Shaheen Khan (British South Asian Theatre Memories)


My name is Shaheen Khan. I’m an actress.
And where were you born? I was born in Moshi, Tanzania, em, which is
in East Africa. And your family was a Muslim family.
That’s right, yah. Er, my parents had come over from, what was then, you know, before
Partition. Em, my my grandmother, was a Headmistress, and, so, she got a job in, Tanzania. Em, so
she came over, and my dad, who was an, who was adopted, and he didn’t want to be, in
the army. Em, he was a pacifist, hehe, and he wanted to teach. So he came to Africa.
And then they had an arranged marriage, in Africa.
And why did they come to England? Em, well, I came over in 70, 1970, and things
at, that time in East Africa were quite turbulent. There was the whole Idi Amin thing going on
ub Uganda, and I think my dad felt, well what happened was, you had to take over Tanzanian
citizenship, if you wanted access to better schools and stuff like that. And my father,
didn’t want to, give up his, em, British subject, or whatever it was, and em, so he decided
he was going to hold on to that but because he wanted us to be, educated, in good schools,
he sent my brother over here first, and then we came to visit my brother and then he decided
actually it was time for all of us to come here because it was just safer and better.
That’s how he felt. Did you come to London?
Yah. In fact, we came, and we stayed with some, em, friends of my parents in Southfields,
and, you know, it literally was like twenty-one of us or whatever, and er, but it was amazing,
you know. Nowadays, I’m not sure people, would be willing to put up with so many people arriving,
into their little terraced house in Southfields, but these people were very generous and they
did. And we used to have an amazing time, and I remember watching lots of Elvis Presley
films in the afternoons, er, on a Saturday. So yah, no, it was em, I I I, you know, when
I look back on it, I think, gosh, how did we do it. Because when I see the footage of,
you know, er, Somali families now in London and how they live, well, actually, I’ve had
a bit of that journey, you know. And was it a bit of a shock for you.
Er yes. Because, you know, we had a big house in Africa, we had the servants, you know,
it was very, common to have servants. Nowadays you can’t even say the word because you feel
so guilty. Em, but it was a shock because, there we were, coming from a big house, lots
of space, and I was a very outdoorsy, girl, and er, here we were. It was cold and houses
were small, and everything was grey. And er, after we left our, you know, this house in
Southfields, we rented a place, and we lived upstairs, and I had, my sister was ten years
younger I was, and she would run around. And, you know, the people downstairs, would scream
and shout. Well, we weren’t used to, you know, walking slowly. And actually, we never had
an upstairs, because we had a bungalow, he he he. So we had to learn a lot of things
very quickly. And em, then my parents bought a house, and, you know there were, those sort
of East African Asians where you think you have to pay cash for everything. So instead
of getting a mortgage and buying a big house they bought, all, spent all their money on
buying outright, a property, in Wimbledon. And er, we walked walked in there and there
was nothing apart from, er, the people had left a bunk bed, and two little kiddies chairs,
and that was it. And I remember going to, you know, we finally got a heater, and used
to go and get paraffin from the, petrol station at the time. And I just remember being really
cold. (Laughs) And of course, we had hand me down, clothes and everything. And I I swear,
when I look back on it, I think, oh my god, I really did look like the immigrant because,
not only did I have this coat, but I was so cold that I’d have an anorak on top, and it
was like a turquoise anorak, hand me down. I must have looked a right state.
What was it like at school? Well, it was interesting, because at school,
I met a Burmese girl, and she became my absolute best friend, and I still know her till today.
So she kind of took me under her wing, and er, er, I think she was born here, so, she
was very comfortable, you know, she knew everything around Wimbledon. She would take me on buses
and I’d get really scared. Where was I going, you know. From school, she’d take me there,
and then somehow she’d say home is that way and I’d be like, hh hh, but we’d have to go
all the way back and she’d be like, no, you know, so so the geography of place, I was
completely lost. It took me ages to kind of, get, that you can go around this way. You
know, because in Africa, we didn’t, although we I walked to school at a very young age,
like here, you wouldn’t send your kids out to school, but there I did. But, I don’t know,
I guess I knew that geography and then suddenly you’re in a, place like London, all the houses
look the same, all the streets look the same, it was, yah, it was shock. Hehe.
And was it mainly English, em, kids, that you had at school.
