Monday, March 8, 2021

Because he’s Indian

Reading Time: 4 minutesComedian Raj Moodley challenges stereotypes with his new stand-up comedy show

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The stage goes dark and the audience goes quiet. Lively Bhangra music plays. Raj Moodley appears on stage, in character, auditioning for the role of a doctor. “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” he says loudly, with a warm smile. The unseen casting directors aren’t happy. Try again. “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” he says again, turning the enthusiasm up a notch. They’re still unimpressed. Exasperated, he throws on a colourful turban, puts on a heavy Indian accent, throws his arms out and while gesticulating wildly says, “Congratulations, it is a boy!”. He’s in.


The new comedy show ‘Is It Because I’m Indian’ explores the recurring theme of stereotyping throughout actor and writer Raj Moodley’s career. Poignant, funny and soul baring, the show charts Moodley’s life including his career path, and his close knit family coming together in the face of tragedy. The show follows Moodley’s discovery of a love of acting, to his struggling to find work as anything but the token Indian, being bullied at work, to taking a break to care for his terminally ill father, then coming back full circle to where he started, in line at an extras agency.


Born and raised in England, Raj Moodley moved to Australia with his family at 14, already knowing he wanted to be an actor. He was introduced to the theatre at a very young age by his musically and culturally inclined parents. At 11 he decided to become an actor when he won the school drama competition, which saw him getting his first standing ovation: with his father in the audience, standing and applauding enthusiastically while standing atop a chair. Decision made, Raj joined an acting school as soon as he was able to.


“Dad came to the interview, of course. He had to say if he approved or not!”


Getting work after he finished school proved harder. The only roles available to Raj seemed to be roles of the token Indian and nothing else.


“They would look at me and say, ‘we already have an Indian on our books’. I’d respond and say, ‘You have 200 to 300 white people on your books, but you can’t have two Indians?’ Agents would love my work but say they didn’t know how to market me.”


Dealing with such repetitive rejection was hard, but Raj never gave up hope. “You either fall in a heap, or you keep going. I kept going.”


Raj had always dabbled in poetry and writing, but the transition from actor to writer happened with ‘Swami Charlie’. He was writing the script for a voiceover when a friend suggested he write a play. Broke, and fresh from dealing with being rejected by yet another agent, he put his energy into ‘Swami Charlie’ which he staged in Carlton in 2003. His next play, ‘I Am What I Am’ was part of the Fringe Festival in 1995, and he got funding for ‘The Perfumed Garden’, which went to stage in 2004 and 2007.


The idea for ‘Is it Because I’m Indian’ happened during a phone conversation with a dear friend.


“I was telling her about a funny incident that happened to me, and she suggested I write about. ‘What is that catchphrase you always keep using? Is It Because I’m Indian? You should write about that’.”


And so Raj started writing. Imagined first as a short play, he Googled the Short + Sweet Festival and Sydney came up, with the deadline for 2014 three weeks away. He made the deadline, and was accepted to perform at the Festival. “I did five performances in February and they called me back for a Gala performance for 700 people.” After this success, he made it into the longer piece that features at the Melbourne Fringe.


Having been part of the performing arts scene for a long while, does Raj see any change?


“There are more Indians now so there are more roles, but they’re still stereotypical. In England you have the most colour blind casting than anywhere else. As much as my family disliked Thatcher, at least she introduced Affirmative Action where Indian or black people had to be portrayed in positive light. Thirty years later, we don’t have that here,” he laments. “But, you must follow your dream,” he says. “Otherwise it will eat you up. Train however you need to train, and just do it.“


It is that determination and will to survive that has helped Raj beat the odds. Rejection, family tragedy and bullying seem to have made him stronger. He explores all three in the show, including dealing with slurs such as ‘Curry Muncher’, a word he reclaims.


Detailed, candid, funny and emotional, the performance grabs the audience from the start . Raj’s energy and comic timing are highly engaging, and the insight into his life, both professional challenges and personal tragedies, make the performance believable and intimate.

‘Is It Because I’m Indian’ is running at the Melbourne Fringe Festival till the 28th of September. Tickets $23 / conc $18

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Dipanjali Rao
Dipa is an IT professional whose interests lie in politics, gender and development. She enjoys singing, music and cooking and tends to buy books she never reads

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