Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Rajesh and Naresh
A feel-good love story. When Rajesh visits Mumbai, he encounters Naresh – not exactly the Indian wife his mother hoped for. Bend it like Beckham meets It's a Sin in the queer romcom you've been waiting for – set just after India's landmark decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018. Funny and charmingly performed, Rajesh and Naresh was written from workshops conducted with members of the queer South Asian community in London and abroad.
Hi Sophie, thanks for talking to The New Current, how have you been keeping?
Great! I really feel in the swing of life again after the pandemic. Exciting opportunities ahead.
What does it mean to you to be able to bring Rajesh and Naresh back to Summerhall this summer?
Absolutely amazing. It was always our dream to perform at Summerhall – we know the quality of work they produce and have always felt our values align. So getting to do it in person this year is just incredible.
Since Rajesh and Naresh was first staged at Theatre Delihe response to this unique play has been incredible gaining multiple four star reviews, did you imagine you would get this type of reaction to this play?
Yes and no. We first performed it as a 15 minute play, written and rehearsed in 24 hours! Having just scraped it together it had a beautiful impact on our audience – they were laughing, crying, the Works. So I knew we had something special. But I didn’t know it would get this far.
What makes the Fringe so special to you?
I once heard it described as a ‘rite of passage’ for theatre folks, and I think that’s so true. The hours of applying, fundraising, rehearsing, tweeting, flyering, performing, really teach you what it takes to put on a show. It’s exhausting and brilliant.
Can you tell me a little bit about Rajesh and Naresh, what was it about James Ireland’s text that connected with you as a producer/director?
It was actually originally created by Arjun Singh. He wanted to represent a love story which is still taboo for many communities, and to use humour and empathy to speak to families who might be struggling with accepting queerness. The example he cited was Bend it Like Beckham, a film that manages to tackle issues of race, gender, family all in a light comedy. I loved that vision of what art can achieve when it makes people feel seen and heard.
Had you known much about India's landmark decriminalisation of homosexuality before you started working on this project, and how important was it to incorporate members of the Queer South Asian community in the writing process?
Our devising phase, which involved speaking to multiple members of the Queer South Asian community and a lot of desktop research, was absolutely crucial to making the play a success. I wasn’t personally aware of India’s very recent decriminalisation of homosexuality, nor the non-linear path it took to get here. I also wasn’t aware of the racism faced by a lot of South Asians within the queer community here in the UK. To tell a truthful story, we needed to understand this in as much depth as we could, and continually ask for feedback from our research participants, and our audiences.
Has the show changed much since its 2019 debut?
We’ve made a lot of improvements to it as we’ve matured as a team, but the core story remains the same.
"It felt like a chance to express yourself and experiment in a way that you can’t in normal life."
What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from this experience and what does Rajesh and Nareshsay about you and the type of theatre you want to create?
Diversity in the arts isn’t just something we should be working for, it creates great work! I want to keep making space for stories we’ve never seen and heard before.
As a director do you think you will allow yourself and your cast much flexibility with the text once your show is running or will you stick to what’s been written?
Since this is a devised work, I’m totally flexible. It should be a living, breathing show and evolve as we do. So long as we’re maintaining the integrity of the script – which James has written so beautifully – I don’t have an issue changing things.
Where did your passion for theatre come from?
I’m not sure, I’ve really just always loved performing and later came to love directing. It felt like a chance to express yourself and experiment in a way that you can’t in normal life. Even today I love the conversations you have in rehearsals.I think you can get to something deeper about the human experience, and build intense empathy with people.
Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone wanting to get into theatre directing and producing?
Confidence is key to directing, which is quite hard at the beginning when you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. With ŠITE Productions, we write, rehearse and perform short plays in 24 hours, which is brilliant because you don’t have time to think about your decisions. You just make choices, and see what works or doesn’t at the end. I think these kind of exercises are fun and help build your skills and confidence, so my advice would be to look out for opportunities like that when you’re starting off.
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Rajesh and Naresh?
I want audiences to feel like I did when I first watched Bend it Like Beckham – empowered, open, and uplifted. Ready to change the world!