Em, yah. There were the odd, em, Jamaican, er, a few of them, you know. And it really
was a little bit, if you think about it, very stereotypical, you know. There was the, Jamaican
girl who was a fantastic runner, and, you know. Er, what I remember from my school,
I suppose, are two things. One was em, how I, started supporting Manchester United. Because
this girl, Dawn Glazier, came up to me, and she said, you know, one of my first few days
at school, and she said, “Who do you support? Man United? Chelsea?” I was like, “Em, sorry?”
“Who do you support? Man United? Chelsea?” I was like, “Em, em, can you say that again
please?” “Who do you support? Man United? Chelsea?” I went, “Er, the first one.’ Hh,
because I knew she was asking me to make a choice. I had no idea. She was like, “Yah,
great! Man United, yeah!” Er, so that’s how I started supporting Manchester United, I
had no idea. So that was really funny. And then em, I remember doing an Assembly, in
school, where it was about, good and evil. And the Jamaican girl was the Devil. And the
Burmese girl and myself were like nymphs, you know, on the Devil’s sort of sidekicks.
And then the blonde girl was the good person that we were trying to get into our, evil
ways. Em, but we loved doing it. We had such fun. And it was so good that em, it got, somehow,
this Assembly got taken to Southwark Cathedral to be performed there. And so we performed
it for a week. And it was er one of the most joyous things I did. So because, I’d always
wanted to act, so this was fantastic. But you know, that kind of, 1970s, em, stereotypes.
It was quite interesting. So you said you’d always wanted to act. What
did you want to do in acting? Well, when I was seven, my parents took me,
we used to get the Chinese State Circus, because, Tanzania was, you know, socialist country
and China had so much money going in there, so we had the Chinese State Circus and we
had the Indian State Circus come, and my parents used to take us. And I just fell in love,
with the young kids, who were probably being treated really badly, but I just saw them
performing, and this great audience watching them and everyone loving them, and I just
thought, I want to be, on that sort of, you know, in that arena, em, because I was hopeless
at gymnastics, so, all, you know, I couldn’t possibly be one of those trapeze kind of artists
in the circus. Em, but I just fell in love with the, acting and I thought, that is want
I, that is what I want to do. And I at age eleven, when we came here, I got a paper round
because…I just needed to earn a little bit of money and stuff like that, because my parents
didn’t have a lot, and I wanted to go on the, school trips — pony trekking in Wales, so
that was a way of earning some money. And I remember, always singing the Beatles song
in my head, you know. “They’re going to put me in the movies” hehehe.
And you said you weren’t musical. I’m not very musical. But I have to get musical
now. Why?
Well, they’re doing, em, Bend It like Beckham, the Musical, so, you know, I have to at least,
give it a try. Hehehe. Well, good luck with that.
Thank you. And how did you, then embark on your career,
as an actor? Well, it was so funny because, having, wanted
to act, I found that when I got to sec, er, high school, it was very much, you were, you
know, you could, help out backstage, or in costume or whatever, and I was not remotely
interested in that. And then, it was absolutely by chance, er, because I’d been looking at
sort of joining theatre companies, you know. Local ones, amateur stuff. But I never, got
anywhere with that. And then em, I used to work at a doctor’s surgery after school, when
I was sixteen, and, a woman came in with her daughter, who’d broken her leg I think, and
she said, oh, we happen to be looking, for a young Asian actress, and we don’t seem to
have anyone on EQUITY’s list, so, would you like to, come for an audition. So I was so
excited, and I ran home after work and told my parents, who, said, absolutely not, you
know. You are still at school. You’ve you’ve got to stay, stay at school and not go. So
I pleaded with same and said I probably won’t get it but please let me just go. Anyway I
went. I did the audition, and er, the BBC used to be in Ealing at the time. I went there
and, I got offered the part. And my parents were like, oh god, you know. And I was like
please, oh please let me do it, which meant I only went to school on a Friday…em, you
know, for for ages. And, my Headmistress had told my dad, you know, we are not very happy
with this. And so, anyway, it’s funny, because I’ve been back at my school, and er, it’s
so interesting how they’re so supportive now of any, you know, anyone who does something
different or whatever, whereas, there wasn’t even a mention, in the, assembly or anything,
that, you know, this girl has got this amazing like, twenty-six episode series of the first
Asian, programme, you know, ever, in Britain. Em, so there was no acknowledgement, nothing.
It was just like yah, you’ve got it, whatever, and we just want you, you to make sure that
you, you know, hand in your work and all that So could you let us what, that programme was?
It was called Padosi, which means neighbours. And at the time, because of er, there were
a lot of immigrants coming from Kenya and, em, Uganda, and all that, they wanted to help
people learn to speak English, and em, you know, know how to go and, er, sign on and
get benefits and whatever. So it was a combination of trying to get people to teach English,
with, and then, added on was a soap. So it was quite interesting. So with, through the
soap, people learnt how to do, you know, sign on or whatever, but within that, there was
also like my character was a Hindu girl, who was going out with a Muslim boy. And this
is 1977, you know, and all the hoohah that goes with that. It’s interesting. Hnhnhnhn.
Not so much has changed, because, I you know, I know actresses who, even today, you know,
they’re in their thirties and they still go, ooh, but, you know, I’m a Sikh and he’s a
Muslim and, you go wow. I guess humans, essentially we don’t change.
But you married, somebody completely different. Completely different. Well, I’m a Muslim,
married to a Jewish guy. So he’s Canadian. I’m from East Africa. But we met, you know,
we met in Wimbledon, at the train station. Er, my friend knew his friend, and we were
going to the same college. Because, what happened was, having, done this TV series, I got, basically
kicked out of school. Because I only managed to get, I think, one O-level, which was in
art, So the Headmistress called my dad in and said I think, you know, she’d be better
off somewhere else. So I went to Kingston College of Further Education, which, looking
back on it was an amazing, place. Because so many, people, who had, not fallen by the
wayside, but had a slightly different, you know, they went just, , school, O-level, university
dedede. It was, people who had slightly done something different and ended up there. Because
they wanted to study. And it was an amazing place. And I can’t remember what I was saying,
he he. Why, how did I get to that… Why you married your husband.
Oh yeah, my husband. So, er, he had em, left Canada, because he was getting into trouble
there, so he came over to England, and, he was at the College as well. So we met, and
we were very good friends you know. Listened to Fleetwood Mac, played tennis, smoked, cigarettes,
and drink tea. And we became very good friends, and he was actually with somebody else. But
then all that, you know, stopped, and I was trying to help him and he was like actually
I don’t need any help because actually, hehehe, you know, and I was completely oblivious,
because I was a Muslim girl. I didn’t even think that I’d ever have a boyfriend, you
know. Hmhmhm… So how did your parents respond to your whole
acting lark, the school thing, and then, a husband, you know, future husband.
Yeah. Well my parents weren’t that keen on me acting but once I’d done it, I mean they,
actually, I don’t remember, do you know what, we didn’t even have a TV for us to watch this
programme that I’d done. It’s true. We didn’t have a TV. Hmhmhm. We were that poor. Hehehe.
Em, so I’d go to my friend, my Burmese friend Trudy’s house, to watch because she, you know,
she was, em, she lived up the hill, I lived down the hill. She had a TV, so I’d go and
watch it there. But sometimes I’d miss it because it was on at 9.15 on a Sunday morning.
I mean, what sixteen year old wants to get up, hehehe, that early. So I’d miss it. You
know, and they weren’t, didn’t have video recorders. You miss it, you miss it. Em, and
then my parents, my father died just before, a just after I’d met, er, my husband, my boyfriend,
em, he passed away. So, it was a, very difficult time, you know, em, but in some ways that
kind of helped me, bring him into my house, and so he was very supportive, to my mum and
me and all that, and because his mum was in Canada, and my mum kind, became like a surrogate
mum almost to him, and, I remember, when I used to go on tour, he’d go there. And he
never understood when English people made jokes about, er, mother-in-laws. Because he’d
be like, what’s funny, what’s em I love my mother-in-law.
So coming back to your own artistic journey, how then did you move from the soap into acting,
other things . Well, I tried again, to, there used to be
an amateur group called Serendipity in Wimbledon. You know, I tried with them, and, it just
wasn’t happening. And then a friend of mine, you know, em, bought a a Time Out, and in
there, she said, look, look, there’s this Asian theatre company, who are looking for
people, and I thought, wonderful. So I gave them a call, and it was just after my dad
had died in 1979. Em, so I was a bit worried about leaving my mum and going off, you know,
to this theatre company whatever. But anyway, they used to meet on a Wes, Wednesday at Millin
Centre in Tooting Bec hehe. And er, I think I called them and they said come along. I
did, where I met Jatinder and all the founding people like Ovais and Praveen em, er Sunil.
And er, I just fell in love with, the whole thing. It was so exciting. It was all of these
Asians were talking about, what it’s like to be here, em, our constraints, you know,
we want to this and that and the other but our parents are saying you can’t or whatever.
