Life of Pi is now on Broadway. Photo: Life of Pi

There’s a desi explosion on and off Broadway. On the heels of Epicenter’s partnership with the New York Indian Film Festival, we spoke to festival director and film critic Aseem Chhabra about this moment in South Asian arts and culture and some theater you should want to see this spring. Many remake classic works, and the energy and excitement in our community is reminiscent of my early 20s. Back then (think late ‘90s, early 2000s) New York City’s desis came of age against Basement Bhangra, the accessibility of Bollywood in regular theaters, and a plethora of South Asian authors writing about the immigrant experience; I was among them. Catch our conversation on this week’s podcast where we specifically hone in on this trio of works: 

Life of Pi: Based on the best-selling book by Yann Martel (which happened to be released on Sept. 11, 2001), this Broadway show is stunning, creative and thought-provoking. It relies on puppetry in a very different way from, say, The Lion King, and the result is an art form you dissect in real time. Children might want to watch Ang Lee’s film version first so they can follow the storyline. It’s been nominated for a handful of Tonys: Max Webster for best direction of a play and four design awards. In even better news for the cost-conscious, Life of Pi has consistently been on TDF, the membership program which offers discount tickets. 

Monsoon Wedding: Arrive early for the baraat. If you’re lucky, you can bhangra with director Mira Nair during the traditional arrival processional common at Indian weddings. This take on her 2001 film has extended its run through late June at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, which is a very good sign. It has hosted a number of community nights and is getting tons of buzz among the South Asian literati. Many of us loved this movie for its authentic depiction of the family dysfunction during a big fat Indian wedding, its delving into class dynamics, the far-flung diaspora coming home to a changing and globalizing New Delhi. I saw it as a single woman, went on to marry into a big Punjabi family and will be going to see this soon with my family! It’s truly a full-circle moment.

Mughal-e-Azam: This theatrical version of a 1960 epic film is playing across the country and its New York run is June 2-4 at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. I am taking my elderly parents because the soundtrack was a staple of my childhood; and my mother just told me she saw the film in the theater three times. Mughal-e-Azam is about the forbidden love affair between Mughal Prince Salim and Anarkali, a court dancer. (Side note: In high school, when a Pakistani friend and I played the film on a grainy VHS, she whispered to me: “You know ‘dancer’ is code for prostitute, right?”)  

These performances come on the heels of a handful of other South Asian-themed works. We’ve mentioned Elyriabefore, which explores desi families and their secret pasts in India and Africa before arriving in an Ohio suburb. Public Obscenities is another acclaimed play about a gay doctoral student who returns home to Kolkata. Beyond New York meanwhile, A Nice Indian Boy just concluded its run at the Olney Theatre Center in Maryland, about two men who meet at a Hindu temple in California and want to have, you guessed it, a big fat Indian wedding.

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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