The Leaning Tower of Pizza

Rewriting is hard.

Is the first draft more difficult to write, or the multiple revised drafts that follow? That’s a dumb question (that I just posed). Every single step of writing and developing a play is ridiculously hard and makes my brain crave sugar and naps.

(Never trust a skinny writer.)

A Nice Indian Boy has been a real challenge for me to rewrite. The reason why will make me sound very full of myself, but it’s kinda true- the first draft is actually pretty good. The first draft, of this play, surprisingly, turned out pretty well. I don’t know how it happened. It’s intricately plotted and well structured, and has multiple motifs and running jokes that all intertwine and pay off at the end. It’s pretty good.

Unfortunately, it also has one huge, glaring, impossible-to-overlook problem- the protagonist is the most boring character in the story. Whoops.

So in the quest to actually make his story interesting, dramatic and meaningful, my rewrite has resulted in my beautiful structure crumbling to pieces. And in my laziness, I clung to my old draft, defended it, convinced myself that my baby is perfect as it is- which it really isn’t. The problem is in the foundation. The problem is in the very premise of the play.

In short, my first draft is like the Leaning Tower of Pizza. Delicious, but fundamentally flawed.


And so if I want my play to stand upright, function structurally, and be beautiful at the same time, I need to tear this thing down and rebuild it brick by brick. Layer by layer. Topping by…

Anyway. The good news is that once I got over myself and let go of my first draft, the writing has actually gotten easier. Retooling the premise has given me room to make the story more about the characters, and not so much about the cleverness of the jokes. I’m actually enjoying the writing instead of dreading it.

Today I am, anyway. 🙂

And now, time for lunch. Guess what I’m having.


My play, my Valentine

I’m so relieved Valentine’s Day is over (as I am every year). But Luis Alfaro surprised us with the sweetest gesture yesterday, during our 7-10pm thesis class on 2/14, with these racially-specific teddy bear Valentines.


(We’re all doing the faces of our teddy bears. Megan really captured that soulful look there).

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I think a lot about romantic love and relationships in terms of storytelling, and A Nice Indian Boy is all about love and marriage. As the title suggests, it is the story of my protagonist Naveen falling in love and deciding to get married to a nice Indian boy. There are a whole load of complications in that relationship (a pretty major one being that his boyfriend is technically more Caucasian than Indian), but the play ends with Naveen deciding to trust his heart over his head, and getting married to the man he loves. 

Although I celebrate romantic, passionate, impetuous love in this play, and have a lot of fun writing about it, I’m not sure I would do what Naveen does. There’s another couple in this play- his older sister Arundhathi and her husband- who had an arranged marriage years ago, and are now going through a divorce because Arundhathi can’t deal with the lack of romance in their relationship. But I’m not entirely on her side either.

The third couple in this play are Naveen’s parents- Archit and Megha- and they are the ones who represent my ideal. Two vastly different personalities who had an arranged marriage, and have stuck it out for 35 years. They bicker a lot, and disagree, and get frustrated with each other, but throughout the play they move as a team, as a single unit. Even as they disagree in private, they stick up for each other in front of their kids, and by the end of the play I hope the audience is left with a real feeling of how deep, true and steady their love for each other is.

It’s not the kind you write songs about, or celebrate with flowers and rings and fancy meals on a certain day, and it’s not for everyone. As much as I respect it, it’s probably not for me. But it’s the love that my parents share in real life, and it’s the love that inspired me to write this play.

May 31st, 1984

June 1st, 1984

A Nice Indian Boy

Ganesha on the iPad

Ganesha on the iPad

Back in January of 2011, when I was 24, my parents were trying their best to arrange my marriage. (If that sentence doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will). My wonderful, liberal, wordly parents called to tell me about the various nice Indian boys who had responded to the online matrimonial profile they had set up on my behalf. I love my parents and I trust them, but wow, was this hard to take. I decided to go along with it at the time, deeply conflicted about the whole thing, but also treating it with the same attitude I treat everything else in my life- hey, it might make a good story.

It was also time for me, at the beginning of my second semester, to start writing a new play. Our professor Oliver Mayer encouraged us to write something personal. Of course since the idea of arranged marriage was in my head, I wanted to write about that, but hadn’t it been done a million times already?

I remember walking through campus with my friend and director Nathan Singh (here he is)


and talking about this problem, when he said- “You know, I’ve always had this idea. This Indian guy goes to his parents and says- ‘Mom, Dad, I want an arranged marriage.’ And they’re so happy. But then he adds… ‘to a man!'”

And suddenly the play appeared before me. I saw that scene in my head, I knew who the family was, the love interest arrived fully formed a few days later, and I wrote the play over the course of the semester like my fingers were on fire. I had so much fun writing it, and I got to ask the big big questions that were bugging me- why get married at all? How can you reconcile your own romantic and sexual desires with what your family expects from you? Does arranged marriage make more sense these days than the irrational process of marrying for love? What happens if I ‘settle’ for an arranged marriage and wake up one day ten years later unhappy and regretful? How do my parents (who had one conversation before they got married, and have stayed married for 25+ years) make their marriage work?

The reading at the end of that semester was so fantastic- it was so gratifying to hear these great actors read the play out loud, especially since I had written the characters with them in mind.

Sunil Malhotra, Pia Shah, Karthik Srinivasan, Kyle Gundlach and Puja Mohindra

Sunil Malhotra, Pia Shah, Karthik Srinivasan, Kyle Gundlach and Puja Mohindra

My friend Paul Rockower who happened to be there that day, amidst his nomadic travels, blogged about it and made my week.

Last year this play won 2nd place in the 2012 East West Players Face of the Future Playwriting Contest, and I got to see it done as a staged reading at the David Henry Hwang Theatre in Little Tokyo, directed by Nico Raineau. The turnout was so surprisingly great- so many South Asians in particular showed up, and laughed at all the right places. We got a standing ovation at the end, and it really was an incredible feeling.

Karthik and Kyle, in rehearsal for our East West Players reading.

Karthik and Kyle, in rehearsal for our East West Players reading.

And now, this semester, my challenge is to push the play to the next level. First drafts are typically much easier for me than re-writes, so this is tough. The advantage is that it’s been nearly two years since I first thought of this idea, and I’ve changed and matured as a person, and I’d like to get the play to mature over the next few months as well. I can see what it could be- and that is very exciting- but I am also a little lost about how to get there.

But I have time, and Megan, Zury and my professors, and with their help I can hopefully end up with something I’ll be happy to show the world (i.e., my parents).

Amrish Puri says I can do it!

Amrish Puri says I can do it!