So it was a, really exciting, time, and er, and they’re all very, you know, clever. They
were very intellectual, and that, for me, was very attractive. Em, I was just like,
wow, you know. And they were very political as well. And em, it sort of ignited lots of
things in me and it was the one thing I would not give up for anybody. And you know, when
you first start going out with going out with somebody, you know, you give up everything
to be with them, but Wednesday evenings was so precious, nobody, not even Joel, could
sort of break in, you know, into a Wednesday evening. Hehe, which I just think is great.
‘Cause I just feel like yes actually, when you are so passionate about something, nothing,
will break your focus. But, because of your background, your upbringing,
the politics that the Tara people were going through, em, probably didn’t affect you personally,
except maybe, as an outsider? And as observer? What what, I don’t understand?
Well, because your em, it seemed to me like your parents were quite liberal.
Yah. …you know, and you had a boyfriend that
was not, from Asian… Yah, yah.
…background. So it seems like you didn’t have the kind of pressures that, that a lot
of Asians will have. Well, the thing is I did, but I had to em,
fight, for everything I got. You know it just, it it wasn’t like my parents alo oh yeah,
you’ve got a boyfriend it’s fine. Not at all, you know. Em, it wa, you know, they didn’t
like, my mum, didn’t like it very much, you know. There was…It it, it was difficult
sometimes. Em, certainly the extended fam family didn’t like it at all. But, in some
ways I suppose, if maybe, if my dad had been there, it would have been a harder battle,
maybe. Because mum and dad would have been together, and to try and break two maybe,
is harder, I don’t know. Em my mum, being a widow, maybe, made things a little bit easier,
because she was on her own. But then I had an an enormous amount of guilt and stuff like
that as well because I used to feel bad that I wasn’t, at home with my mum, and, you know,
out with my boyfriend. But I tried to balance it.
But acting wise, they came round to your acting profession?
They did eventually, but you know my mum, she used to say to me, because what happened,
they wanted me to study, carry on studying. I wanted to go to drama school, but they,
you know, they were like no, you’ve got to go and do, do a degree. And so I did my degree
and I said to my mum, here, you have this. This is what you wanted. And now I’m off,
touring with Tara, you know. So it was, constantly, em, you know, she she would have liked me
to have been a news presenter. That would have been like for her, great. Or to get a
nice office job where I had a table, a desk and you know, a telephone or something. And
for me, one of the saddest things is, you know, em, sometimes when I used to do, er,
TV, screen to films or dramas, we’d sit there and watch them. And er, she never really said,
oh, I’m so proud of you or whatever ever. But, you know, em, for me one of the saddest
thing is like I know she would have really, loved Bhaji On The Beach, you know. That film
would have talked to her on so many levels, and unfortunately, she died just before it
came out. So, for me, that has always been, I think, maybe that would have, shown her
that actually, your daughter, you know. But I think she got that sense of me, from other
things, like my relationship with Joel, you know. I’d been with him seven years, so, she
didn’t, it wasn’t just like, oh, you’re going out, you know, you’re a bit of a, prostitute
going out with lots of boys. She could see, that actually I, in a lot of ways, em, I was
quite conservative, as I’d gone out with this one guy for seven years and then got married
to him, you know, then had kids. And so she saw all that stuff that made feel like I was,
in, not, like in a safe environment if you know what I mean.
Stable. Yah, yah. So for somebody who’s quite, radical
in a lot of ways, you know, essentially there’s also that stability, yah.
So you started off doing em, a series, TV series, and then you went and joined Tara
and did completely different things, because you were then exploring a lot of, different
philosophies… Yah.
…and perspectives. So tell us about that exploration, within you.
Em, well what was exciting, because I’d I’d done a degree, er, in sociology and politics,
and I found that when I joined Tara, as a professional, when I, completed my degree,
was, there was a lot, like we’d go and research, our plays were based on, research we did in
the community, em, I loved that. It kind of made me feel like I was using a bit of my,
other brain and, you know, all the things I’d learned. Em, and, I really also enjoyed
the way Jatinder, brought in all that Indian old, sort of plays, like Miti Ki Gadi which
is one of my most favourite plays that we did at Tara, you know, with the whole stylized
kind of way of working, and em, is that the door, hehehe, em, I’ve lost my train of thought
now, em… The old plays.
Yah, em…I can’t remember what I was saying. Sorry. I keep hearing the door there. Hello?
Hello. I’m sorry I put you off… It’s OK. You can come and say hullo, and then
go. Hello.
