In 1999 with my company Tamasha we made a work called Balti Kings . The work was about the Punjabi Muslim migration to Birmingham in the UK where the community made their success in the food industry . The Ladypoole Road in Birmingham was a never ending succession of restaurants where you could taste the delights of Punjabi cuisine. Sudha Bhuchar and Shaheen Khan did extensive research and wrote a hilarious and poignant script about this migration.
Twenty years later, the writers adapted the work to 2019 Australia looking at the same community who made their success in the food industry in a place called Harris Park, Parramatta with restaurants both of Indian and Pakistani influence. Again extensive research was carried out and the migration to Australia of the Punjabi Muslim community was authentically presented in the play Curry Kings of Parramatta. A line by line adaptation of the original script was produced and local references and contexts fully embedded in the new work for Australia.
I worked in collaboration with Nautanki Theatre to bring this new and important story to a Sydney stage - a first for Sydney audiences and an opportunity for actors of South Asian origin who in Australia still struggle to find consistent opportunity in the arts.
Review: Madan Luthra
In Nautanki Theatre Company's Curry Kings of Parramatta, we are given the chance to look into a singular heart that all South Asians will recognise - the kitchen of a South Asian restaurant - and examine the thoughts, hopes, and failures of those that collectively keep it beating.
What makes this show stand out to me - not just as a critic, but as an Indian - is the extensive role South Asians have played in its development process and the generation of a story where South Asian actors haven't been relegated to supporting or stereotypical roles. Under Landon-Smith's expertise, it's invigorating to see so many Sydney-based South Asians work creatively with one another. As a result, the story and characters this team has devised have an inherent authenticity to each aspect of their personality that it is easy for an ethnic audience to engage with them. Among others, we have the self-labeled 'hero' in Nadeem (Artharv Kolhatkar), the child burdened by his father's expectations in Shahab (Firdaws Adelpour) (with his father Yaseen played by Dinsha Palkhiwala), the timid refugee in Mariam (Yolanda Torres) and even the acquiescing, under-appreciated samosa extraordinaire in Khalida (Abida Malik). There is an identity that fits every audience member, allowing each individual performance to have its shining moments. Special credit must be given to Kolhatkar and Malik in this regard, with their comedic performances often drawing big laughs from the audience due to their great timing and chemistry with the other actors. Gregory Dias as Shakeel and Aviral Mohan as Billa also deserve credit for their performance of more serious roles, providing solid renditions of characters whose humility separates them from the other cast and thus puts harder challenges on them as actors.
Writers: Sudha Bhuchar & Shaheen Khan
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith
Concept and Production: Neel Banerjee
Designer: Rajeev Maini
Stylist: Madhu Das
Lighting: Mitchell Kroll
Music: Felix Cross