Ravi Jain stages a fight with his mom

Actual family dispute becomes material for story about intergenerational culture clash

Toronto-based actor director and producer Ravi Jain recalls the conversation he had with his mother Asha that led to the creation of A Brimful of Asha one of this year’s entries in the High Performance Rodeo.

“I’m going to make a show about what a bad mother you are” Jain remembers telling her.

Without skipping a beat she replied “What if I got onstage and told what a bad son you are?”

And A Brimful of Asha was born. The play explores a relevant issue for many new Canadians particularly those born to immigrant parents: intergenerational culture clash.

Jain’s Indian parents wanting to speed up their son’s walk down the aisle tried to arrange a marriage to “a nice Indian girl.” The younger Jain wanted none of it. “They just wanted me to get married to anyone not to a specific person. That’s what made me angry” he says.

Bitter family disputes followed which he adds were “really really bad in the context of our family.”

In A Brimful of Asha — one of three Rodeo productions involving Jain — audience members will be privy to how those disputes went down and how Jain and his mother eventually resolved them.

What makes this show so charming — and why according to Jain it has been so well received — is that there’s no professional thespian standing in for Jain’s mother. Asha takes to the stage herself to tell her side of the story.

“I’m really thrilled my mother’s voice is authentically represented onstage. Someone who has come from another country and is telling their story that’s underrepresented in Canadian theatre” says Jain who is “honoured” to share the stage with Asha.

“Everyone wants to hear my mom. She steals the show. My mom is the person audiences are interested in.”

Jain says A Brimful of Asha is an example of how Canadian theatre needs to broaden its own definition.

“Canadian theatre needs to think about who can be a professional. What kinds of stories are we interested in? Who can do them?”

A Brimful of Asha also dispels the myth that an arranged marriage is a forced marriage. “It’s more like parents introduce their child to a friend. You have the choice to say ‘no’ but the timeline is really short. And they usually have four or five potential partners lined up” he says adding that factors such as religion and family background are of most importance in the “complicated algorithm” of arranged marriages.

Lest A Brimful of Asha sound too culturally specific Jain hastens to add that the show “transcends Indian culture.”

“At the core of it is the child-parent relationship and the desire for parents to control their kids” he says.

Jain who is currently touring the show in Canada has had some interesting feedback.

“One person told me ‘When I was your age I agreed with you. Now that I’m your mother’s age I agree with her.’ Another a 10-year-old asked me ‘When you have kids what are you going to do then?’” he says laughing.

Jain also has a hand in two other productions at the High Performance Rodeo this month.

He is a consulting director for Boom a solo show in which Rick Miller guides the audience through 25 years of history that “capture the defining moments of the baby-boom generation.” Jain met Miller through Canadian director Daniel Brooks who serves as Jain’s mentor.

“Rick Miller and I hit it off…. His passion for wanting to create an educational theatrical experience is very inspiring” says Jain adding that Boom is still a “work-in-progress.”

He is also involved in How iRan: Three Plays for iPod described as an “interactive site–responsive nonlinear installation-story using iPods and based on interviews with new Canadians.” Taking place in the Central Library audiences meet folks including a Quaker librarian who protested the Vietnam War a Persian security guard with an engineering degree and Hossein who tried to challenge a brutal regime via Internet journalism.

Not that Jain will have much time to take in his own shows — he heads straight to Vancouver after his Rodeo run of A Brimful of Asha to perform the show there.

Oh and as for Jain’s marital status? At the age of 32 he found his own bride and “thrilled” his parents.