If you grew up with an Asian father, you might remember him as someone gruff, cold, and not at all that good at communicating his feelings. And therein lies the complicated relationship between Asian fathers and their kids, something stand-up comedian Sharul Channa has taken inspiration from in her brand new work Papa as it premieres this Father’s Day.
On the inspiration behind the work, Sharul explains: “I think theatre companies rarely capitalize on Father’s Day as a time to really think about fatherhood as a theme. Fathers are so often presented as one-dimensional characters, and we never really learn what makes them happy, what are their aspirations or dreams. There’s this weird detachment they have from their kids all the time, because their role in conception has always just been to contribute the sperm. Now, I’m a feminist, and all about women’s rights, but to be honest, very little has been said about men.”
She continues: “Men need just as much support as women do, and we’re allowed to talk about the role they play amidst all of this. A father’s role can be confusing – they don’t give brith to the child, and then they’re usually shunted to simply being the providers of money or discipline. It’s complicated, because we always celebrate motherly love, yet fathers primarily take on the burden and responsibility for the household as a main breadwinner. For me, this is a way for people to take a look at male roles in society and a reflection of people’s relationships with their fathers.”
“When I do standup,” she adds, “it’s just me onstage. But that’s not my only talent, and I want to flex my other artistic muscles. Being onstage all the time can be exhausting, and sometimes, you need to take a break from that and reflect, so you can present something fresh the next time. I’m still exploring my options as an artist, and I think all artists should be open to different things to discover what you enjoy the most. Honestly, standup is a very selfish profession, because it’s all about me, and I wanted to do my part and help grow the scene, especially when it comes down to Hindi theatre. And as for why I’m not acting this time, I feel like if you’re inside the show, you can never see it from the big picture, so I needed to step out of it if I wanted to direct and captain this shop.”
Having recently delved into drama-based theatre, from Disco Sheela and Other Indian Superwomen to Crazy Poor Sita, Papa will comprise a series of sketches, monologues and movement pieces performed in Hindi and English about fathers and their offspring, starring a nine-member strong ensemble cast that features husband and fellow stand-up comedian Rishi Budhrani, Amit Joshi and Veena Bangera, along with Rachita Arke, Vineet Kumar, Neeraj Sujnani, Shalaka Ranadive, Vishal Khatri and Raghu Narayanan.
Says Sharul: “The scenes are all based on true stories from the actors, and there’s a range of pieces, from poetry to movement, monologue to even singing. Some of the subjects we deal with include men and hair loss, how dads behave when they get angry while drunk, or even this dad having a quickie with a transgender person and how it all went wrong, or papa as a specimen and the typical clothes or perfumes a father wears. There’s one I like in particular where a father is in the car with his daughter who is driving, and as he nags at her, it’s this metaphor for how he’s still trying to be a backseat driver for her life as well. So much is about the expectations parents place on children and vice versa, how they take on or defect responsibility, and the trials and joys of fatherhood.”
Looking at the promotional photo for Papa, Sharul reveals that the man featured there is her actual father, someone she shares a close relationship with. Says Sharul: “Dads make mistakes all the time, but people rarely follow up after blaming them. We don’t really ask what kinds of pressures they’re going through, and they’re not even allowed to cry or express themselves. Any feminine energy in men is seen as taboo, so really, is it any wonder that they’re under so much pressure and that men are more at risk of heart attacks than women?”
She concludes: “You know, some of the cast’s own parents are even flying down from India to come watch this show, because it’s a play that will resonate with them. It’s a play anyone can relate to because everyone has a father, and these are such universally relatable stories. At the end of the day, I really just want audiences to walk away wanting to rebuild and think about the relationships with their fathers, maybe drop them a call to talk to them and ask if they’re ok this Father’s Day.”
Papa plays from 14th to 16th June at Drama Centre Black Box. Tickets available from Peatix