From Kuala Lumpur to Mumbai
A theatrical adaptation of short stories by a Malaysian-Indian writer explores gender, sexuality and religion entwined with love
It all began early last year when Dr Malachi Edwin Vethamani reached out to his friend of many years and veteran theatre artiste Mahesh Dattani to write a blurb for his book of short stories. Called Coitus Interruptus and Other Stories (Maya Press), the book explores the many shades of love through the lives of families of Indian origin based in Malaysia.
Malachi Edwin Vethamani
Stemming from Dr Vethamani's lived experience — a poet, writer and critic of Indian origin, he is professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus — the authenticity of the stories spoke to Dattani. He shared them with members of his theatre group Playpen Performing Arts Trust, and a reading session paved the way for a theatrical adaptation titled Love Matters.
Ashish Joshi and Sukhita Aiyar in rehearsal
"What stood out for me were the strong characters in the stories, and how their journeys of love pan out," says director Ashish Joshi, who has trained at the American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, and has been in various theatre faculties for over 14 years.
"Culturally, I consider myself Indian though my nationality is Malaysian. The family is a strong institution in India, and through my book, I wanted to explore how Malaysian-Indian families deal with the questions of gender, women and heterosexuality," Dr Vethamani tells us over the phone. "Indian women are often shown to be weak. I was sure I wanted my women characters — lead or supporting — to be strong. They may not be triumphant, but reading the stories you will know that they don't feel defeated by life either, " he adds.
The actors perform with the audience and other artistes seated around them
When asked about the plot, Joshi insists on not divulging too many details. About the adaptation, though, he tells us that he has left the story element of the performance undisturbed, ensuring that it doesn't become too dramatised. Each of the three actors — Dheer Hira, Sukhita Aiyar and Rushab Kamdar — presents one story, playing all the characters that feature in it.
Moving away from the traditional proscenium set-up, Joshi envisions the performance as "a bunch of friends sitting together, where someone breaks into a story". "There is no defined stage area, and the story unravels right in the midst of the audience," he explains.
Does the adaptation get a thumbs up from the creator? "They made my characters come alive. Some of the scenes were so moving that they brought tears to my eyes," says Dr Vethamani about the time he was in Mumbai in December 2017, when he saw the adaptation. "I really hope I can take the play to Malaysia one day."
ON September 9, 8.30 pm
AT Harkat Studios, Versova, Andheri West
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