Parents who genuinely want the best for their children, might not always know what’s best for their children, a point shrewdly depicted in Madhuri Shekhar’s sharply-written comedy A Nice Indian Boy, enjoying a well-received, just-extended run at Olney Theatre.
Centered around nice Indian boy Naveen bringing his White boyfriend Keshav home to meet mom and dad, the play peers through a very specific cultural lens at a universal story of parents finding the serenity to accept their children for who they are, a child’s courage to be his fully queer self whether he’s accepted or not, and the wisdom of trying to bridge the two.
Portraying Naveen and his father Archit, respectively, actors Carol Mazhuvancheril and Abhimanyu Katyal, both of whom are gay and of South Asian descent, know a thing or two about the pressures young men like Naveen face to make their parents’ dreams come true.
“He has the education that his parents want him to have. He has the job and the income that his parents want him to have. He has then the spouse and the children that his parents want,” says Mazhuvancheril, checking off the list. “Basically, your life is what your parents would have hoped for you to be.”
To be fair, the actor points out — as do Naveen’s parents in the play — their dream is what they think is best for you.
“And that’s why they want that for you,” he says. “So the room to be yourself and who you are is not really accounted for. And just sort of giving that up, and just molding yourself into the way that the expectations are — that I would define as a good Indian boy.”
Fortunately, the play portrays Naveen standing his ground, though parents Archit and Megha show their firm disapproval. Still, says Katyal, “The playwright, I feel, lavishes a lot of love on the parents, even though they could be seen as opposers to something, or having to adjust to something, not being completely comfortable with queerness.”
A far cry from the somewhat modern but still traditional dad he plays onstage, Katyal believes the play has engendered in him a bit more patience with those who need time to adjust.
“In real life, I would say that I’m much more like Naveen, I’m much more cut and dry, ‘This is where I’m going to meet you, and this is where I am not,'” says Katyal.
“So I’m a little bit more militant, personally, whereas this play has really forced me to take into account that even if people are not adjusting in the way that you feel, or saying the right things, that they have their own journey, and to try to be wiser and more understanding around that.”
That’s a journey to be embarked upon from every direction.
A Nice Indian Boy has been extended through April 16 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, Md. Tickets are $54 to $79. Call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
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