Hello, and then I’m going. Hi. Hi. Bye.
Shall I shut, shall I shut the door. No. no. it’s fine.
OK. Yeah. Sorry about that.
That’s fine…em, so, yah, you were talking about the old plays, you know, Indian plays.
Em, so, what’s…actually an exploration for you about the different heritages isn’t it?
Sorry, I’ve completely lost, because that’s the Jewish Canadian. Hehehe. Em, my heritage.
OK, now, sorry, can you ask that question again?
Yah, I was just wondering how did Tara Arts experience, impacted on you, as, an Asian
woman. Em…I suppose because of the, the kind of
things that we were exploring within, you know we were also exploring like, er, Asians
coming into Britain, here, and here to stay and all that kind of stuff that was going
on at the time, you know, em, going on marches, anti-Nazi, em, anti-Apartheid, so it was a
really political time. So I know that that certainly, er, impacted on how, I viewed,
the world. And so, I would take all that with me, and, you know, it was a point of interest
because like, you’re, you could fight some of those battles, with that, knowledge, with
your parents, if you know what I mean, you know. And…
You said you did a lot of research as well? Yah, I mean we did a play on mental illness,
er, called Meet Me, and we went into hospitals, at Springfield in Tooting, which was, a mental
hospital, and because there, the reason we were interested in it, because there were
so, many more, em, Black and Asian people suffering mental illness, and we wanted to
see whether it was, you know, within the diaspora this, and, sort of, it’s unequal…don’t know
what sort…for the percentages are much higher. So we were interested in, in exploring that.
And er, you know, my own brother at the time was going through a massive breakdown. So
I found it really really fascinating. And then you realize actually, it’s, not that
he’s just being a pain in the arse and not wanting to get out of bed but actually he
has some, severe mental problems. And em, you know, we discovered, that, coming over
here, not speaking the language, or whatever, even speaking the language, my brother wo,
you know, he won the debating society thing in Africa and stuff like that. But…he suffered
racism and all kinds of things and it kind of impacted on him to the, and at the end,
I mean he was doing very very well. He was in the merchant navy. Travelling around. You
know, he became an officer, and, was going up the ladder and then, something happened,
er, where I think one of the Iranian guys on, the ship, was treated very very badly,
to the point that he, I think they kind of locked him up or something, and that really
impacted on my brother, ’cause that was his very good friend. He was very young as well.
In his twenties. And em, so when he came back, he was a completely changed guy, you know.
But then I think, you know, my parents sent him over here…er on his own, because he
was so clever and he needed to, so he was sent here to do computer science, and at the
time, it was a big thing, you know. And he was living with some relatives in Walthamstow,
who were really backward, you know, he had no freedom at all. He was going to school
in Woolwich, and at that time, Canning Town or Silvertown, I mean it’s still, hairy, scary,
you know, but at the time, it was, very racist. So I can, sort of understand, how it kind
of broke this person. So at the time it was quite interesting for us to be doing Meet
Me, and then, having a parallel kind of thing happening, you know, and so many of us, had
someone in our family, who was having some kind of, em, breakdown or, mental problem,
yah. So did you suffer racism yourself, in the
acting profession? In the acting profession? Well, blatant racism,
like when we did Padosi, you know, somebody actually, em, one of the crew, had written
something like Pakis go home, or, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but we came
into work one day and there was this, stuff. And I was quite young, so, you know, it was
like, oh my god, that’s terrible. But, the older actors were absolutely fuming, and so
they, I can’t remember if they took it up with EQUITY or what not, or whatever. I can’t
remember. So there was that kind of thing. Em…
This was a theatre that you were touring to or…
This this was the BBC. Hmmm. Yah, at em…TV Centre. You know, when you used to do it in
the studios there. Em…well, I I suppose racism kind of shows itself in lots of different
ways. And if I think about it, you know, em, when I was doing Casualty, my character, you
know, was an Asian nurse, and they wanted to, go down the same route. She wanted to
leave home to go and, live in the nurses’ quarters or something. Her parents went, wanting
her, her to leave home. And at the time I’d been to St. George’s Hospital, and the nurses
there, were, wanting to get rid of those, em, paper hats that they used to wear. So
I said to them, look, this will be a really interesting story because it’s happening right
now. Nurses are trying to get rid of these. And you know, there were Asian nurses at,
St. George’s then. And I thought, this would be such an interesting, different storyline.
And, so I used to have little battles like that, with them. And one day, one of the directors,
he said to me, if you carry on like this, you know, you won’t be working for the BBC.
