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Auntijis defying conventions – play review

Auntijis defying conventions – play review

Secrets and lies uncovered in searing drama…

IT’S not often you see three Asian women of a certain vintage take centre stage and reveal a world of such contrasting pains and joy.

Rani Moorthy’s new play, ‘If Only Shah Rukh Khan’, which nears its month-long nationwide run on Saturday (November 30) at Waterman’s in Brentford, is a real triumph.

“I wanted to interrogate the ideas of these auntijis,” Moorthy said in a post Q&A after the Thursday (November 28) showing, “they are presented with having much less interesting lives, but that isn’t true.”

In an interview with in October, Moorthy said she wanted to give older Asian women, especially those who did not have a (conventional) family, a voice.

What a rich compelling one it is. Split into two very distinct halves, the first is light, jolly, amusing.

Three spinster women who have lived together for 25 years under the same roof indulge themselves once week with their Shah Rukh Khan fan club.

It’s all quite a gas – and there’s a lot of sharing as Moorthy (Kasi) and fellow actors Rose (Pooja Ghai) and Pindy (Bharti Patel) interact with the audience and get them to air some of their own moments with the one and only Shah Rukh Khan, or SRK, as he is known in some circles.

Khan has been a mainstay of Bollywood for around 20 years and despite being in his 40s now, has never lost his boyish charms or his essential attractiveness and sex appeal, as the women sometimes humorously and physically depict.

Moorthy said afterwards she wanted to show older Asian women being sexy and not immune to flights of desire – it’s a strong and valuable statement, especially as more generally, women once they reach a certain age are often depicted as sexless and just a bit sad.

Some, she disclosed, had accused of her of being “cynical” in using Shah Rukh Khan as just a tag or a form of superficial bait – but her explanation both last night and earlier remain entirely valid.

“I’ve worked in Malayasia and seen people of all ages and races queue up to see his films,” she said.

Few would deny SRK carries immense appeal and crosses barriers of age and even sex.

And he is the central figure for these women at the beginning. He is very much their shared interest and their passion. The women characters’ devotion was equally matched by some members of the audience who really knew their stuff too.

In this half, we see the women as gregarious, fun-loving and entertaining company.

Everything changes with the arrival of Kenyan Opiyo (Takunda Kramer).

Suddenly, we are almost in a different play: more serious, intense and deep.

Secrets begin to spill like drink in cups on a very bumpy train journey.

Pindy (Moorthy) starts talking in Tamil to herself; Rose (Ghai) in Swahili and all three are Kenyan refugees, who have found some form of solace and comfort in Britain, from the pains of their other lives in Africa and in Pindy’s case, war-torn Sri Lanka.

Moorthy’s writing, in this part, is hugely evocative and a couple of lines stay with you: when Opiyo almost blithely says: “African mothers are used to burying their children”, and again when he responds angrily to Pindy’s dismissive airs, he fumes: “You are alive but you are not living”.

There is something of an abrupt ending – but in some ways it does leave you wanting more and that is always a good energy for a writer to close on.

It’s a shame this play does not have a longer run or is not going to others parts of Britain, having been staged earlier in Bradford and Manchester. The performances are strong and deserve a wide audience – they were certainly appreciative last night. If Only Shah Rukh Khan touches many deep themes and these would powerfully resonate also with both Tamil, African and East African Asian communities.

Picture: Q&A, l-r: Rani Moorthy, Pooja Ghai, Fareda Khan (production manager), Takunda Kramer, and Bharti Patel

• Actor and star of Jadoo* and All in Good Time, Amara Karan on ‘If Only Shah Rukh Khan’
• October story
*’Jadoo’ (September)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture