NRI blokes come clean on what’s ailing them. RAJNI ANAND LUTHRA reports
What would you say is the trouble with Indian men? The answer depends on whether you’re a younger Indian woman or an older Indian woman. If you’re the former, you’d say he is tied to his mother’s apron strings. If you’re the latter, you’d say he is completely dominated by his wife.
But what do the men think – about what’s troubling them?
In The Trouble With Asian Men, a show at this year’s Parramasala, a look is cast at the particular problems faced by South Asian men living outside of India.
What makes this a unique production is that it is based on actual interviews conducted all over the UK (and for this staging, Australia). The cast members simply regurgitate what the interviewees revealed, taking on their accents and mannerisms.
The show is produced by the award-winning UK theatre company Tamasha, which is known just as much for encouraging new talent as it is for tackling issues of cultural differences. Created by Kristine Landon-Smith, Sudha Bhuchar and Louise Wallinger, and directed by Kristine Landon-Smith, the play was first staged in 2005 and has been doing the rounds at international festivals ever since.
It turns out our boys and men do have their own trials and tribulations.
They struggle with issues of identity, feeling drawn towards aspects of their own culture such as food while not wanting to seem ‘alien’ to their mainstream mates. “We went on this picnic, right, and when we got there, our dads took out their big dishes and started cooking in the carpark! We hoped no one would see us, but when the food was ready we all lined up…”
They wrestle with religion and with sticking to tradition. “When I got back home my dad said, are you happy now? You’ve got rid of your turban and cut off your hair. Like the way you look?”
They tussle with the whole dating thing. “I couldn’t go out with Indian girls; they’re so dull and boring and shallow. I prefer goris, they’re independent and know what they want”.
(And if they do get a non-Indian girlfriend, they’ll show off how ‘Indian’ she can be. “Go on, say something in Punjabi”).
A natural by-product of these ‘problems’ is a lack of confidence. “So they make up for this low self esteem by looking for it in other things, like a big car. With a big boom box, so they can’t hear other people criticise them”.
Occasionally they give in to the arranged marriage scenario, and when mates ask them if they don’t want to meet the girl to learn about her personality, it’s “Of course I’ll see her, but just to check out her looks and body – no personality required”.
They find themselves sandwiched between wife and mother, both dear to them, who squabble over meaningless issues. “The biggest war these days is based on the roti vs naan issue: does she cook fresh rotis, or does she tear open a packet of naans and pop one in the toaster? At the moment the naans are edging ahead….”
In many cases, they grapple with their own homosexuality, warily warding off the family’s attempts at setting them up. “We’ve shown him so many nice girls….”
At work, they sometimes find co-workers get ahead of them for reasons other than talent or capability.
Director Kristine Landon-Smith reveals that even though the show is in its seventh year now, new material is constantly being added, such as the Australian and NZ input in the latest version.
Core cast members Amit Sharma and Niall Ray took to the Parramasala stage with a different local guest performer each night (Drew Fairley, Craig Meneaud, John Shrimpton and Vico Thai), and impressed with their different accents.