Tag Archives: Drama

A Play on Nehru’s Letters to His Daughter From Prison

In 1928, Jawaharlal Nehru was put in an Allahabad jail during India’s freedom struggle. That summer he started writing letters to his 10-year old daughter, Indira, who was in Mussoorie at the time. In the first series of letters, Book of Nature, he told her the story of how and when the earth was made, how human and animal life began, and how civilizations and societies evolved all over the world. In subsequent letters, he speaks to his daughter on a wide range of topics, including languages, trade, history, geography, science, epics, and evolution.

When Indira was about to turn 13, Nehru started sending her more detailed letters. These letters contained his understanding of the world, his deep commitment to building not only the country’s future, but also his daughter’s as he carefully and sometimes lyrically opens up the world to her from afar, and sets the groundwork for her own ambitious emergence on the world stage years later.

Bringing this rich content to life is Bay Area-based, EnActe Arts with a virtual adaptation of Lavonne Mueller’s Letters to a Daughter from Prison. The original play made its debut in 1988 during the first International Festival of the Arts in New York City before going on to tour India. It has been adapted for this production by Deesh Mariwala (Director), Denzil Smith, and Vinita Sud Belani (Founder and Artistic Director of EnActe Arts). 

Set against the backdrop of the freedom struggle and Gandhi’s non-violent protests, the play reveals the richness of the father-daughter relationship in the formative years, before her eventual emergence on the world stage, as Indira Gandhi.  

The playwright was inspired to write the story because Nehru, the statesman, was being continually separated from his shy, intellectual daughter due to the turmoil that came with the freeing and building of the world’s largest democracy. “They forged the bonds of a loving, nurturing and formative relationship through their detailed, prolific letters to each other. I felt compelled to write this story because I could not find a parallel in the Western world of a statesman father who nurtured his daughter in such a way.” 

The play’s director Deesh Mariwala: “Funnily enough what started as a delving into the lives of two Prime Ministers who shaped the land I grew up in, has become a warm, companionable relationship with two people I have never met, but now feel I know almost intimately.”

“We could not have picked a play more en point for our times and our audiences,” says EnActe Artistic Director Belani. “In a time when conversation is rife on gender roles, and female representation, when the U.S. may possibly have their first female Vice President (with part Indian origins) in the White House, and when the Gandhian style of non-violent protest espoused by Martin Luther King is being reprised in so many countries, the relevance of this play to audiences young and old is unarguable.” 
“Assaying the role of Indira across the decades would of course be exhilarating for any actor” says Belani “but it’s also intimidating – hugely so! Portraying a real person requires a commitment to their authenticity, and Indira was not just any person – she was the female Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world for decades.” 
“This project is profoundly personal for all four of us,” says Belani. Take Denzil’s relationship with Nehru – he has played Nehru in this play and in other films before; he has also played Nehru’s friend Jinnah. His appreciation of Nehru’s character is deep. Deesh’s family has been a part of the freedom fight with Nehru; he co-wrote a series on the family that got pulled in the 2008 financial crisis. Raashina’s grandfather was a freedom fighter too. I was born in the mid-sixties in Kolkata and my formative years from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties were influenced almost solely by two incredible women – Indira Gandhi at the helm of the country, and Mother Teresa on the ground. I met Indira once, in person. I still have her autograph! All of my female peers ended up strong, successful career women at the helm of their organizations.”  

What: EnActe Arts Presents Letters to a Daughter From Prison
When: October 23-25 
Time: October 23, 8:30 p.m.; October 24, 5 p.m.; October 25, 7:30 a.m. & 12 p.m. 
Where: Will stream via Zoom
Tickets: $15.00; they can be purchased HERE


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. 


10 Things I Hate About Pinky!

If you’re ready for summer reading fun, Sandhya Menon’s latest young adult novel, 10 Things I Hate About Pinky, features an ocean of fun and a mountain of love. The novel is the second companion book to her wildly successful When Dimple Met Rishi.

Pinky Kumar, the unicorn-haired, unapologetic social justice warrior, is spending the summer at the family place on Cape Cod with her parents, aunt, uncle, and perfect cousin, Dolly. Her mother—a high-profile lawyer whose nickname in West Coast legal circles is The Shark—ironically declares Pinky guilty before proven innocent regarding everything. Plus, Pinky sees her cousin as competition and no wonder. Dolly is known as a wholesome and generous humanitarian who never gives her parents trouble (like Pinky) or makes bad decisions (like Pinky), and Pinky’s mother never fails to freely criticize each of Pinky’s faults.

Meanwhile, Samir Jha’s pathway to becoming exactly the attorney he wants to be is unencumbered by virtue of by-the-book, precise planning. However, when he arrives for Day One of his summer internship at a prestigious D.C. law firm, he learns the internship has been canceled. His life’s plan is shattered in one promising-turned-lousy morning.

Distraught, Samir texts his best friend who in turn, texts his friend Pinky. Samir’s a colossal nerd and Pinky disregards the message. Soon afterward, The Shark accuses Pinky of burning down the shed with some random summer boyfriend, and Pinky impulsively blurts out with her (truthful) denial that she already has a boyfriend (not currently). Trapped by her own lie, Pinky knows she’ll either have to admit the truth or … wait a minute! She realizes Samir may prove to be the answer. Pinky convinces Samir to come to Cape Cod for the summer and pretend to be her boyfriend by promising she’ll get her mother to give him a winter internship.

