The mother-and-son team behind A Brimful of Asha bicker and bond over theatre, marriage, and the joys of Indian cooking.
Want to make a hit play? Call your mother.
Toronto actor-playwright Ravi Jain took a big risk when he asked his mother to appear with him in an autobiographical play. Not only was its subject matter awkward—Jain revealed his parents’ sneaky attempts to arrange a marriage for him during a trip home to India—but Asha Jain, 60, had never set foot onstage before. The gamble paid off handsomely: A Brimful of Asha was so popular during its premiere run last winter that it returns to the Tarragon this Sunday for a three-week encore. Its success is due in large part to Asha, whose witty, unaffected performance charmed audiences and critics alike. Not bad for someone with zero theatrical experience. “I never even took part in my school plays in New Delhi,” Asha admits over tea and homemade pakoras in her Etobicoke kitchen. “I was very shy in front of people. But I didn’t think about it when Ravi asked me to do it. I just said, ‘Yes, of course.’” After all, it meant she’d be able to tell her side of the story.
They still don’t see eye to eye on arranged marriages.
A Brimful of Asha depicts mother and son at loggerheads over Hindu marital traditions, and hashing out their differences onstage nightly clearly hasn’t changed their viewpoints. Ravi thinks allowing parents to pick their children’s life partners is lunacy. “You need to take the time to know someone. This way, it’s like, here’s somebody-I-don’t-know’s daughter. Go meet her for an hour and then marry her.” But Asha says marriage is a partnership; affection for your spouse will come later. “I was just telling Ravi today, love grows with the fight and argument.” Ravi rolls his eyes. “There are times when she really makes me angry over that way of thinking,” he says. “But I love having that debate. It’s good to wrestle with that and try to understand the other perspective.” His mother attributes his resistance to the generation gap. “Maybe he thinks I’m right,” she chuckles, “but he doesn’t want to admit it.”
Asha is warming to this theatre thing.
Even though Ravi is a Dora Award–winning theatre artist who runs his own company (Why Not Theatre) and tours internationally, Asha has always been reluctant to accept her 32-year-old son’s profession. “In our community, nobody gives any recognition to acting and theatre,” she says. “Everybody’s a doctor or lawyer or engineer making $200,000 a year. Then I come around and say, ‘Oh, my son is in theatre, very low-paid work.’” But doing A Brimful of Asha has let her see that theatre pays in other ways. “I admit I start to like it,” she says. “There is so much connection to people. And every night they complimented us so much. They would always say, ‘We know more about your culture now.’” Ravi’s father, Ramesh, loves the play, too—although he did try to meddle with it early on. “He saw it three times and started giving my mother [acting] notes!” Ravi says. “He always likes to be in control,” Asha adds. Ravi got him involved in the show in other ways: “He brings the samosas every night.”
They’ve taken some artistic licence with their samosas.
A Brimful of Asha is staged as if it were taking place in the Jains’ kitchen. Audience members are greeted like guests when they enter the theatre, and Asha and Ravi serve them warm, fresh samosas. Ravi originally envisioned the play as a celebration of his mother’s cooking—last season’s run included special performances at Dish Cooking Studio in the Annex, with Asha whipping up homemade Indian delicacies. Dish was unavailable for the return engagement, but those samosas will still be handed out. One caveat: They aren’t Asha’s. It seems there are limits to what a mother will do for her son, even for the sake of theatre. “Ravi wanted me to make them, but it was too much,” she laughs. “To make that many samosas every day and then do the show at night? I would be dead.”
A Brimful of Asha runs Nov. 25-Dec. 16 at the Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. 416-531-1827, tarragontheatre.com.