The Fierceness of Janaki

A Siren Theatre Project ProductionLast month protesters marched in front of the San Jose Museum of Arts, protesting the interpretation of Sita in the animated film Sita Sings the Blues and in a painting by M.F. Husain where Sita is depicted the nude. The words “shameful” and “denigration” were some those used by the conservative religious groups protesting the artwork – but the museum continued their support, stating “freedom of artistic expression.”

This weekend the Bay Area will see another form of “Sita art”, this time in the form of a theater production. Siren Theatre Project’s production of Janaki – Daughter of the Dirt will be hitting the stage at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco for it’s world premiere this Sept 16th -18th. This ground breaking stage production written by Virali Golkadas touches upon issues of power, sexism and classism from the perspective of Sita.

“I wrote Janaki – Daughter of Dirt to show that Hindu goddesses, just like the women in my family, are not self-sacrificing devotees,” said playwright Virali Gokaldas.  “They are complex, powerful, strong-willed examples, helping us hold compassion for others and ourselves, guiding us when making hard decisions, and above all, giving us the courage to live out our own destinies.” [sirentheatre]


As for the controversy in San Jose, here’s what Virali and Anirvan Chatterjee have to say:

Our ability to recontextualize the Ramayana is precisely what makes it a living story, instead of a dead one….The Ramayana is as rich and diverse as India.  If our Indian traditions allow even a 180 degree twist like Ravana being the hero, then what right do protestors have to censors new ways of expressing the story?


As Bay Area writers who have our own visions of the Ramayana to share, we take the attack on the tradition of diverse Ramayanas personally.  The Ramayana speaks to us, just as it did to those creators whose works were being protested in San Jose. [sirentheatre]


Art for arts sake or art to honor and personalize faith? Check out the play this weekend and form your own opinion. And just for our Sepia Mutiny readers, tickets are only $20, with the discount code “Sepia Mutiny” over at Brown Paper Ticket. For more information on Janaki – Daughter of the Dirt or Siren Theatre Project, visit their facebook page and their website.

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A Portrait of 9/11 from the Folks Behind Seven.11

Barriers is the story of a family that lost a son in the tragedy of September 11, 2001. This theatrical production is by Desipina & Company, which also brought us seven years of Seven.11 Convenience Theater. At the Wall Street Journal, Aarti Virani takes a closer look at the inspiration behind Barriers, which was first performed in 2002, and is currently playing through September 18 in Manhattan.

Just days after the 9/11 attacks, playwright Rehana Lew Mirza was heartbroken by what she encountered while walking in New York City. “I saw a flyer of a missing South Asian woman with holes burnt into the eyes and mouth,” she said. It was a seminal moment for the young artist and one that inspired her to pen “Barriers,” a raw look at the struggle of a Pakistani-Chinese family who suffered loss in the 9/11 tragedy. (WSJ)

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That Shameless Yoni Nonsense

It’s that time of the year again, and this year the delightful Micropixie has released a charming promo clip. I’ve included the translation below for those that may need a little bit of help.

“Mooni! Hey Mooni! Gadherini! Do you know I’m going to hit you? I’m going to beat you up, dirty girl! Every time I’m calling you and you’re not answering the phone!

And what is this “micro-bicro-bixie-dixie”?! You went San Francisco, you went to cut off my nose in San Francisco?! Don’t you know in San Francisco they have all those gadherini lesbian girls? What is all this lesbian stuff you’re doing, this Yoni Ki Baat “yon-ki-baat”, what is all that? Shameless girl, don’t you have any shame? [ASIDE TO HER HUSBAND: Hey Kaka, you see that girl she’s going to cut off my nose did you hear this girl? She’s opening (her legs)…]. Tell me, you’re not standing on stage with all your clothes taken off are you? Hai, hai! Who on earth will marry you? Who’s going to wed you?! How can you talk this nonsense?! This vageena, vageena-talking about your yoni ki baat gadherini? Hei?! You’re going to stop all this micro-bicro-pixie type stuff! Who will want to marry you? Which boy will marry you? Don’t you have any shame talking about all this dirty, disgusting stuff? As if one could ever talk about these things! Disgusting girl! When we were little we never spoke about this thing. What is this vageena talking-talking all the time? As if a vageena can even say anything, you brainless girl! As if, when you go and piss, you can talk with it! Don’t do all these things! Don’t you cut off my nose! Do you hear me?! Or I’ll give you one big whack. And make sure you phone your aunty soon… shameless girl!” [youtube]

The show was started by the South Asian Sisters here in San Francisco in an effort to bring a South Asian version of the Vagina Monologues to the scene. In it’s seventh season, Yoni Ki Baat has been replicated in cities all across the nation. I had the chance to check out the show in Los Angeles, but am looking forward to the show in San Francisco on March 5th and 6th. If you are in the area, I highly suggest you check out the show – but buy your tickets now, the show sells out every year.

