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Interview with Rani Moorthy – Whose Sari Now? – Stratford East Theatre

Rani Moorthy in Whose Sari Now?
Rani Moorthy in Whose Sari Now?

Bold and powerful theatre that takes you beyond the Bollywood wet sari! By turns funny and poignant, 5 characters share their sari tales; from an old Asian woman whose saris are like her second skin, a young mother giving birth in a war zone wrapping her twin babies in her wedding sari, a Malaysian historian connects the sari with mythology, a transgender reflects on his girlfriend’s sari obsession, a low caste weaver and a character who contemplates the sari in her final hours.

Six yards of cloth, wound round tight
Or draped seductively
Or practically, for breastfeeding
Or pulled between thighs to walk like a man
Or wildly thrown together, with Doc Martin boots
A modest proposal or a political act or a defiant one

Interview with Rani Moorthy.
Q: Firstly, please can you give us a brief explanation of what the sari means to you?
Rani: This simple strip of fabric is a complicated garment even for people who absolutely love it.
For me, it represented a moment of being “exposed” as a woman in a Hindu menstruation ritual when I was publically bathed in milk wearing my first sari.

It represented patriarchy, being judged for having dark skin so certain colours didn’t suit me, I wasn’t feminine enough. I wasn’t the epitome of beauty that I saw in Indian films. 
It a garment full of mystery, ritual, and occasion but is also the most everyday and functional.
I rejected it for a long time until I embraced it as a symbol of my power and identity.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Whose Sari Now?
Rani: As a Sri Lankan Tamil who grew up in Malaysia and Singapore and for the last twenty years living in Britain, I consciously search for metaphors that both inform and are informed by my observations from being the outsider.

The sari for me represents the latter especially outside of the subcontinent. In my own lifetime I have seen the once ubiquitous sari go back into the closet. I wanted to understand why. Why is it not an everyday garment, what makes second and third generation South Asian immigrants reject it or like me have to go through a process back to it in our own terms. What do first generation migrants for whom each sari has a story/memory do when they cannot bequeath their saris to their families?

Q: Can you give us a brief synopsis of the production?
Rani: By turns funny and poignant this journey sees me playing five characters across generations and countries. From an elderly woman looking for people to inherit her saris, to a transgender man, to a low caste weaver who creates beautiful saris but can never wear them herself, a Malaysian curator contemplating the everyday racism around her and a young mother who gives birth in the war zone.

Q: What is at the heart of Whose Sari Now?
Rani: It has heart and generosity. Each character is intriguing. The stories go beyond the sensuous exotic nature of the sari. From the apparently ordinary to the heroic, each character is different and distinct. The weaver speaks the entire scene in Tamil, the transgender speaks his mind completely in spoken word poetry. A few props and a quick change, you will be transported to South India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and somewhere closer to you.

Q: Why should theatregoers get along to see the show?
Rani: There is something for everyone.
Imagine someone on your street, someone you think is too different, someone you dismiss or just ignore but when you hear their story, their conflicts, and their humour. You will see that they are not so different from you. You will wonder why you didn’t stop them in the street and take the time to have a little chat. Why were you not curious about them? Here is a play that may change your life.

Writer and Performer Rani Moorthy
Rani has written for BBC 1 Doctors, BBC Radio 4 dramas and several short films, including Incense, funded by the Film Council, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival and televised on ITV. Her play Curry Tales was nominated for a MEN best Fringe production, had two national tours, toured internationally to 4 continents and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and Too Close to Home was nominated as MEN best New Play award. States of Verbal Undress was a finalist in the live event category of Asian Media Awards. Her play Handful of Henna was translated into Italian and she has been commissioned to write a short play for the Milan Expo 2015.This is Rani’s eleventh play for Rasa.

Theatre includes: East is East (Trafalgar Studios), Rafta Rafta (Bolton Octagon, New Vic), Curry Tales (Traverse, Lyric Hammersmith, national and international tours), Too Close to Home (Library Theatre, Lyric Hammersmith),Romeo and Juliet (Birmingham Rep)
Television: Prey (ITV 1), Mrs Bilal in the BBC sitcom Citizen Khan. Prisoners Wives, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Moving On and Cold Feet.
Film: All in Good time and Twenty8K.

Whose Sari Now?
Thu 24th Nov – Sat 17th Dec 2016


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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