Munish Sharma | Events/Blog
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In January of 2009 I had my first meeting with South Asian Arts.

We were planning on cooking something up together: butter chicken. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken was a South Asian-centric sketch comedy show Leena Manro and I had created as an outlet for our jokes, ideas, and Bollywood weirdness.  And after only a few shows in a box studio that was actually called Box Studio, South Asian Arts wanted to work with us.

I hadn’t the slightest notion that it would be the start of a lovely nine-year partnership and journey.

Back in 2009 I was simply happy that people wanted to work with us. Having just moved to Vancouver a few years prior, I quickly realized that having an idea is one thing; it’s another challenge to put it to paper, and an entirely different beast to finally get it on its feet. And after all that, who knew if audiences would even enjoy it? South Asian Arts believed they would, and they believed in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken.

So they wanted to get in the kitchen with us.

Now, to put this in perspective, let me give you a little South Asian Arts history on one hand and a little Butter Chicken history on the other. On one hand, South Asian Arts started out as a company in 2005. The original team of Raakhi Sinha and Gurp Sian had already partnered with Neworld Theatre to bring Anita Majumdar’s Fish Eyes to The Cultch. They had also graced the cover of the Georgia Straight paper, had a dance team that had performed on many stages and functions in the greater Vancouver area, produced a couple of shows at the PuSh Festival, and were about to premiere their first written work.

On the other hand, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken had done 10 shows. Total. What had started off as a one-night-only, invite-all-your-friends-to-come-see-the-show show had blossomed into a four-show run to a packed 75-person audience. Still, we were looking to expand; and when South Asian Arts came on board, we did.

This meeting about one creative opportunity opened the door to another.  South Asian Arts cast me and the rest of the Butter Chicken crew in Bollywood Wedding, their first full-length play, in the summer of 2009. It was my first role as a professional, bumbling around as would-be groom Hanuman Singh. It was a dream first show. Not only was it a great production to work on, but it gave me my first taste of community, and it excited me for what was to come.

Finally in 2010 we produced our very first Butter Chicken show together. It was a “best of” show that comprised the very best sketches we had done in the past year and half. It was put on in the then-new Studio 700 in the CBC building downtown, the first show of any kind done there. We went on to produce shows with South Asian Arts for three years. At the height of our Butter Chicken madness we were doing 10 sold-out shows to 150 people, Wednesday to Saturday for two weeks. Twice a year. ( We did two shows on Friday and Saturday nights.)

To this day I still have people call me the Butter Chicken guy, or yell: “Dance-O-Gram!” at me.

In 2013, after much praise for the original production, South Asian Arts decided to remount Bollywood Wedding and asked me back to play Hanuman Singh. Of course I said yes. The show gave me more lovely memories but it also brought two other gifts: Kathleen (Kathy) Duborg came on board to direct. She would become a friend and one of the best mentors I’ve ever had. Later, I asked both her and Gurp to read a one-act play I had written called Mrs. Singh and Me. I had applied, unsuccessfully, to a festival and few theatres in the hopes of having it produced. I received nothing but rejection from some, and words of encouragement from others.

However, South Asian Arts had my back. Again. Rohit Chokhani, the new artistic producer for South Asian Arts, read it and liked it; Gurp liked it; Kathy like it but said it needed work. So we worked. Kathy eventually agreed to be dramaturg and to direct the play. Her guidance, knowledge, and friendship was and still is invaluable to me. South Asian Arts once again did its best to foster a supportive creative environment. And thanks to a little luck, Rohit won a spot in the Vancouver Fringe Festival through a lottery.

Mrs. Singh and Me premiered at the 2015 Fringe in one of my favourite places, the Historic Theatre at The Cultch.

It was one of the scariest moments of my life. Thankfully people enjoyed the play. The work we had all put in was appreciated, and we received the honour of being called a “Pick of the Fringe”. It was another first in my life that I had the pleasure of sharing with South Asian Arts.

Then in 2016, when South Asian Arts was about to launch the inaugural season of the Monsoon Festival, what was the first choice they made? They got the Butter Chicken crew back together to do a one-night-only show and packed the Historic Theatre at The Cultch. We finally had our one-night-only show ⏤ and at The Cultch no less!

This year for the Monsoon Festival I will be reading the latest draft of my first one-person show for the workshop and reading series. The show is slated to premiere at the 2020 Monsoon Festival. Next year, South Asian Arts will premiere the full-length version of Mrs. Singh and Me, also at the Monsoon Festival.

Almost 10 years later, South Asian Arts and I are still cooking together. Not only have they respected my skills as an artist, but they have given me a space to find my voice. With the growing belief that inclusivity and diversity should become mandates and not just trends or a matter of checking a box, artists of different backgrounds and lifestyles are starting to find space and opportunities to be seen and heard. Making art can be a challenge. No matter how strong, resourceful, and creative you are, you still need people to believe in you.

