Playwright Ankita Singh (Basmati Bitch) talks about the importance of including a variety of class, caste, religion, and sexuality, in her Asian characters.
Like a dramatic Indian soap, my playwriting debut Basmati Bitch has it all: song, dance, sword fights, gangsters, erotica, and epic love confessions between two dudes! If you think this sounds a little camp, you’d be absolutely right – and that’s exactly how my dear friend and mentor, Ahi Karunaharan (My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak) has directed the play.
Set in a dystopian Aotearoa at the cusp of being totally flooded by endless rain, rice is illegal and the various oddball characters in the play find themselves thrown into a life-and-death crisis after they become embroiled with a sadistic Rice Baron.
My main goal in writing Basmati Bitch was to give Asian actors roles that they may never get to play otherwise, in a genre we don’t usually get to be a part of in the West. As a South Asian writer in particular, I feel compelled to make sure my stories have an intersection of class, caste, religion, and sexuality among the characters – not just as a tick-box exercise but because this is a true reflection of our world.
South Asian literature, mythology, and history is full of queer characters – our ancestors in South Asia acknowledged a third gender and were completely at ease with this fluidity of gender and sexuality – so why shouldn’t our contemporary stories reflect our reality, too?
This, combined with the fact I just have a weirdly specific kink for seeing romance in a crime setting, is why a key plot in Basmati is the love story between Taj, a poet, and romantic, yearning to find the love of his life, and Wittkun, a mercenary/assassin who loves to do laundry. They long to be together but alas, Wittkun is the goon of Rice Baron, Tobias “The King” who is extorting Taj and his only friend, Jin. Will they ever get to be together? Or will Toby hack them all to pieces? See, the crime setting really ups the stakes of a romance!
I could bang on about representation but I am not here to preach to the choir. I’ll just say that with the rise of nationalism, conservative dogma, and new research indicating queer Asian and ethnic minority youth in Aotearoa have some of the worst mental health outcomes (look out for Thriving At Crossroads study on this being published soon), I hope this little love story brings some light into people’s lives. And hey, If you’re into the genre, action-comedy, seeing horny South Asian women write erotica and beat the crap out of people, or a soft romantic love story between two gay Asian men – grab some mates and come along! Gaysians in particular, I think you’ll like this one.
And while I am banging on about Gaysians – check out Ships In The Night – it’s Aotearoa’s first BL series (available on TikTok) and book tickets to Losing Face by Nathan Joe – it’s a play about Daddy issues so you know it’s going to be good and potentially confronting for most of us.
Basmati Bitch! opens at Q Theatre, 11 – 29 July. Visit Sessions – Basmati Bitch – Q (patronbase.com) for tickets.