A Brimful of Asha

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain Credit: Erin Brubacher
Ravi Jain and Asha Jain
Credit: Erin Brubacher


At the Arts Club Revue Stage until February 8

Posted January 23, 2014

“Asha, Asha, we all fall down” – laughing, that is. Like a plump, benevolent Buddha (although Jain is her religion), Asha Jain sits with her hands in the lap of her bright pink sari and beams across the table at her son Ravi. Together they have created A Brimful of Asha, a real-life mother/son account of Asha’s efforts to get Ravi married to “a nice Indian girl”.

But here’s the thing: Ravi was born in Canada, educated in Canada and lives as a writer/actor/producer/artistic director of Why Not Theatre in Toronto. While he doesn’t have anything against nice Indian girls, he wants to choose his own life partner in his own time.

Asha, on the other hand, wants Ravi to be happy and in her mind, that means marriage and children. In the Indian culture into which Asha was born, an unmarried son reflects badly not only on him – is there something wrong with him? – but also on his mother. To mothers falls the responsibility for getting their children “settled”. Marriage isn’t about two people falling in love, according to Asha, but two compatible families coming together for their mutual benefit. And besides, she says, “I can’t die until you’re married.”

We are here, Ravi tells us, to help him “sort out the dispute with Asha.” Delicious hot samosas are served to all of us and then Ravi and Asha – who describes herself as “a dedicated housewife and abused mother” – go at it.

Family photo of Ravi as a toddler with his mother Asha
Family photo of Ravi as a toddler with his mother Asha

Why does A Brimful of Asha work so well? Not only is Asha not an actor, she thinks it’s a foolish vocation. What does Ravi do all day? “Actor is no profession”, she says. Why couldn’t he be a doctor or a lawyer or go into his father’s business? But Asha’s so upfront, matter-of fact, so smilingly immovable, so un-actorly, so childlike in her obstinacy yet so wise in her own way, you fall for her. She’s not a pushover and she’ll charm the sox off you.

Ravi is handsome, smart, articulate, funny and the affection he feels for his mother is written all over him. The show is scripted but Ravi admits Asha throws at least one surprise into every performance. It’s like having a child or an animal on stage: there’s no predicting where Asha will go. Or, for that matter, where the audience will take you.

If mother and son sitting at a table arguing doesn’t sound like fun to you, you’d be wrong. It’s lively, funny, poignant and clearly lays out the cultural conflict. Asha has now lived in Canada for over thirty years but the ties are still strong. You’ll feel the pull of her argument while completely understanding Ravi’s resistance.

It all happens on a simple set: a dining room table, two chairs, a carpet and a large family photograph that becomes a screen for projections of other family photos including Asha as a beautiful young bride in an arranged marriage; Ravi as an infant in his mother’s arms; and Ravi as an adorable toddler.

Even as these two go at it tooth and claw, you don’t doubt for a moment that there’s love here. A Brimful of Asha is every bit as warm and comforting as the pre-show samosas they offer. Yes, there’s a bit of hot spice in the samosas and in the show – enough to make the evening more than simply charming.

Presented by the Arts Club and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (celebrating its 10th anniversary) and produced by Why Not Theatre, this laughter-filled cross-cultural, cross generational show is selling out – deservedly so.

Asha Jain and Ravi Jain Credit: Cylla von Tiedmann
Asha Jain and Ravi Jain
Credit: Cylla von Tiedmann