The much-loved Rafta, Rafta comes to California
ARTHUR J PAIS
Call it a sitcom with dark edges or simply a
comedy of maladjustments, the play Rafta,
Rafta is infectious. And though the English
language comedy is about a newlywed
Indian couple in a British town finding life
in the groom’s parent’s home no honeymoon, it has universal appeal.
It was a hit in New York about three years
ago, running for over three months. Now,
some of the best-known artists in the South
Asian production scene in New York get an
opportunity to shine in the new version of
writer Ayub Khan-Din’s work, on at the Old
Globe Theater in San Diego, California.
Though Ranjit Chowdhry, who got excellent reviews for his work in the New York
production, had to exit for health reasons,
the new version directed by Jonathan
Silverstein has Mahira Kakkar, Gita
Citygirl Chopra and Gita Reddy in principal roles.
Silverstein, who loved the New York production, admits he felt taking on Rafta,
Rafta required a mental leap into family
dynamics that initially seemed so foreign.
‘It’s Indians living in Britain, very different
from this Jewish boy who lives in New
York,’ Silverstein told the San Diego Union
Tribune, adding: ‘Indians can be just as
loud and judgmental as Jews can be.’
Khan-Din is best known for the film East
Is East and its sequel West Is West, both
featuring Om Puri as the boorish Pakistani
immigrant in England. The sequel, which
has already grossed $5 million in the
United Kingdom, is due soon in America. A
big screen adaptation of Rafta, Rafta is
being cast in London, to be released early
it adds flavor’
At the rehearsal: Gita Reddy, Nasser Faris, Mahira Kakkar, Rachid Sabitri and Geeta Citygirl Chopra
In Rafta, Rafta, Gita Citygirl Chopra, the founder of the Salaam Theatre in New York, plays Lopa Dutt, the bridegroom’s mother.
How did you get into the play?
My relationship with this play goes back a few years. In
2008, I auditioned for the New York production and got to
the final callbacks, but did not book the role of Lata Patel
(the bride’s mother). In November 2010, the casting search
for this West Coast premiere began in various cities around
the country. I was once again submitted for the role of Lata
Patel. At my first audition, the (Old) Globe’s casting director Samantha Barrie and Jonathan Silverstein immediately said they didn’t see me as a correct fit for the role of Lata.
Before I could be too disappointed, they asked me to prepare the audition material for the role of Lopa Dutt. I was
very surprised since I didn’t know if I was old enough to
play Lopa but I also knew it is a juicier part. Instead of second-guessing them, I began to prepare for my next audition. The first step was to remove the self-doubt about me
and the role of Lopa and give them an honest and real portrayal of the character. After that, I had a final callback
audition with the director before the decisions were made
in January. When I got the offer, I couldn’t be happier. The
Old Globe is such a prestigious theater company. To work
at The Old Globe is a privilege and a blessing.
What is special about this play?
To me, this is a story about families, about the immigrant
generation and their ‘Westernized’ kids and the ways in
which the parents have come to this new land without a
handbook on how to live in this new society. The play takes
place in Bolton (northern England in Manchester) — a
working-class neighborhood. It’s a story about a newly
married couple (Vina and Atul) who have chosen to live
with the groom’s parents until they can save up enough
money to get their own place. Since Atul’s parents (Lopa
and Eeshwar) live in a small, modest house, the newlyweds
are not able to consummate their marriage. Instead of finding a solution, the parents begin to start bringing up their
own memories and issues about the early days of their own
marriages. It is also a wonderful exploration of the parents’
generation. Instead of portraying them in a stereotypical
way, we really get to know the parents and their experiences.
Ranjit Chowdhury is not in the production.
It was wonderful to work with Ranjit Chowdhury during
the three weeks of rehearsals. Since he had performed this
leading role in the New York production, he had some great
insights into this complicated play. Unfortunately to the
disappointment to everyone, Ranjit had to permanently
leave the production due to illness last week, just three days
before we were scheduled to open to the public. My new
stage husband is being played by Los Angeles-based Kamal
Marayati, a fantastic and charming actor.
You said recently, ‘The fact that it originally was written
not for an Indian cast — to me that speaks volumes… Ayub
Khan-Din saw that, wow, I can actually turn this into a
brown version with the same story.’
The origin of this play is quite fascinating. In 1965, Irish-born British writer Bill Naughton wrote the play All in
Good Time, centering on British families. A year later, it
was adapted for the screen as The Family Way. My understanding is that Ayub Khan-Din saw this film and thought
it could easily be adapted to involve South Asians. And the
fascinating part is much of the dialogue is the same in both
plays. Even some character names start with the same letter. Example: Ezra and Lucy have become Eeshwar and
Lopa in Rafta, Rafta. The fact that this play was not written with Indian families in mind, speaks to the universality of the story. You could change the families into any eth-nicities. And the fact this story concerns a Punjabi family
and a Gujarati family, just adds a bit of masala and a certain flavor to the mix. To me, the Indian cultural part is just
the landscape in which we are playing this story. I have said
in an interview it could be Greek, it could be Italian, it
could be anything. Because it’s about family; it’s about
communication; it’s about these two generations. To me,
that’s the core of the story. The Indian thing adds dimension, it adds flavor, but in the larger picture the play is not
about Indians as such.
— Arthur J Pais