Brimful of Asha – a play you must see together as mother, daughter and son

A ‘Brimful of Asha’ by Ravi Jain, a story on his mum and him. Pic. Cylla von Tiedemann

By Anu Jose

Ravi Jain is coming to Melbourne. The Canadian Indian entertainer who acts, writes, directs and is also artistic director of ”˜Why Not Theatre’. The show he is bringing to Melbourne includes his mum and it is their story. ”˜Brimful of Asha’ has played to audiences in London, Toronto and the US. It is an autobiographical piece and one that many Indian children and mothers will relate to. It is a mother’s distress over the so called failure of her unmarried son working in the arts. What could be worse!

The idea was born from telling his mum, Asha Jain that he was making a one man show and would be playing her and showing the world what a bad mother she is! Her response ”˜You idiot, if the world heard my side of the story they would see what a bad son I have’! So from there, they started doing small presentations and audiences loved Asha Jain. On working with his mum Ravi says, ”˜She was honest and herself and people really appreciated that about her. Working together has been great, we’ve been lucky to go all around the world, and it’s a joy to see my mother make so many people laugh and to see them fall in love with her every night’.

The subject matter explored in this play is a familiar story. Indian parents define happiness as seeing their children ”˜settled’, a synonym for a good a job and marriage. An alternative career path and being single jars with this notion of happiness. Jain doesn’t think Indian parents will ever change acknowledging his mum would be better to discuss this with, ”˜They came to Canada in order to have a better life, so it really is up to my generation to help them see there are other ways to define happiness, but you know even when you get married, they want grandkids. So who knows when it will end?!’

Jain’s chosen career is uncommon for children of Indian immigrants. He studied acting in London, New York and Paris and ended up in theatre. His parents always supported him through this but always expected that when he got the ”˜theatre’ out of his system he would join the family business. ”˜I managed to somehow find a way out by just constantly pursuing what I wanted to do. I know not everyone can do that. My parents and I spent a lot of time talking about it, their major fears were that no Indian ever made a career in theatre. From their perspective, so how would I support myself?’ With sheer perseverance and doing what he loved, Ravi managed to prove them wrong, ”˜By carving out a path for myself and supporting myself on my own, I was able to prove to them that there is a way. It wasn’t easy and I can only hope that the next generation is able to have it a bit easier by seeing that we made it. I often speak to a lot of young aspiring South Asian artists, sometimes I sit with their parents too’. Jain makes a point of saying it comes back to our previous conversation of what Indian parents define happiness to be, and it is all fairly complex and intertwined.

Being a director is Ravi Jain’s favourite role in theatre, ”˜Directing is better for me because I really get to say something to an audience. I can shape the point of view of the story and craft an experience with an audience’. Asking what his favourite piece of theatre is Jain talks about a show he saw in 1999 Mnemonic, about memory and the brain. This show changed how he saw theatre. More recently, in Edinburgh he was drawn to a piece “Are we not drawn onward to new era” by Belgium Company Ontroerendgoed about climate change and the need to make major changes if we want to save the planet.

Jain has a strong connection to India and tries to visit every 3 or 4 years but hasn’t been back in a while. In Mumbai, he met a whole artist community which he enjoyed, given most trips to India didn’t include an experience of the arts. Jain is working on a new adaptation of the Mahabharata, ”˜It really helped me dive into sides of the culture that I haven’t ever gone into. It’s been amazing to look at this story which encapsulates so much of how my parents are and think’.

When asked about the importance of theatre to a society Ravi Jain strongly beliefs in its benefits. He talks about it being about stories, the business of life and what we do every day, ”˜Stories are what help us understand the world around us and define who we are. For thousands of years, we created culture, we invented stories and shaped how we saw the world. Now, we consume culture, it is handed to us and shaped by other people and impacts how we see and experience the world and understand our place within it. Theatre is important because it is one of the most ancient way in which we can gather to share in stories, and help us remember that we are human. We need empathy in this world we are in. It is urgent, and the more we can come together and share stories, I really believe we can hopefully inspire people to make the changes necessary to save this planet’.

This will be Ravi’s first trip to Melbourne, although he has visited Sydney briefly. He is looking forward to meeting people and artists here, ”˜For me the joy of touring is that exchange of stories and experiences, I’d love to hear and see what people are into in Melbourne. Looking forward to coffees and conversations’

Share in Ravi and Asha Jain’s story by catching ”˜Brimful of Asha’ at the Melbourne International Arts Festival Wednesday October 9 ”“ Sunday October 13. Make it a mother and son/daughter night out and perhaps gain a little empathy for each other!

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