Interview with theatre performer/producer Pariah Khan in the run up to his new show 'An Indian Abroad' at Wardrobe Theatre Bristol 31 Oct-1 NovPosted on: 08 Oct 2018
The new show, An Indian Abroad, is taking the independent theatre world by storm. Hari Ramakrishnan aka Pariah Khan, is the mastermind writer, producer and performer behind the hilarious one-man show. Directed by Manga Theatre’s Eduardo Gama, An Indian Abroad comes to the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol from 31st October to 1st November 2018.
The British Indian performer tales the story of Krishnan, a middle class Indian native who journeys to Great Britain in seek of personal enlightenment. We in Britain are all-too-familiar with the trend of young people journeying to ‘find themselves’ in a land far, far away… Khan’s reversal of and new perspective on this social trope makes for a refreshing, hilarious and totally original show.
We catch up with Khan to talk about his journey and accomplishments so far, the inspiration behind his new show, tackling things in the industry, pro-wrestling and more.
Tell us about your early inspirations as a writer/performer etc.?
Television was my first love. Pokemon, WWF, the 90s and early 2000s cartoons from DC and Marvel. Serialised narratives drew me in and I’d draw cartoon characters and make up my own storylines. When I was 15 my sister bought me a book and told me to start writing things down. I started putting more time into it and realised it was a way of analysing the world, expressing myself and entertaining people.
I only started performing when I took Drama at A Level but I haven’t stopped since; whether it’s theatre, wrestling or stand-up I’ve got the bug. I was always drawn to the energy of comedians such as Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart; and the performances of actors such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Will Smith.
Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?
Not in the slightest, I only took theatre at A Level because I thought it would help my skills as a performer to get into pro wrestling. Once I took the course I fell in love with theatre and had the opportunity to create my own work which is where I excelled the most. There’s been a symbiotic relationship between the two art forms, with one influencing and informing the other at different stages in my life so far. Now stand-up is in the mix and they all benefit from each other.
Talk about the first time you performed on stage?
My first significant memory performing was at The Egg Theatre in Bath. It was Friday 13th November 2009. Me and four others in my class had to write, direct and perform an original play under 30 minutes as part of a festival along with the other local sixth form colleges. We were performing on a night where all the other groups went to Wellsway college and so their friends and family had bought all the tickets. We were the last act of the night, closing out the festival, performing to a sold out venue with only a handful of people we knew in the audience and we blew the roof off the place. Those moments on stage and the curtain call that followed gave me a feeling I’d never experienced before. I knew in that moment this is what I want to do with my life.
How does doing a solo performance compare to one with a cast?
There’s a lot more pressure on you, there’s no time for you to stand in the wings while someone else carries the show. It’s an exhausting experience but it’s incredibly rewarding when you crack it. It creates a very intense intimacy with the crowd.
What’s the hardest thing about a one-man show?
One of the aspects I enjoy most about theatre is spending hours together with your cast and crew. Each production becomes like a family. Not having that camaraderie and friendship around is the hardest part for me.
Were you able to get feedback from people during the early production stages of the show? And how did you go about this?
The piece started out as a 10-minute extract and people always wanted to know what happened next with the story. As I started to build on it, I’d perform it at different scratch nights (The Room Above, Bristol Old Vic, Tobacco Factory, Bike Shed in Exeter, Nuffield Southampton, Derby Theatre). I also tested out some material at stand-up comedy nights, tweaking it slightly for that audience by playing with the delivery and content. This allowed me to gain live feedback by seeing how the audience reacted and this shaped the piece accordingly.
From writing, performing, filmmaking to professional wrestling- why is it important to you to be involved in more than one thing?
I think there’s a risk of getting stale if you become too self-absorbed in one field and not notice how things are changing around you. By drawing on influences from different mediums it can bring a fresh point of view and a new voice to your chosen artform. UFC steals from wrestling, wrestling steals from theatre, theatre steals from film and film steals from television. And they’re all the better for it.
Where did your inspiration come from for An Indian Abroad? Is it influenced by any of your own experiences?
I grew up across three different continents: I was born in Libya, moved to India then England and back and forth again. This gave me the chance to view events, people and culture from a variety of different perspectives. So when I heard white middle-class people constantly talking about a “spiritual awakening” they had after visiting another country for a few months, it stunk of bullshit. No doubt you can have those moments, but you might equally have them at the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands or Snowdonia. That doesn’t transform the country you’re visiting into some transcendental paradise.