And I just thought my god. And and sometimes, you know, you…it’s a difficult situation.
When you haven’t got, a lot of power, what do you do? You know. So I just found it very
frustrating. I love the people, em, who I worked with, er, but it became, it was it
wasn’t the kind of work, you know, I’d come from Tara where we were doing like proper
work, and here they are, going oh, you know, odd lines here and there and, oh, well it
was just like yah, whatever. So it was really important that theatre companies
like Tara Arts, Tamasha, em Kali, em, that they provided a source inspiration and also,
a place where could actually explore, all these issues.
Yah. It, it, it, they are. And some of my, most wonderful times I’ve had have been in
those spaces. And I was saying to my daughter, Sophie, who’s also, acting now, em, she wishes
there was, you know, she could join a theatre company. Because we were like a troupe. And
that, there’s something quite wonderful about being together, intensively like that, and
working and experimenting, and that’s what I miss now, is that kind of experimental stuff.
You know, just let yourself go. Everyone’s too like homing in to, I don’t know. Stuff
that’s, a bit boring. Anyway, hehehe. So this, em, this British South Asian theatre
sector, it’s em, how valid do you think it is to this day. The work that they are doing.
I think it’s really really really important. You know, because if you look at it, if there
wasn’t that, where would we be really? Because I don’t feel, I mean fine, there are the odd
people who are, doing mainstream stuff. But we’re not there, as far as I’m concerned.
So we need these, places, like Tara, like Kali, like Tamasha you know, providing a platform
for people. I mean my own daughter, er, Nyla, she is, now a TDA artist with, Tamasha. You
know, she is, developing her work through them. I can’t see where else, she would find,
you know…a…I mean, fine, you can go to the Royal Court and whatever, but, I think
I think those sort of theatre companies are crucial.
So it’s really valid to this day. Yah, absolutely. I mean because I I really
do feel if those places weren’t there, you know like, Ishy Din, I don’t know if you know
him but, he is a taxi driver. He had an idea. You know, which theatre, White theatre company
would give him, the opportunity. I mean even Ayub Khan-Din, you know, he touted his script,
for years. Nobody was interested in East is East. It wasn’t until Sudhar and I, you know,
’cause we were the, called the Lonely Hearts Club, ‘cuase we used to tour together. And
em, he, er, we were going out, because Sudhar and I were writing Girlies at the time, and
so, we said to him, we need to go to a nightclub, but we, to do research but, we don’t want
to go, just the two of us so can you, being the man, come with us, and he, begrudgingly
came out, and we had a Lonely Hearts night out, and then on the way back, Sudhar said,
you know, bring out that script because we’d, always thought it was fantastic. She said,
bring it out, and, you know let me see what I can do, through Tamasha with it. And he
was like no no, I’ve had enough, I’ve bloody had enough of that, you know. It’s in a drawer,
I’m not taking it out. I’ve got this other script. She said no, I’m not interested in
the other one, I want that one. And of course, you know, the rest is history. So, for those
reasons, you know, I think Gurpreet, a lot of her work, has come through Kali I think
has, started it. And now, she’s at the Royal Court, you know.
Nowadays with, companies like Rifco Arts where they are doing a lot of Bollywoodish type
productions, em there’s been a slight change and shift in the way that, em, they’ve been
maketing things to audiences for example, perhaps less issue based but issue based,
nonetheless, through, em, musicals, em, that kind of genre, em, how do you feel that the
changes in British South Asian theatre evolvement, em, is influencing today’s society.
Hmm. Well, I saw Rifco’s play, em, Britain’s Got Bhangra, at Stratford East. It was fantastic.
Absolutely brilliant. And the audience, was predominantly Asian, the night I went, certainly.
And er, I think Asian people now, have got to the stage, in Britain, where, you know,
they, going to the theatre is part of their, culture now as well, I think. It’s it’s interesting
actually because, I remember Tamasha’s sort of, em, had a big audience, like at the Lyric,
and at Hampstead, em, but I think what can happen is if you don’t keep providing stuff
in those theatres that appeals to the…you know, South Asian community, then what happens
is they sort of, fall by the wayside again. And I think that’s some of the problems, I
find, with mainstream theatres, is, there isn’t, like er, em…a constant, you know,
involvement. It’s like the odd, little, er, play about Partition, or the odd little thing.