For me South Asian Arts are those people.

Asha sat on her grandma’s lap and watched as her mother tickled her baby brother Soroush.
Soroush had just learned to say his first word.
Asha’s dad had run to the kitchen to grab his phone. Mom was so excited that she wanted to record Soroush’s first word and send it to the whole family.
“Grandma, did Mom and Dad do that for my first word?”
“Of course Kishmish,” Grandma said.

She called Asha “Kishmish” out of love; it means raisin in Hindi. Asha loves raisins.

“I remember sitting with your grandpa when your mom sent me the video. You were sitting in her lap, wearing that little blue frock we got you. Your grandpa said it sounded like you were singing it.”
Asha smiled.
Grandpa had passed away a couple years ago, and Grandma had moved into the house. Asha missed Grandpa, but she was very happy to have Grandma living with them. She loved hearing Grandma’s stories and spending time with her.
“Ma! Mmmmmmmmaaaaaaa!”

Dad was recording now.
“Look Grandma!” Asha said. “He’s doing what I was doing! Singing!”
“Of course my dear,” Grandma said, “he’s your brother.”
Then a thought occurred to Asha. “Grandma, why is ‘Ma’ a baby’s first word?”
Grandma looked at Asha. “Well Kishmish, what is the first word we say when we pray?”
Asha thought about it. “‘Om’, we say ‘Om’.”
“Do you know why we say it?” Grandma asked.
“Because we are supposed to?”
Grandma laughed. “Although it’s important to say ‘Om’ in prayer, it’s not because we have to. It’s because it’s the sound of life and everything that exists.”
“Oh.” Asha didn’t understand.
“Ma!” Soroush shouted.
“Can you say ‘Dad’?” Dad was holding Soroush now.
Grandma could tell Asha didn’t understand. “Kishmish, say ‘Om’.”
Asha looked at Grandma. “Why? We aren’t doing prayer.”
“Trust me,” Grandma said. “Say ‘Om’ for as long as you can and then open your mouth.”
“Oooooooooooommmmmmmmm-A!” At first, Asha couldn’t believe it.

So she did it again.
“Ooooommmmmmmmmmmmmm-A! Grandma! When I open my mouth it sounds like ‘Ma’!”
“Yes, Kishmish. Do you know why?” Grandma asked.
“‘Om’ is the vibration of life. It lives in all of us, like a song. And you’re old enough to know who gives us life, right?”
“Ma!” Asha said.

“Maaaaaaa!” Soroush echoed.
“Ma,” Grandma said. “A mother is everything to a child. Before a child knows itself it knows who Ma is. So the first word a child speaks is the name of the divine mother and father who brought it into this world.”
Asha smiled. She loved Grandma’s stories, but she knew that maybe it’s wasn’t fully true. Yet as she looked at her mother smiling at Soroush, she couldn’t help but feel there had to be some truth to it. Grandma took Asha and sat down next to her mom.
“‘Dad’, can you say ‘Dad’?” Dad was still playfully trying to get Soroush to say his second word.

“Mmmmmmmaaaaaaaa!” Soroush giggled.
Today belonged to Ma.

The following is a drunken retelling of a story written immediately after it happened.
It was edited for the love of grammar.
Which is also a really good name for a book or movie.
In a drunken stupor he walks into an A&W.
This blissful brown man feels the uneasiness underneath the Main Street Skytrain station.
A man stands cursing as if the very words course through his veins.

There is a fire and it’s not underneath a grill.

A large man walks towards what some would call the “crazy” person.
A mild threat is muttered to the untamed fire burning near the fountain drinks. The brown man looks at the robust human and inquires, “Is everything alright?”
He is waved off.
The large man grabs his goods and leaves.
The brown man walks to the fountain drinks. He listens as the man curses freely, ruthlessly, hurtfully.
Finally, “Why are you angry?” the brown man asks in an upbeat, playful voice.
The “lunatic” goes off.
Most people would call his babble mindless and weird.
But as the root-beer-drinking brown man listens as earnestly as possible (I mean, he’s pretty drunk), he starts to waver.
Slowly calm fills the A&W.
A couple watches as they whisper an order for a 3 a.m. feast.
The once-”crazy”, now-calm human slowly relaxes and leaves.
The couple applauds the brown man.
“You handled that so well!” they say
“Handled?” the brown man replies, “I didn’t handle anything. He just needed to talk to someone. Sometimes, that’s all we need.”
That, and onion rings.

