A blend of new and old voices from a diverse South Asian background comes to life in Agaram Productions’ latest—First World Problems. It’s one you shouldn’t miss.
Early Monday morning gym session with your personal trainer. Tick. A protein-rich breakfast. Tick. No traffic on the road. Tick. But hold on. Life seems too easy, so here comes the hiccups: a long queue at Starbucks, free WiFi working at a snail’s pace, and a lukewarm cup of flat white when you reach the counter. Sounds familiar? Of course, it does.
Welcome to first world problems. While this may get a few laughs and Internet memes, dig deeper and you will meet nagging aunties, curfews for a 30-someone living with their parents, and Tinder dating issues for browns. Dig further and you will find unrealistic expectations of South Asian parents, prejudice, and fewer opportunities because your name does not sound too English.
Agaram Productions’ First World Problems (in association with Prayas Theatre) is about all this and more. Ahi Karunaharan (Artistic Director and Curator) and Ankita Singh (Producer) bring together a rowdy and rebellious bunch of performers and give them two minutes each to narrate a first world problem faced by South Asians in Aotearoa.
Anyone who has been following the theatre scene in Auckland would have heard of or watched the plays produced by the teams behind Agaram Productions and Prayas Theatre. They bring magic to the stage. While I haven't been in New Zealand for long enough to watch all their productions—a regret that continues to stay with me unless, of course, the team decides to rerun their more popular shows from the years gone by (The Mourning After and Rudali please)—I can say this with much conviction that if you like theatre, you should not miss out their works.
TEA—showcased as part of the Auckland Theatre Festival—was a tale of two brothers in Sri Lanka trying to make sense of life under colonial rule; Swabhoomi—Borrowed Earth traced the journey of Indians in New Zealand, highlighting issues that hit home for many viewers; and Dara recreated a piece of Mughal history.
And now, in First World Problems, Ahi, along with co-directors Padma Akula, Rina Patel, and Sananda Chatterjee, packs in more than a dozen short plays and monologues, all written, performed, and directed by South Asians and wrapped into one fiery show. A testament to the team’s popularity and their work is visible in the extra matinee show that had to be added before the play even had its opening night.
First World Problems is in some way a rebellious production. The play has its moments where the audience will roar with laughter but look beyond that veil of comedy and you will face a hard-hitting reality—one where discrimination still holds its head high; one where the world is built on stereotypes.
What is often jokingly passed off as a ‘first world problem’—barring the lukewarm coffees and long queues—are real issues faced by real people in a real world. The play highlights that everyday struggle. There is a certain urgency in the way the stories have been scripted and enacted and it is almost electrifying. And that need to tell the story perhaps stems from being neglected and shunned for so long that it was about time it was narrated to a wider audience.
First World Problems is a refreshing play and if I daresay a breakthrough project. It is innovative. The cast and crew have taken a bold step forward to put forth voices that were until now drowned in the noise that otherwise reverberates in our society. The message that runs through the course of the play beautifully ends in the last act.
It would not be fair to choose one story from the smorgasbord of talent seen on-stage; all performers bring their unique flair to their acts. They are an absolute delight to watch, and complementing the fierce and fun brought on-stage by the actors is the stage (designed by Natasha Iyer) itself with colourful and quirky drapes and a splash of hot pink.
Mustaq Missouri, the more experienced in the group, shines in ‘The Audition’, where he re-enacts the auditions for the several roles he missed or wasn’t considered for only because he is a South Asian. Aman Bajaj in ‘Queen B’ and Porvi Fomra in ‘Dial M for Meenakshi’ give stellar performances. A special mention also goes to the captivating monologues of Manali Bhatia in ‘Nikita’s 101 notes to self: Dating sutras for brown girls in Aotearoa’, Raj Singh in ‘Do You Know Me’ and Rupal Solanki in 'On the Migrant Express'.
While I could add in all the names and performances, it would take more pages than the Editor would be willing to part with, so I will leave it to the performers to introduce themselves. The last we checked, there were still a few seats left in that extra matinee show.
First World Problems by Agaram Productions in association with Prayas Theatre
Date: July 17 to 21, 2018 | Venue: Basement Theatre, Auckland CBD
(All shows have been sold out)