Em, and there isn’t er like a consistency and I it would be interesting to, for me,
what I’m looking for, I I think it’s great that, you know, they do bhangra and different
genres. I think that’s fantastic. I think we need to explore different, we and we don’t
need to just be issue based either. Em, it should should just come out like how they
do, in our day to day life, you know. When the, somebody gives me a funny look or, will
say something racist. I mean I was quite shocked the other day. I was sitting at, home. I was
pact practising the piano. The door went in a very, aggressive way. Er, knock knock knock,
and I thought, oh god, so I thought I’ll just look, through the windows, see who it is,
and it was some men selling some manure or something. Em, so I looked out of the window
and as he walked past, one was at the door, one walked past, and he went ‘Oh, there’s
a Paki at the window and I was so shocked, because I haven’t, I haven’t heard that for
so many years, and anyway, so that was, I don’t know why I’m telling you that, em, there
was a reason, it was er, I can’t remember. It’s the public’s perception, still.
Yah. You’re still a Paki. Yah. So you don’t…
Well, I know things are changing. Oh I know, that’s what I was going to say. Was, what
I would like, to see, em, what myself am interested in is just seeing, not big things like people,
girls running away or, I know it’s still happening, you know, the whole honour thing, it shocks
me that’s still going on, but it does, em, but I’d like to see, em, a more nuanced kind
of play, on stage, you know. I would love to have, you know those wonderful plays you
go and see where, it’s these families and these little secrets come out over dinner
or whatever, you know, those are the kind of plays that now I’m interested in, in seeing
on stage, and even maybe, you know, writing for them.
So really, it’s informing audiences and ed educating them.
Em…informing and educating… Engaging I think.
OK. And then they can do whatever they want with
it, you know. Yah. But audiences are integral, therefore, in
your work. Yah, I mean, for me, you know, all the films
that I’ve done, all the…they’ve been, mostly, about an Asian community, so, for me, that
is my, access or contribution to, I don’t know what I’m saying. Hehehe.
But if you’ve done things like… I don’t know, what I’m, what am I trying to
say. Er I don’t know. But if you’ve done things like Casualty…
Yah. …where, the demographic, audience demographic
is not just Asian… Yah.
…it’s across the board. Yah.
Em, and then you are doing plays that have predominantly, a focus on Asian, for Asian
audiences. EM, how do you view your audiences? How would you like to have, in you, ideal
setting situation, what kind of audiences would you like to see all of your work.
I think I’d like to see a mixed audience. You know I, I remember when I did Bhaji On
The Beach, and er, we were at a film festival in er, Spain. And it was fantastic because
the Spanish people were like, oh my god, you know, that was just like us. That was just
like my family or whatever, And for me, that gives me the, greatest pleasure is when you
touch people, of a different culture, because, essentially, we are, all humans, universally
the same, you know. And we all have the same issues. Love, joy, whatever…bitterness,
angst, it’s all, part of the human, condition. So we share that. But it’s just comes from
a different angle. And how do you feel that, the em, South Asian
theatre has evolved, to, change perceptions. How is it evolved.
Because I’m thinking really Tara started off because of a racist killing.
Yah. Rifco’s like, probably the other end of the
spectrum. Yah.
And that has been a journey of quite a few decades.
Yah. And you’ve actually, been witness to this…
Yah. …change, and I just wondered whether you
care to comment on that. I think it’s really exciting. You know, when
we used to chant…chant “Here, and here to stay!”, you know, and I look and think, yes,
we did it, you know. At that time it was like we were so, adamant. We were here and er…and,
actually, yes. We have been here like thirty odd years and, we’re still here. And we’re
still in a profession that’s a, sometimes wonderful, sometimes, in equal measure, you
know, difficult, em, heartbreaking, er, frustrating. But we’re still here, and and, there are so
many people, doing so many things. And of course, now, in some ways I think, oh my god,
am I a bit too old but, there’s this whole social media kind of stuff that’s also very
exciting, and some of the ways I’ve seen people work, em, I think that will be, the next kind
of, em, you know, the integration of all that, kind of stuff. Technology and everything in
plays. That would be quite interesting as well I think.
Em you commented on, the Casualty situation, about the nurses, and their issue of, their
their hats. Em, we had a question from some of the rural, em, participants in this project,
saying they didn’t feel connected to theatre, em, I think partly because theatre doesn’t,
go to a lot of rural areas. Em, theatre has a very select audience, but it’s able to choose
and focus it’s audience a little bit more, whereas em, the the television stations are
looking at a wider audiences. So, the televisions do go into rural, em, homes and sitting rooms.
