Tamil Play gets on Auckland Arts Festival stage this weekend

Moksha Base Band during rehearsals. Left to right – Prasanna Kumar, Shankar Narayanan, Abhishek Raj, Aswathy Sasidharan, Ahi Karunakaran, Albin Abraham, Dr Vasanthan Raghuveeran (Photo Supplied)

Dr Malini Yugendran
Auckland, March 22, 2023

Mixtape for Maladies is a new play that explores the journey of a Tamil family from 1950 to 2015. The play has been written by Ahi Karunaharan and directed by Jane Yonge. The play will be performed at the Auckland Arts Festival this Saturday, 25 March 2023 at ASB Waterfront Theatre at 3pm.

The play is set in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand and is a story of a Tamil family that spans over three generations. Mr Karunaharan explained, “In the show, an audio cassette is found, and the protagonist excavates the stories behind each of the songs on this cassette. Thus, music is intrinsic to the play.” To bring this vision to life, the play features live music performed by the Hamilton and Auckland-based band, Moksha Base. The band will be playing Tamil, Hindi, and English music including songs by Ilaiyaraaja, and T.M. Soundararajan.

Concept and Inspiration

Mr Karunaharan says that he is constantly looking for new ways to tell stories, and Mixtape for Maladies is a result of this pursuit. He said, “As Tamilians we have all grown up listening to Tamil songs, these songs are an integral part of our everyday life. Many of our life milestones are marked by songs and we have all seen movies that tell stories through song. When I was looking through all my old audio cassettes that I used listen to music from, I was curious of the stories that might be contained within each of these tapes.”

The play uniquely blends theatre and music to explore the themes of memory, nostalgia, and remembrance, while also bridging diverse communities through music and storytelling.

The play explores various themes, including first love, heartbreak, sibling bonding, coming of age, loss of innocence, survival, and resilience. It also delves into the trauma of Sri Lanka’s past and how it affects families caught up in it. The play looks at how loss is acknowledged and remembered and how it shapes people’s lives.

Mr Karunaharan believes, “Mixtape for Maladies offers an insight into a community that is often forgotten or exoticized. The play endeavours to lift the lid on those who are forced to leave their homeland and how they thrive or survive in their new homeland. The play explores the universal theme of finding one’s place in the world and a sense of belonging from a diaspora lens, adding to the cultural mosaic of New Zealand.”

As a partially autobiographical work that draws from the community, creating Mixtape for Maladies was emotionally challenging for Mr Karunaharan. He said, “Having to revisit certain events over and over and open up old wounds can be quite challenging, but we do this in order to not repeat the same mistakes. That we open the eyes and world through our art.”

Script reading for the play Mixed Tape for Maladies (Photo Supplied)

Creative Process

Mr Karunaharan’s creative process involves action first and asking questions later. He said, “With creative projects you have to take a leap of faith and deep dive into the unknown. I started writing this during the first Covid Lockdown and it is taken this long to get this work off the ground. In my creative process I like to trial and test ideas. Explore alternative versions and to create and hold a collaborative.”

Collaborations and Performances

Mr Karunaharan considers working with Moksha Base and acclaimed Bharanatyam practitioner Bhuvana Kannan, as some of the highlights of his collaboration process for Mixtape for Maladies.

When asked about the kind of music Moksha Base will be playing, Prasanna Kumar, the band’s guitarist, said, “Moksha Base will be doing something different from our usual live performances. In this project we will be accompanied by storytellers, actors, and dancers. We were provided with a set of songs by Mr Karunaharan and Ms Yonge to suit the scene, and then they started rehearsing them one by one.!” He added that bringing together a band from two different cities was challenging but explained that they mostly plan via Zoom and meet over the weekends to practice.

Mr Kumar said, “you can expect to be taken back in time, and the nostalgic feeling will come as soon as you recognise the songs.” The play explores memory, nostalgia, and resilience through music, and the live music performed by Moksha Base promises to add another layer to the emotional journey of the play.

About the Director

Mr Karunaharan is a theatre-maker, writer, director, actor, and producer of Sri Lankan descent from New Zealand. He is the founder of Agaram Productions, the first ever South Asian Writers Festival. Karunaharan graduated from Victoria University of Wellington and Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. He has worked as an associate producer for Tawata Productions and as a member of Prayas Theatre. His writing credits include My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak, Tea, Anchorite, Swabhoomi: Borrowed Earth, and The Mourning After. Karunaharan has also mentored for the Proudly Asian Theatre’s Fresh Off the Page series and the Film Commission’s New Asian Writers initiative, working with emerging artists. He has received many positive reviews for his works and won the Best Overall Production at the Auckland Theatre Awards in 2018.

Moksha Base

Moksha Base is a band that blends traditional Indian music with contemporary music to create a unique sound that appeals to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Led by the talented vocalists Shankar Narayanan, Dr Vasanthan Raghuveeran, and Aswathy Sasidharan, Moksha Base features a diverse array of musical styles and instruments, including guitars played by Dr Vasanthan Raghuveeran and Prasanna Kumar, keyboards by Albin Abraham, and percussion by Abhishek Raj. Guided by the skilled management of Siva Kumar and Abhishek Raj, Moksha Base’s captivating performances and dynamic stage presence, has become a favourite among music lovers.

Those keen on attending Mixed tape of maladies do visit Auckland Arts Festival’s page.

Dr Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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