Ambient lights and tranquil music set the scene as we entered the theatre to watch Maa Ki Rasoi, part of Shopfront’s Artslab Emerging Artists Festival. Onstage, the play’s lead and sole actor Madhullikaa Singh fussed around a simple yet highly detailed kitchen set. With its quick and witty dialogue, Maa Ki Rasoi – which, when translated from Hindi to English, means ‘My Mother’s Kitchen’ – establishes its subject matter very quickly: the story of a young Australian-Indian woman searching for a way to connect with her immigrant mother.
Writer and Director Pratha Nagpal weaves images of goddesses and magic for the audience, marvelling at the power women of colour wield in the kitchen. Works centred around immigrant culture often find themselves focusing on ideas and images of food: cut up fruit, exotic spices, family dinners. Food and meals often symbolise love and connection, and Maa Ki Rasoi is no exception
However, what it does differently and brilliantly is explore the intrinsic complexities of the relationship that children of immigrants have with their food, and therefore their culture (especially daughters). The kitchen becomes far more than a simple metaphor, but a battleground for Nagpal’s internal conflict. How does one begin to connect with someone, even a family member, who has lived such a different life than us? Western notions of feminism and liberal ideologies are difficult to assign in such situations, so in what other ways can women of colour be empowered?
Maa Ki Rasoi is less a script and more of a conversation; a thought process that allows us to see past the theatrical setting and focus on what Nagpal herself attempts to convey. While this does mean that, at times, it jumps wildly and precariously from one point to another, it does not completely detract from the show’s key moments.
Particular highlights include a section incorporating a beautiful traditional dance sequence, and a heartbreaking monologue highlighting the connection between Nagpal, her mother, and her grandmother. Singh’s performance is to be especially commended for her ability to navigate both herself and the audience through the show’s series of rotating emotions and moods.
Despite the moments of humour and sweet sentimentality, Maa Ki Rasoi carries with it a profound sense of tragedy. The intergenerational divide experienced by immigrants and their children is not something easily solved or discussed, demonstrated by the way the script never seems to settle on a single universal resolution. Rather, there are moments of acceptance and learning, such as the revelation that, while Singh’s character and her mother may never truly come to understand each other, compromise and peace is still very possible.
Maa Ki Rasoi is a refreshing take on coming-of-age maternal drama that highlights the beauty of Indian culture and the complex nature of the intergenerational experience. It exemplifies the importance, demand, and need for diverse stories that are not often told in the Australian theatre scene.