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Brimful of Asha

Ravi and Asha Jain
Owais Lightwala (Why Not Theatre)
The Drum, Plymouth

Ravi and Asha Jain Credit: Erin Brubacher

With the eponymous Cornershop '90s hit playing in the background, Brimful of Asha exudes warmth and quirkiness from the very get-go with a handshake, introduction to mum and a hot samosa.

Award-winning actor, director, producer and educator Ravi Jain’s bravery is not just in sharing a very personal story but also in having his mother with him on stage sharing the telling of the tale and a seemingly endless pot of tea.

Asha Jain quickly advises us that she is no trained actor, apologising in advance for any slips of the tongue or memory loss but, in reality, having toured the show since 2010, the duo’s huge talent lies in the freshness of delivery and belief that this is not a rehearsed dialogue between mother and son.

The premise of the piece is a generational dispute and clash of the cultures.

A self-professed dedicated housewife and ‘abused mother’, Asha is desperate to fulfil the traditional Indian matriarchal role and find a compatible family with a daughter for Ravi to marry. Then, and only then, can she move on to the fourth stage of her life: meditation and peace. Until then, she says, she is deemed a failure in Hindi culture.

Already a disappointment due to his choice of career (influenced by the Bollywood films at the heart of the pop song) Ravi, born and brought up in Canada, loves his mother deeply but has limits to just what he will do to demonstrate that. And arranged marriage is not on the cards regardless of any ‘expiration date’.

With meddling firmly in her job description, Asha is not so easily dissuaded and so, between the banter and asides, Ravi’s commandeered backpacking trip to India—jet lag, allergies, embarrassment and all—is relived.

A natural raconteur, Ravi sets the scene with luminous descriptions of parental deviousness, awkward meals, noodle slurping, extended Indian families and bulging files of bio data responses to an advert for a suitable daughter-in-law. And not only does Asha hijack the trip but also his flow with delightful deadpan comments, delivered with an impish smile, puncturing his artistic tension-building.

Glimpses into Indian culture, the complexities of expectation and the age-old struggle between tradition and modern-day freedoms are enlightening, thought-provoking and, at times, poignant. Well-educated Asha herself gave up aspirations of farming to conform, marry her chosen husband and emigrate to the other side of the world with a stranger as required by her family.

Beautifully structured on a simple set and unbelievably believable for the most part (the reconstructed 'phone call particularly momentarily derailing the spell), this may not be brimful of Asha as in the translation ‘hope’ but certainly brimful of Mrs Jain, fun and engagement.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell