Fresh off the first Hawai‘i Sketch Comedy Festival, the museum keeps the funny coming April 9 and 10 with D’Arranged Marriage, which has had audiences rolling in theaters from New York to Singapore. The production makes its way here thanks to Misa Tupou, co-founder of the O‘ahu Fringe Festival and our own Aotearoa New Zealand Film Festival (and a talented actor to boot). Written by Rajeev Varma and Tarun Mohanbhai (aka Those Indian Guys), this one-man show introduces audiences to Sanjay Gupta (no relation to CNN’s chief medical correspondent), a New Zealand–born son of immigrant Indian parents, whose ambitions aren’t quite aligned with the hopes his parents have for him.
With one foot in reality and the other in imagination, the show partially mirrors the lives of its creators who—like Sanjay—are New Zealand–born sons of Indian parents. Varma plays all eight characters in this Doris Duke Theatre performance. He answered questions via email regarding the show’s universal appeal.
D’Arranged Marriage speaks to a very specific cultural experience, yet it has sold out venues across Europe, Asia, and the United States. How do you make the story of a New Zealand–born son of Indian immigrants relatable to so many people?
A theme in the show is intergenerational conflict. This translates across many cultures. We all have felt at some point that our parents are “old fashioned.” D’Arranged Marriage satires that and subverts those conflicts for comedic effect.
Also, many of us have felt at times as if we are the only sane person in the world and everyone else is crazy. That’s how Sanjay (the main character in the show) feels most of the time. He’s the sane one in a world of hardcore nutters. I think people can relate to him and how he feels about his situation. We’ve been delighted that the show has had such a broad appeal. Until you tour a work you never know what an audience will think and how they will respond.
Have you found that elements of the show resonate differently with different cultures?
Yes. Absolutely. New Zealand and Australasian audiences are generally more forgiving with racial jokes that are on the nose. However in America we had to pull back the pointed racial humor and also some homophobic attitudes that Pushpa (Sanjay’s mother) had were rewritten as they didn’t work as well in New York. This was surprising as we always assumed that New York audiences would not have a problem with the content. But the punch lines didn’t get any laughter. Time and time again. So we rewrote those gags. You never know what will or won’t work in different countries. The audience is the king. They are the bottom line in comedy. If they don’t laugh then it may have to be back to the drawing board.
Does every character in your show have a real world counterpart?
Some do but some are totally born from our imagination. People often think that the show is my story, but it actually mirrors Tarun’s life way more. It’s more his story. We also met this dude on tour in Australia who was such a sleaze that we based a character on him.
According to your website, D’Arranged Marriage has been performed over 200 times in seven countries since it premiered in 2002. Has anything changed? How has your life experience in 13 years influenced the evolution of the show, or maybe your own perception of the characters in it?
We have constantly rewritten sequences of the show. We originally had a Maori character in the show called Josh (I think) who then was rewritten into a character called Sudafed, who is Indian. Then we realized that Sudafed and another character Rundeep were basically the same character so we combined them into one character!
The slides projected during the performance have been reshot numerous times and gags constantly get rewritten.
There have been over 20 drafts of the show. Possibly more. The show was originally 45 minutes long and then it bloated to almost 80 minutes. Now it sits at around 65 minutes. But yes, it’s a living work. It keeps changing and will continue to do so.
I’m really excited to bring the show to Hawai‘i. Misa and I have been working on the project for over five years! Sometimes things take time…Never give up and never give in.
I recently had the pleasure of working with Tom Stoppard on Broadway and he was rewriting Indian Ink which he wrote decades ago. He said to me that a play is a living, organic thing. Not words on paper. Wise words and very true…
D’Arranged Marriage plays Thursday April 9, and Friday April 10. A post-show discussion will follow the April 10 performance. Purchase tickets online.