The merits of an arranged marriage: a mother and son’s view

A Brimful of Asha

A Brimful of Asha - Credit: Archant

A new show at the Tricycle theatre, A Brimful of Asha, sees Ravi Jain and his mother, Asha, argue about her ill-fated attempts to find him a bride, he tells Alex Bellotti.

The concept of an arranged marriage has a bad press in the west, and Ravi Jain of all people knows why. Having grown up in Canada to Indian parents, eight years ago he decided to travel to India to lead a theatre workshop, only for his mother and father to “tag along at the very last minute” with the hope of finding him a bride.

Introduced to several women, Ravi – aged 27 at the time – was allowed little more than two hours in their presence before being asked to decide whether to marry them. Like the majority of westerners, he was traumatised by the experience and, naturally, declined any proposals.

“When I came back to Toronto after it happened, I was really upset,” he explains. “But any time I told my friends the story, everybody would laugh.”

As founder of theatre company Why Not Theatre, Ravi was convinced by such reactions to make a one man show about his parents’ ill-fated mission. When he told his 62-year-old mother, Asha Jain, of the idea, however, she argued that if she was also starring in the show, the audience would agree with her point of view.

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The resultant two hander became A Brimful Of Asha, which sees Ravi and Asha sitting round a dining table acting out a scripted, but true to life, debate about the merits of an arranged marriage. Running at the Tricycle Theatre until September 19, the show enjoyed a previous run in the family’s hometown of Toronto, and the audience’s reactions were a revelation to Ravi.

“In terms of where people sit, I’ve had really interesting feedback. We’ve had Canadians say things like, ‘I wish my parents were as obsessed with my marriage as your mum was, because maybe I’d be in a better relationship’. I’ve had things like, ‘When I was your age I agreed with you, but now I’m closer to your mum’s age and I agree with her.’

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“People are a lot more open to the ideas that my mum is presenting because it’s in her own voice, and I think she presents them very clearly and honestly, in such a way that it’s more accessible than when you simply hear ‘arranged marriage’.”

Asha’s simple counter to Ravi’s protests is that she and his father met through an arranged marriage, and have been happily together for over 40 years.

Furthermore, Asian culture holds a very different idea about what marriage even means, placing greater emphasis on the family unit.

As Ravi explains, “There’s no option of leaving; divorce is very taboo and very complicated, and everybody’s going to work to keep you together. But something my mum always says is that the idea of love in Indian culture is bigger and less selfish than my idea of love, because marriage is about the family, it’s not about you.”

The humourous yet poignant show, he continues, highlights “the clashes of our cultural upbringings and the fact that we straddle two worlds now”. Such a theme is very much in keeping with the broader ethos of Why Not Theatre, which has previously created plays including the award-winning Spent and Iceland. The company was set up by Ravi who, after graduating from a theatre school in Paris, returned home to find a gap in the theatrical market.

“When I came back to Toronto, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t much internationally-influenced work around in terms of content and form. So I made a company that tries to show that there are other things out there,” he says.

“All the shows that we’ve done have tried to do something that pushes a boundary or breaks an expectation of the theatre, or the types of people who tell stories, or the types of stories that are being told.”

A Brimful of Asha runs until September 19. Visit

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