A Brimful of Asha

Theatre, Off-West End
4 out of 5 stars

Ravi Jain and his mum Asha argue entertainingly about arranged marriage

Collaborating with mum: it’s not the sexiest move an actor could make, but it’s probably one of the bravest. Earlier this year, Ravi Jain directed ‘Like Mother, Like Daughter’, in which real-life Jewish parents and children shared stories. Here the Toronto theatremaker sits down to tea and samosas with his Indian mother, Asha Jain, for a frank, funny and touchingly direct discussion of arranged marriage.

Since he turned 27, Ravi’s lack of a ‘nice Indian wife from India’ has been the elephant in the room every aunt and uncle points and shouts about. Asha has dutifully shouldered all the family shame. The clash is generational and cultural, but when it comes to love it’s also deeply philosophical. My happiness is your happiness, the mother tells her son: ‘We are two sides of the same coin.’    

Whose narrative is this? The co-written script neatly enacts the pair’s tussle for control. Ravi relates his family’s increasingly farcical attempts to make him a match, at one point producing his ‘binders of women’ – two bulging files of prospective wives’ bio-data, handily compiled and annotated by his father’s secretary. Asha interjects, admonishes and pleads her cause with deadpan persistence. Sometimes she talks freely and movingly about her own experience of marriage. Sometimes she seems to be reading society’s lines.

It may be told through kitchen-table candour and see-what-I-have-to-deal-with humour, but this is a mythic struggle. As the lights go down, mother and son are still at it: voices locked in un-budging argument, eyes warm with the desire to understand.

By: Bella Todd


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