Intergenerational tales meet identity crisis

Press photo.

It is a universal story: the bonds between a grandmother, a mother and a daughter. On the day of her wedding, Malobee, reads dated letters and learns of her grandmother’s situation back during the 1947 partition of India. As hidden pasts and secrets are uncovered, Malobee begins to unravel family histories. This is a classic tale of the past being smacked against the present: how can one adapt? How can one become Canadian?

Letters to my Grandma is staged by the Teesri Duniya theatre, which means “third world” in Hindustani. Directed by Lib Spry and featuring National Theatre School of Canada graduate, Sehar Bhojani, the theatrical play tackles the concept of generation and identity.

A one woman show, this play is expected to wow people out of their socks for its politically and sociologically fire-hot themes.

“I play four characters,” said Bhojani. “It’s a bit confusing, to be honest,” she added, laughing. “I play Malobee, the daughter, I play the mother, and I play the grandmother as a young and as an older person.”

Bhojani uses certain props to switch from one character to the next. For example, in a scene where Malobee has an altercation with her mother, Bhojani uses a headscarf to identify herself as the mother, who is seriously unimpressed with her daughter’s behaviour.

Bhojani also uses extensive manipulation of voice tones and dialects to differentiate herself and let the audience know which character she is playing.

“I swear, ma, it was just a hockey game. And I walked home alone, no one accompanied me!” exclaims Malobee, who is simply a young Canadian immigrant who wants the same things any young woman aspires to have: a boyfriend, friends, a job, clothes, etc.

“It’s difficult in that I am the only actor in the play, but I get my mind to split in two,” said Bhojani, who began rehearsals on Aug. 26 and has been hard at work six days a week, working from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“I’m a Muslim, so it was really interesting to play a Hindu, to see and play the other side. That was a beautiful learning experience,” said Bhojani.

“The mother and daughter theme is universal, so I think this play can speak to a multitude of people,” said Bhojani, who had to do some research about India and partition in general.

When asked if she is nervous, Bhojani laughed and nodded. “It’s just me for this thing, so of course I am nervous. I am the only actress for the play. I need to stay focused.”

Linda Levesque, the company’s general manager, believes the storyline is dramatic, not sweet. “This is not your quintessential sweet story about a grandmother. There is a lot of resentment. Malobee is constantly reminded of the sacrifices her parents made to move to Canada, and so forth,” said Levesque.

“I think this story will resonate with a lot of people who have had to leave their homelands, who have been uprooted and who came to a new country with new customs,” Levesque added.

This is undoubtedly an important Canadian play for Quebec in a time of burning issues as it highlights major themes of intergenerational living, immigration, racism, displacement and a new Canadian identity.

Letters to my Grandma plays from Sept. 27 to Oct. 13 at the Centre Culturel Calixa-Lavallée.


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