With Samir’s arrival, myriad obstacles and trials while maintaining the fake relationship around her family propel the story. Pinky also uncovers a secret about Dolly, rescues a baby opossum that she treats as a pet, and finds the fake dating issue to be more than she bargained for. With her signature upbeat writing, Menon has produced yet another enjoyable novel with a strong-willed female protagonist seconded by a likable young man. Plus, this time she has included an applause-worthy subplot concerning positive environmental activism fueled by Pinky, accompanied by Samir and Dolly.

Like all of Menon’s young adult offerings, the happy ending is suitably earned. Her characters, each striving to solidify their place in the world, their families, and their relationships, experience the gamut of victories and failures required to shoulder the weight of responsibility as they mature into adulthood. They also embrace the sheer joy of youth as well as the angsty bits that are often seated in misconception, withheld information, and internalized competition where none truly exists.

Despite being the third book in the “Dimpleverse,” each book stands alone on its own merits. Fans of Menon’s earlier books will love 10 Things I Hate About Pinky and discover there are 10 times as many things to love about her.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects. 

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Stringing and Connecting

Sultan Khan Lives On

THE MASTER. Sultan Khan and Warren Cuccurullo Six Degrees. Album and tracks available on iTunes and amazon.com. $9.99

In 2011, the world lost a great artist, master sarangi player and unforgettable vocalist Ustad Sultan Khan. Khan was known in the classical circles as the force to keep the sarangi in mainstream and popular circles as the vocalist for, among others, Bollywood’s Jab We Met (the haunting folk refrain in the track “Aao Milo Chalo”) and the soundtrack for the Tamil movie Yogi.

It was therefore a great surprise to the music world earlier this year, when The Master by Six Degrees Records, featuring Khan and rock guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, surfaced. Cuccurullo is best known for being part of the popular pop band Duran Duran. The two had apparently jammed in 1997-98, but the album was on hold because Cuccurullo needed to finish one particular track. Says Cuccurullo, “One day I typed in my name and Sultan Khan’s name to see where he was at. A Times of India article came up with an obituary. I had no idea. I realized I have to get these tapes, I need to make his family aware of them, and I had to finish 4D.”


The first track, “The Holy Man’s Plea” has Khan’s lilting “Babul mora naihar chooto jaiye,” the sarangi reaching forgotten places in your heart. The 12-minute “4D Suite” was recorded in one day and the soulful sarangi is offset by Cuccurullo’s light-hearted guitaring with drums crescendoing in the background. Interestingly the bass and drums were added later to the album, the original tracks were recorded with just the sarangi and guitar.

Cuccurullo infuses drama in “Mirror Margana,” inducing the illusion that you are watching flitting images from a black-and-white era movie. “Sikar” is mostly aalaap (melodic intonation of notes)—“The first time I ever saw the actual instrument (sarangi) played live it was on stage in 1991 at Royal Albert Hall,” says Cuccurullo, speaking of a Duran Duran benefit concert featuring Sultan Khan. In 1996 while working on the song, “Buried in the Sand,” he remembered an aalaap by Khan that he thought would fit perfectly. That was perhaps the first time the sarangi was heard in American pop music. This album is perhaps the last of Khan’s original work to come to track.

New Jazzsey Violin

JAZZ CARNATICA. Arun Ramamurthy—violin, Perry Wortman—bass, Sameer Gupta—drums Available on iTunes. $8.91


Arun Ramamurthy, raised in New Jersey, was gifted a violin by his grandmother when he was a child. He was urged to play it. He did. And grew up to form The Arun Ramamurthy Trio comprising, apart from himself, noted drummer Sameer Gupta, and bassist Perry Wortman. Their album, “Jazz Carnatica” was released in October 2014.


“We’re playing from within. I learned that approach from my gurus in India, and it is still very upfront in my head,” Ramamurthy reflects. “You can play in front of 20,000 people or a handful, in any setting. It doesn’t matter; you center yourself and play from within—and nothing gets in your way.”

“Maha G” is the ageless Karnatik “Maha Ganapathim” set to a Western ethos. Ramamurthy pays homage to Indian composer Swati Thirunal in his jazz-remixed “Dhanasri.” The fourth dimension in “4th Dimension” is brought by Wortman with the violin at times rounding off the rough sounds of the bass, at times giving them a tonal height. This track comes closest to conventional jazz than the others. “Simple Joys” has interludes of the deliberate karnatik rhythm, but the result is simple joy, not cacophony.

“Delusions” gives us a glimpse into the soul of the Trio. “The piece is in Adi tala [a 16-beat cycle akin to 4/4] but I wanted the melody to pop,” explains Ramamurthy. “I wanted the bass to counter my line, and the drums to hold down the down beats. Sameer crashes right on the one, but my melody leaps off him. You can feel the dynamics at play.”

The album has several guest contributors such as keys player Marc Cary, fiddler Trina Basu, and mridangam player Akshay Anantapadmanabhan

Indian classical music is grounded in rigor, but only to empower as its musicians seek an unbounded musical landscape. Jazz is a free synthesis of immersed melody, notes, and emotion.  They just go together. Or as Ramamurthy says, “It’s about connecting in the moment.”

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz, and other genres.