I was also irritated by stories driven by a white male adventurer who explored these ‘exotic’ and ‘foreign’ lands, as if the brief encounters he had could accurately depict their worldview and culture.
So I decided I was going to flip these concepts on their head to show how ludicrous and ignorant this mindset is. That being said, I have seen enough one-man/one-woman/one-person shows that didn’t do this effectively, because they were essentially a TEDTalk stacked with statistics and a little dramaturgy sprinkled on top. It isn’t theatrical, it’s one-dimensional and it doesn’t push or challenge the liberal, left-leaning audience that theatre attracts. I wanted to ensure the work I made wouldn’t do this. So I can assure you that this show will have no statistics and is in fact entirely false.
That being said, the show is heavily autobiographical.
Tell us about the grant from Arts Council England, how did you work towards this?
I was fortunate enough to be part of a mentoring scheme through Rising Arts Agency in Bristol. They pair young people with someone in the industry they are looking to get into and help them reach a set goal. I had written a show but wanted help with understanding the funding landscape and how to apply for a grant. They paired me up with Plasticine Men’s Simon Day and we got along straight away. It was a fantastic experience, he really pushed me and I feel so much more confident in my ability to produce and promote my work.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors, writers, performers looking to get recognised?
Make something, finish it and invite people to see or read it. Unless you have something to show, you’re unknown and on nobody’s radar. You need to take the first step and build from there. It will take a few years to understand the landscape and create the networks and connections but all that investment is important. And don’t be afraid of making mistakes, they aren’t as scary as you make them out to be in your head.
What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your journey so far?
Working with my director Eduardo. He has pulled and pushed me in different directions throughout our rehearsals. I can confidently assert that my abilities as a performer have greatly developed under his tutelage.
Do you think Bristol is a supportive city for creatives?
Definitely, there is a very healthy comedy, theatre and film scene. There are multiple organisations aimed at helping people navigate the creative industries and discover their passion.
Is there anything it could be doing better?
I would say a lot of the organisations and scenes I mentioned above are very homogenous and don’t accurately reflect the diverse nature of Bristol. I feel that is something that needs to improve, I’m tired of seeing opportunities go to the same type of person. I also want far more investment in South Bristol where I grew up. No one I went to school with thought the arts were something you could aim for as a career. I have a lot of creative friends but most of them moved to Bristol which saddens me. Where’s the homegrown talent at?
Favourite venue/space in Bristol and why?
I spend a lot of time at CYN’s The Station as part of their alumni scheme. They have an excellent rehearsal space and facilities. I used to have a studio at Hamilton House but couldn’t afford the hike in rent so was forced to move out. I also spend a lot of time in libraries and The Watershed.
Where can we watch your wrestling in action?
I currently work as a professional wrestling manager for Pro Wrestling Chaos who hold shows throughout Bristol and the nearby area (Kingswood, Hanham, Bradley Stoke, Yate). I used to own the company but was unceremoniously fired at the hands of a furry blue monkey while the wrestler I managed was humiliated by being forced to wear a seahorse costume. I returned earlier this year and manage Eddie Ryan and Charlie Sterling. The two are a tag-team called The Crazy Teacups but they didn’t get along until I came back to help them work through their problems. Now they are the tag team champions, but they tend to kick each other in the face more often than I’d like.
What’s the best thing a critic has said about your work so far?
“Pariah Khan is a highly accomplished comic performer. A keen sense of timing and dry delivery grant his observations on the ironies and absurdities of Britain their full impact” - Alex Hayward, PubTheatres Magazine
This was an extract from his recent review of An Indian Abroad, which played at the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham 23-25 September.
If you could perform with one person of your choice, who would it be?
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. One of the greatest pro wrestlers to ever to do it, an absolute box-office smash as an actor and comedian. And who knows, maybe President.
An Indian Abroad is at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol from 31st October to 1st November 2018. Click here to buy a ticket.
Hannah recently graduated with a degree in English with Writing. She is an avid writer, freelancer and creative. She is currently writing her first full-length novel and a collection of poetry. Always out and about in Bristol's music scene, she attends music events on a weekly basis.