They, they are therefore, from your experience, quite a different, Asian perspective, from
the grassroots theatre scene. Em, and you talked about less power, having less power,
er, in that situation, to abe be able to change storylines. How do you see, rural audiences,
benefitting from, any South Asian theatre work, if they can’t see it. For example, technology.
Is there some way? Have you got any ideas? Anything, in the ether?
How would they, how would they benefit? Mm. How can you see this work? Do you think
there there should be more funding going, into rural, er er touring for example.
Em, well I think it will be great to take theatre to as many people as possible, you
know, Even if you did it in a barn or whatever. You know, I’ve performed in tiny little spaces
and school, whatever. Em, I think that would be great. Em, tsk…what would also be great
of course is, you know, if you could, em…get audiences, I know it’s really really hard.
It’s a very, I find it a very hard question because actually, em, I can’t think how, I’m
thinking of someone in Cornwall, you know, miles from anywhere. How do you get, them
to see, like a, Ta Tamasha production or something. I don’t know, hehh is the answer.
Right. Let’s move swiftly on then, shall we? I’m sorry.
Perhaps you’d like to tell us about, em, any particular work that you’ve done in the past
that holds, great value for you. Oh gosh. Em, there’re so many really, you
know because, absolutely I love the theatre, and, I really enjoy doing film as well, and
radio, you know. I’ve had, some of my most wonderful times doing radio as well. Em, well
I suppose, if I think of it, something I for, for me, I know Bend It Like Beckham is like,
a a really big film. But my, my entire, experience of that, was so wonderful that, there are
lots of little things that I take away from that and take into my, it, I move forward
with that. Like, the way I got the job, you know, they didn’t want me to do it. I had
to, em, because I happened to bump into Gurinder in a restaurant, and she was with the producer,
and, I just said, you know, what are you up to, and she told me, she was doing this film,
er, about a footballer, a girl, and she said, oh but em, you’re too old to play the young
girl, and you are too young to play the mum, and those are the parts. So I thought, nah,
I’m not too young to play a mum, I can do it you know. So I asked her and she was…bit
dismissive, and then, I asked Kristine Landon-Smith, who was artistic director at Tamasha. I said,
Kristine, will you hot seat me. ‘Cause I knew this from Tamasha, you know, they do this
technique, and I thought, hot seat me as the, as this mother. And then I got Sudhar Bhuchar,
her mum’s clothes, out them on, Kristine hot seated me, we sent the cassette, to Gurinder,
and she asked me to come in for an audition. Went for the audition, in Sudhar’s mum’s clothes,
and er, got a call saying, em, you were really good but, we think you are just too young,
you know. So then I went back again. No make-up, Sudhar’s mum’s clothes, with a little hunch,
because I had to plead to them to see me again. They saw me again, and then it was this painstaking,
like, few weeks, where I just thought, OK. Anyway, I knew it was between me and another
actress, and the tapes went out to LA and apparently they all sat in a room, and, each
person came, watched the two tapes and voted. And then it was the final, the producer definitely
didn’t want me, but it was his wife apparently, who voted for me and her vote was the last
one which counted. So that’s how I got the part. So it was, that taught me, perseverance.
You know, again it was that, Wednesday, no going anywhere, focus, and I was really focused.
It was, you know, it was always like uncomfortable to ask a friend for a favour but I asked Kristine.
I did it, you know. So I think, that really helped me, and then when, I worked, on the,
em, film it was quite difficult because. I had to go into Punjabi and English in a very
quick way, so that was a learning thing. And, also, there were some scenes, you know, there’s
one scene absolutely that I improvised that’s in there, and, I was we were just hanging
around waiting for them to set up the lights and, I just sat there with the the guy who
played my husband, and em, I just started improvising ’cause that’s what we used to
do at, Tara all the time, just improvise and play. And, Gurinder heard, over heard this
little thing, scene that we were doing and she said, we’re gonna shoot that, you know.
And it really helped, because in the arc of the story, you didn’t get how the parents
thought. Otherwise I think the, just that little tiny scene, just helped the parents,
to be slightly soft, you kinda saw, a parent’s agony for their children, you know, and I,
for me, I don’t know, I just find it just helped, the arc, for my, my character’s arc.
Em, and I’m really proud of that. And one of the thing’s that you’re really
proud of, or should be, is em, you work producing a daughter that’s now following in your footsteps.
That’s right. Yes, and we should have a chat with her.
Yes we should. Yes, OK.

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