Remembering and celebrating the Singaporean Tamil woman.
What does it mean to be a Tamil woman in Singapore, if you do not know your own history? Directed by Grace Kalaiselvi, and co-written by Grace, Rajkumar Thiagaras and Vithya Subamaniam, Rasanai: An Invitation to Appreciate is a call to discover the cultures and traditions of Tamil women, lest they be forgotten to the sands of time.
Directed by Grace Kalaiselvi, and written by Grace, Rajkumar Thiagaras and Vithya Subramaniam, Rasanai frames the audience as an aged, silent grandmother in the hospice, on a Zoom call with her granddaughter Anjali (Vithya Subramaniam), attempting to gather facts and trivia from her to aid in her memory project.
On her journey, Anjali is joined by her cousin Mani (Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai) and aunt Jaya (Mumtaz Maricar), both of whom also help to contribute their own memories and at times, question Anjali’s growing obsession with the project. Going beyond just a regular Zoom call, Rasanai makes full use of the share screen function to present a series of clips, ranging from online exhibitions to rap music videos, each one shedding light on a different element of what makes the Singaporean Tamil woman.
Even as a non-Tamil person, Rasanai is a fascinating experiment as it attempts to capture as many facets of Tamil-ness as possible. It makes sense that so much of it is rooted in the processes and rituals associated with cooking, where the very first clip we see is a multi-sensory video where we see hands pounding away at a mortar and pestle, or the sight of spices being separated via a rattan sieve, the sound of every movement clear and evocative thanks to Ramesh Krishnan’s sound design. Later on, we see a little girl with a smorgasbord of spices and ingredients in front of her, from turmeric to ghee to even mango. But as she soon learns, these are not for cooking, but traditional beauty rituals for sleek hair and even removing blackheads, as her grandmother instructs her.
Elsewhere, we get oral histories, as we watch a video interview with ‘The Curd Lady’ (played by Grace Kalaiselvi), a character based off a real person, recalling the cows she used to own when Potong Pasir was still a rural area, and how customers would rave about the curd she would hawk at Tekka Market. We even get a video of a conversation between two Tamil factory workers (Sangeetha and Mumtaz), while Anjali reminds Mani of the Tamil tradition of coaxing children to eat their rice balls by imagining it as a moon.
While Rasanai initially does feel like a lecture-performance, it later on earns its status as a theatrical piece by leaning into Anjali’s backstory, and the clash she faces with her cousin and aunt. While Vithya does face some difficulty in bringing out the character’s emotions, Anjali’s desperation and anxiety is clear as the project begins to cloud her judgment, to the extent she selfishly insists on being the one to meet her grandmother over the others (due to COVID-19 restrictions), all for the sake of recording history, and for fear that it dies with her grandmother.
But as Anjali learns, history doesn’t always have to exist in a physical record, but can live on in our daily life. While she may not have cherished her mother while she was alive, she forgets all too easily that legacies live on in muscle memory, from the way we braid our hair to the way we don a sari. Anjali is comforted, her anxiety loosened as she realises the burden of recording history does not fall to her alone, but the entire Tamil community. Cutting to a scene where all three women dressed in saris, preparing to welcome guests into their house, Rasanai cements its position as an ‘invitation to appreciate’, a reminder of the Tamil culture that exists all around us, if only we’d open our eyes to see, and realise how much of it is in the everyday acts of feeding, healing, gathering and being.
Rasanai: An Invitation to Appreciate ran on 24th July 2021 online. Check out the Thamizhachi online exhibition here
The 2021 Festival of Women, N.O.W. (not ordinary work) runs online from 13th to 31st July 2021. More information and full lineup available here
T:>Care is open for donations from 1st June till 13th August here