Are any of you planning on being at the show? If so, maybe we can plan a Sepia Mutiny San Francisco meetup before the show…? Do let me know in the comments! Continue reading

Brownstar at NYC Fringe

Brownstar NYC Fringe Festival

This Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Brownstar’s “Faster than the Speed of White” at the NYC Fringe Festival. There are two remaining performances, today from 3:45-4:55 PM and tomorrow from 8:45 to 9:55 and if you’re in NYC you really should go see them.

Brownstar is a theatrical performance duo, comprised of NORTHSTAR (Pushkar Sharma) and SOUTHSTAR (Sathya Sridharan). Their style is a hybrid of improv sketch comedy, like the Second City troupe, old school spoken word, and Hip Hop. This is not your parents South Asian theater by a long shot. [See our earlier post about them here for more about their background, origin story, and influences]

FTTSOW is a compilation of their earlier shorter sketch comedies into a single 70 minute show, the story of Captain Northstar and Ensign Southstar’s voyage on the Brownstar Galactica to the alcove of answers. As you would expect from the Fringe Festival, this isn’t a traditional play, it’s more like a concept album, a mashup and weaving together of several different sketches that share a set of common themes: South Asian American Identity and what it means to be a desi artist in America. The hybridity of their performance genre reflects the hybridity of their subject, like browns in America, their style reflects a variety of different influences.

Although these are weighty themes, the show is comic rather than somber. When you see the ode to the squat toilet or the mashup of Midnights Children with Kal Pen’s biography, you’ll see that Brownstar don’t take themselves seriously. Their work is thought provoking and consistently surprising and definitely worth a look for yourself.

TICKETS: Available online from NYC Fringe

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Nimmi² + D’Lo = Awesome

A week and change ago I blogged about the awesome Nimmi Harasgama and her invented auntie: netta, a dame with a mouth blunt enough to make even your amma’s honesty look as soft as rasmalai.

Speaking of Amma, one of the videos I linked to in that post included part of netta’s collaboration with D’Lo, who referenced an “Amma” character. Herewith, a few more of those joint sketches, including appearances by Amma herself… and if the tickets haven’t all gone yet and you are in New York, then, you lucky reader, you can get a ticket and see D’Lo live tonight at D’FunQT : A BIG D’Lo SHOW. (You can pronounce it “defunct.” Did I mention TONIGHT? It’s part of Dixon Place’s 2010 HOT Festival.) Wish I could go! I met D’Lo a few years ago through mutual friends, and… what an actor! what a mimic! what a riot!

The show is described as “a stand-up story show with tales from the QT side mixed in with a Sri L.Ankan twist. D’Lo the artist explores topics relating to South Asia, transgender social justice, hip-hop culture, loneliness, and the resilience of the human spirit.” I’m struck by the mention of loneliness; one of the most touching things in the videos I’m linking below is the genuine sweetness of D’Lo’s attempt to alleviate auntie netta’s loneliness.

Here’s some more D’Lo / Nimmi stuff, and then, below the fold (can I say that on a blog?), Nimmi answers questions about a few things, including their collaboration.

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auntie netta Returns

I first saw Nimmi Harasgama on a plane. I don’t know what year it was. I think I must have been either on the way to Sri Lanka or on the way back; I was exhausted, but when I discovered a captivating Sinhala film, I didn’t want to sleep–I wanted to watch. I was particularly compelled by one of the film’s storylines, which featured a young woman desperate to find her missing husband. The actress had a striking face and delivered a sad and memorable performance. It was perhaps the first Sri Lankan film I had ever seen–indeed, because I found it in progress, I did not even get to see the whole thing. Still, I was transfixed, and impressed.

The dark feel of the film stayed with me for years. Then, in late 2008, a friend sent me a link to a Sri Lankan comedienne doing an auntie character I found hilarious. One of my favorite lines from the first video: “I’m calling from abroad–yes, that’s why I’m wearing a hat, and everything–you can’t see, no?” (At about 20 seconds in.)

When the friend mentioned that the actress had also appeared in the Sri Lankan film “Akasa Kusum,” I did a bit of Googling, and thought that without her auntie getup, she looked familiar. Had she been in the film I’d seen on the plane? I read the descriptions of the rest of the films in her IMDB history and realized that on that flight, I’d watched bits of “Ira Madiyama / August Sun”. She had played the young woman desperate to find her missing husband. And that luminous actress was ALSO auntie netta. Now I was intrigued.

