his friends after the holidays, Sid had every Christmas present he wanted, when in reality, Saikat received a poetry book, in a language he could not yet understand.

The significance of Ahamed’s childhood built the foundations of how his British-Bangladeshi life is formed today. In Ahamed’s journey we see that this Christmas present is one of the many bridges of culture that made him understand the sacrifices and sheer strength of his parents before him.

Saikat Ahamed telling his one man, two life story of a Brummie with Bangladeshi parents growing up in Britain

Ballroom dancing is the other culture clash and the main reason for Ahamed’s reflection of his childhood. He talks about how his Bangladeshi parents wanted him to become ‘British’, so they enrolled him into ballroom dancing classes ‘because that’s what all the other English children did’.

His hilarious account of dancing through his teenage years were wonderfully executed and brilliantly narrated as he used his remembrance of ballroom dancing to understand what was to be a teenager, how to keep his dance teacher happy, understand what his parents wanted and most importantly, how he charmed his first crush.

Ahamed is keen to show the audience his personal relationship with Bangladesh. Throughout the play, he characterises his parents with vivid images and physical enactments in what seems to be for humerous effect towards the start of the play, but it ends up becoming an avenue with which he is able to come closer to his parents, especially his father.

In a beautiful sequence filled with depth and true feelings from the past, Ahamed explains how he felt when he went to Bangladesh for the funeral of his ‘Bed Granny’.  A turning point for Ahamed’s teenage life, finally saying goodbye to Sid and embracing the fact that being British means being anybody that he would like to be.

Ahamed’s jovial and funny writing is perfectly teamed with the direction of Sally Cookson. Together, they show the audience that being British is to embrace who you are and not do be defined by the boxes of life.

His story is a story for everyone. Obviously a hit, I heard audience members talk about how ‘this is how I feel’ and ‘the show was also about me’. Ahamed clearly understands the search for identity, especially within the young. He takes a light-hearted and funny approach to his own journey and allows people to see that they can grow into and become whoever they want, but most importantly, to be proud of their culture. To 28-11-15

Elizabeth Halpin


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