Asha’s World

45 min. BBC Radio comedy (or maybe light drama) from 2011 by Bettina Gracias. Archie Panjabi plays Asha, a young Anglo-India woman whose traditionalist Indian mother sets her up on a blind date. Not wanting to go, Asha lets her man-hungry best friend go in her stead, pretending to be her. Confusion and complications ensue because of the switched identities…especially when Asha actually does start to get interested in the guy.

Enjoyable enough, with good performances from Panjabi and the rest. But it can feel a bit like, well, just a sitcom — and a mildly amusing one more than a knee slapping hilarious one. The fact that the play essentially comes down seeming in favour of arranged marriages (in that Asha does end up liking the guy) can be seen as a cultural statement, or simply a quirky narrative choice (though in this kind of story, honestly, you can kind of guess it’s going to go that way).

A Doll’s House

There have probably been a few radio adaptations of Henrik Ibsen’s classic, proto-feminist play. This one is a 2 hr production done for BBC Radio in 2012 adapted by Tanika Gupta, relocating the story to colonial India (while still being faithful to the scenes and much of the dialogue) with Niru (ie: Nora) a naive Indian woman married to the seeming loving but condescending Englishman Tom (ie: Torval) and what happens when secrets and Niru’s past misdeeds start to come back upon them. Indira Varma plays Niru and Toby Stephens Tom.

It’s an effective, well-made production, with strong performances particularly from Varma (appealing despite the, initial, flighty nature of the character) and Stephens (the latter a popular actor on British radio but one I’ve sometimes been mixed on — not that he isn’t always good). The play itself is effective just as a kind of pulpy potboiler (with twists and revelations and tension) even beyond the “message” — indeed, the last scene is among the most awkward as it feels like a lecture (and some of the earlier twists and surprises can be a bit contrived in their coincidence!) But, as I say: a very good, quite engaging production.

The transposing of the story to India effectively adds a nice, rich sense of atmosphere (though was the term “item” used to refer to a romantic pairing back in the 19th Century?)

BUT…any added political subtext is, perhaps, more awkward. By seeming to want to graft on a theme about colonialism it can feel like an odd fit. Does Gupta want us to infer the events would’ve been different if Niru had married an Indian man? ‘Cause, um, it’s not like India had anything to learn from the English about sexism or class prejudice. Indeed, the fact that A Doll’s House can be performed all over the world, and has been re-imagined in different cultures and time periods, perhaps makes a point about how similar people are. But as I say, a good, entertaining version of the story.