James runs head first into everything.
Maybe because that’s how life should be approached, or maybe because he’s nearly two years old.
Regardless, it’s a joy to see him running towards everything with his head slightly pushed forward.
He’s an explorer and a rule-breaker.
He blocks the slide, and is not afraid to take the stairs up to the slide only to take them back down.
Forget the rules: He doesn’t want to slide down!
When he’s not running, he’s tilting his head to look around and look at faces.
He’s friendly, but he doesn’t want to play with you. He just wants you to know he sees you.
His hunger to explore overpowers his hunger to make friends, for now.
Once James decides he’s done, or Dad senses the playground at the mall can no longer contain his zest for adventure, we eventually ⏤ with a little resistance (he needs to see the world for god’s sake!) ⏤ get him back into his taxi-cab stroller.
Yup, it looks like a taxi.
He’s moving again and this calms him. Wheels are a fine substitute for legs. He looks around and smiles.
His Dad pops hims out of the stroller to put his shoes back on.
I playfully drop his neon green jacket softly on his head, and lift it back up.
Knowing it’s our own little game of hide-and-seek, James smiles at me.
Once his shoes are on he wants to use his legs again.
He has a plan.
He begins to walk towards me. I think he wants to get past me, so I freeze.
But he walks right up and hugs my legs.
He wants me to pick him up.
I’ve only met James three times.
The first two times he was an infant, and he was too young to see me as anything but shapes and colours.
Today is the third.
I pick him up.
As he turns around so he can push the stroller to see how it works.
I hope his hunger for adventure doesn’t wane as he gets older.
He isn’t afraid to break rules and always wants to explore.
Because he is a Treasure.

Munish sat next to his father on the couch.
He looked outside, he had asked for snow for his visit home and he got it.
It wasn’t the big snowfalls of his childhood but like most things from your childhood eventually things become small.
Except Dad.
Maybe he had shrunk in height, but parents always have that “larger than life” effect on their children. Munish knew he could sit here next to his father, do nothing, and it would bring him more joy than some of the adventures he’s had the past year.
The year had had some sharp edges that Munish needed to learn to smooth out.
It had left Munish off.
Hari Sharma knew his son was off, and not off in fantasy, just off.
Munish glances at the TV and notices his father is watching one of those singing shows that play on every other channel these days. It bugs him.

“ I don’t get the point of this. Can you imagine Dad? You’re a 16 year’s old and all you’ve ever wanted to be is a singer. Then you get on one of these shows. Where people watch you for weeks, pump you up, make you feel like your something special and then nothing! The show goes on but not your career.”

It was a grim outlook. His father knew that as well.

“It’s hard making your dreams come true.” his father said. “ You know…I used to sing.”

Munish smirked. He knew he father used to sing, he still sings, his family is a bunch of amateur singers, but he knew a story was coming.

“ I was pretty good too.”

“Dad you’re still pretty good, you just have to sing more.”
Munish knew his father’s voice had lost a bit of its strength, but his Dad did have a great voice. Next to his Mother.

“ You know when I was in elementary school, my teacher overheard me singing on the playground one day.”

“Oh Yeah?”

“ Yeah, he called me over and said, You should take my music class. You have a very good voice and I can teach you how to make your voice stronger. “

“ And?”

Munish’s Dad grins and chuckles, “ Well, I knew what my Dad would say, but I said, what the hell. Let’s see. So I went home after school and asked my Mom first, and guess what she said?”

“ What?” Munish already knew.

“ Go ask your Dad, haha. So I did. I said Dad the music teacher at school thinks I have a good voice. He wants me to train with him. Can I do it? And you know what my Dad said?”


“ You wanna end up like one of those singing bums on the street, with no home or life? Stay in school; you don’t need to be a singer. And that was the end of that.”

Munish was a little confused. Was his Dad trying to tell him he should be lucky his parents didn’t say that to there son “the artist”? Was he about to hear it now?

“ So. When I went back to school the next day I told my teacher, but my teacher didn’t let up.
He said I should sing a song at the school assembly when the local minister visits”

“ Are you serious?” Munish had never heard this before.
He had no idea he actually had a chance to perform once

“ So did you?” Munish asks, completely invested in the story.

“ Well, I said ok. I decided to sing this Bollywood song sung by Mukesh.
It was the song my teacher had overheard me sing on the playground. You know Mukesh?”

“ Yes, Dad.” Munish knew every golden age singer of Bollywood. Thanks to his Dad.

“ Anyway, we were in this line backstage. The whole school was there, I could even see the Minister sitting on these benches in the middle of the kids. My turn was coming up and I started to get scared. I never sang in front of that many people. So I ran.”

“ What?”
Munish thought he was going to hear about his father overcoming his fear, and making such an impression that the whole school stood up and applauded.

“I ran. Straight out of the school all the way around the outdoor auditorium and looked through this hole in the bricks. I heard them call my name a few times and when I didn’t come they moved on.”

“ Dad that’s terrible. That could have been your chance.” Munish was crushed. It was another moment in his father’s life where if he had been encouraged to try, instead of being assured he would fail. Maybe things would have turned out differently.

“ Maybe. But Munish it takes a lot of courage to get up on a stage, and not everybody can do it.
But you can. I want you to know that I am very proud of you. I understand it can be hard to-“

Munish jumped up and hugged his Dad.
Snowfalls can be small.
Not Dad.




by Munish Sharma