Don’t let her age fool you; this 23-year-old Auckland-based producer, writer, and actor already has a couple of sell-out productions to her credit, and she’s about to make some more noise in the Auckland theatre scene with her latest project, First World Problems 2.0 about to hit Basement Theatre.
It all started with a year-long internship at Indian Ink Theatre Company for Ankita Singh, one of the founders of Oriental Maidens, a production company supporting young Pan-Asian artists to create works that are disruptive, contemporary, and pushing the boundaries of what is expected of Asian creatives.
Since then, she has produced for Agaram Productions and Prayas Theatre and has also worked on the short film 800 Lunches (written/directed by Bala Murali Shingade) along with being the assistant producer for Chromacon 2019 and the popular Short + Sweet Festival that recently concluded its most recent and final season.
Indian Weekender sat down with Ankita to find out a bit more about her life in New Zealand and her upcoming work, First World Problems 2.0.
On being a desi in New Zealand
I moved to New Zealand when I was six years old and grew up in good ol’ Hamilton. Growing up as a desi was initially difficult. I was bullied pretty relentlessly through my school years for being different and there was the usual cultural shock and many learning curves adjusting to New Zealand life and customs.
It was difficult to understand who I was and negotiate my identity and cultural expectations growing up between Western and Indian culture. It was during high school that I started to develop a sense of self and the confidence to stand up for myself and who I am. Today, I feel empowered by my identity and unique experiences I had growing up between two cultures. Sure, it comes with its baggage and difficulties, and there is still racism that we all face, but I still wouldn’t change my experiences or my desi identity.
Iconic shows in NZ that have been milestones for the diaspora
I think shows that have been pretty significant milestones for us recently are Dara (Prayas Theatre) and A Fine Balance (Prayas, ATC), which, I believe, had the largest South Asian cast on a mainstage in Aotearoa. I was fortunate to be a part of the ensemble, and it was truly a unique experience. We had a full house nearly every night, which is just a testament to the need and want for diverse stories on our stages.
There are many more that have come before and we are indeed standing on the shoulders of giants—Krishnan’s Dairy, The Mourning After, Thali, Swahboomi, and Tea just to name a few.
Advice for anyone looking at stepping into the industry in NZ
My best advice would be to just jump in. Find a group or community you feel you can vibe with and get involved. Be part of shows, go see shows, write, act, direct, producer, volunteer. Find your local community theatre group on Facebook and flick them a message, come join Prayas, take some acting classes. You can get involved with or without a degree in the arts. There are so many of us who have moved from corporate jobs or still have day jobs and work in the arts in our evenings and weekends. The most important thing to do is get to know people and make friends. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, then you’ll be okay.
People you look up to in the industry
It’s hard to pick just a few to talk about, but if I had to pick three it would be Sums Selvarajan, Ahi Karunaharan, and Jacob Rajan.
Jacob is one half of the duo who started Indian Ink Theatre Company. The first show I saw of theirs was Kiss the Fish. It was the first time I saw desis on stage—a pivotal moment that made me realise there were other people like me out there.
I’ve since worked closely with Ahi and Sums, who have really inspired me. Ahi because he works closely with the Indian community and Prayas, working at the grassroots level; he really is one of the most selfless people I've ever met.
Sums has been a huge inspiration for me, being one of the only South Asian female producers in Auckland. Her work ethic and values have been inspiring and I’ve been fortunate to be mentored by her.
Reasons to watch First World Problems 2.0
First World Problems 2.0 presents 16 short works (plus a few additional surprises) ranging from spoken word to comedy, rap to physical theatre, monologues to bite-sized mini plays all tied together by our signature Prayas ensemble featuring dance and movement. If you’re a South Asian living in New Zealand, you’ll love this show.