Through the friend, I called the actress up for a chat and she told me a little bit about how she’d come up with auntie netta, and also that she was thinking of maybe developing the character into a stage show. I last posted about her right before that show, auntie netta’s Holiday from Asylum and promised a follow-up that would include a q&a with her.

This interview with Nimmi Harasgama, the award-winning London-based actress behind both of those performances, references that first conversation, so I’ll preface the q&a with some of the background I learned then… and will follow with another post including the more recent exchange. Continue reading

What To Do? Ask Auntie Netta

I first encountered my favorite (imaginary) Auntie, Auntie Netta, almost a year and a half ago, when a friend of mine sent me the video here:

I thought Auntie Netta was pretty frickin’ hilarious: she’s cunningly raunchy and very specifically Sri Lankan in some of her humor. Now, Netta’s creator, actress Nimmi Harasgama, is taking her to the stage, in London. The show goes up tomorrow night, Londoners–get your tickets!

Update: In an e-mail, Nimmi says that while the show is about Netta’s “craziness,” “it is also about her seeking asylum and as such has a serious side to it too.”

There’s a whole series of Netta on Funny or Die.

Facebook event here.

My chat with Nimmi about the character will hopefully be an upcoming post, but I wanted the flag the show for those of you who might be interested (and flag the videos for those of you who might have headphones at work). Continue reading

Tea with Chachaji


Himanshu from the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) passed on information about an event I thought mutineers around NYC and Stanford would find interesting. Tea with Chachaji is an off-Broadway family musical based on the the book “Chachaji’s Cup” by Uma Krishnaswami and directed and choreographed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj. It tells the story of a boy, his great-uncle and a teacup. Produced through a partnership between IAAC and Making Books Sing, the musical stars Raja Burrows as Neel, a young boy whose great-uncle, played by Tony Mirrcandani, teaches him valuable lessons about life through stories about a teacup brought over from India. Continue reading

BROWNSTAR Revolutionizes the Mutiny

It took me a moment before I realized that the two witty kids I was walking the late night streets of Boston with were the infamous BROWNSTAR duo. They had come to the Boston Sepia Mutiny meetup last month, and afterwards we went on a hunt for DJ Kayper. They were hilarious, and I had heard about them through the spoken word grapevine. The BROWNSTAR REVOLUTION duo is a two member poetry/theatre/performance duo, consisting of the NORTHSTAR (Pushkar Sharma) and SOUTHSTAR (Sathya Sridharan). Started in 2007, this duo has been hitting up open mics, college stages, and poetry lounges sharing their words with anyone that will listen. There performances can’t be categorized, but has all the potential to revolutionize.

BrownStar Revolution – “Unification” (August 2009) from Jon Truei on Vimeo.

I knew I had to bring the BROWNSTAR to the Mutiny. I had the chance to hit up Sathya and Pushkar in a gchat interview to ask them some questions about the BROWNSTAR REVOLUTION. Here’s what they said.

Taz: For those of those of the mutiny who may not know, who exactly is BROWNSTAR?

Pushkar: We’re a performance poetry duo, two-man spoken-word show.

Sathya: We’re more than just that though. We’re theatre; we’re comedy; we’re poetry. We like to throw everything into the pot and create something that isn’t always seen on stage.

Taz: How did you get your start? Did you start doing poetry first? Or performance first?

Sathya: I’ve been performing and writing in some way all my life, mostly being a clown for my family, or friends. I was a Drama and Eng Lit major in college, where Pushkar and I met. He directed me in my first show in college. I’m pursuing acting as well as this whole Brownstar thing. Ideally, I like to think of myself as an actor who likes to write poetry on the side. Continue reading

More Naseeruddin to Love and Admire

What the people want, the people get!

(Sorry, Joolz, not Keegan Singh.)

Due to popular demand I’ve got three more segments of the MTV Iggy interview with Naseeruddin Shah. Looking back, I can’t believe we asked some of these questions. He continued to be gracious, thoughtful, and startlingly candid:


What’s the difference between theater and film? Legendary Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah explains to us why the two should be starkly delineated. “I can’t understand why they remake movies as plays — and then do them exactly like movies!” he says, referring those well-known Broadway plays in which helicopters crash and ships sink onstage. With his theatrical company, Motley, Naseeruddin is bringing back the lost art of Dastangoi, the ancient practice of storytelling in which the end of one story leads to the beginning of the next — bringing theater back to its original intent: one actor, one audience:

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