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‘Unapologetically Muslim’ play at Centaur Theatre explores universal themes of love, family

"I'm honoured and privileged to present a story that is so unapologetically Muslim and yet will still be relatable to a mainstream audience," says Uzma Jalaluddin, playwright of 'The Rishta' at the Centaur in Montreal. Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed reports.

A new play at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre about a South Asian family explores a proposal, intercultural marriage – and how a very specific story can have broad appeal.

Playwright Uzma Jalaluddin, a critically acclaimed and bestselling novelist, writes nuanced stories about Muslims, South Asians and Canadians.

And her latest play is no different. “The Rishta” is playing at Centaur Theatre until April 8.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Jalaluddin. “I can’t believe this is happening. I’m very, very excited and honoured and frankly privileged to be able to present a story that is so unapologetically Muslim and yet will still be relatable to a mainstream audience. It’s such an iconic theatre in Montreal.”

“The Rishta” is about a young South Asian woman, Samah, who has fallen in love with a Moroccan man, Hussain. Convinced her parents will not allow for an intercultural marriage, Samah devises a scheme to win her parents over with the help of an enterprising matchmaker.

But Samah doesn’t realize her parents and brother are hiding secrets of their own.

“The Rishta” is playing at Centaur Theatre until April 8. (Fariha Naqvi Mohamed/CityNews)

“For the longest time, we didn’t have and we still don’t have a lot of stories being told on the Canadian stage,” said Mohamed Shaheen, the founder of Silk Road Institute, the play’s production company. “There are a lot of communities that are not yet represented or represented enough on the Canadian stage and don’t get the opportunity to tell their story themselves.

“The mission of the Silk Road Institute is to empower Muslim communities to tell their own stories. We are seeing more representation, of course, for Muslim communities in the arts, in media, in movies but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, and we’re happy to be part of that. We’re happy to bring these Muslim stories to the stage, make sure that people get to connect and experience what Muslim communities in their diversity experience.”

Play director Masha Bashmakova called it a fun and playful play that offers “much needed representation” to Canada’s Muslim community.

“But it also is such a universal theme about family and love and learning how to see each other, learn to communicate with each other, which I think every person in the audience can connect to,” said Bashmakova. “It’s a really important play in kind of the cultural landscape of Montreal theatre community.

“There’s always a particular challenge when it comes to directing comedy. Comedy is extremely subjective and each person is going to find different things funny. So it was about finding a kind of universal playfulness with the cast.”

Shaheen says the play relatability was what drew him and the production company to the story.

“And we’re very happy to have the story at the centre stage because we were looking for something that we can all relate to and everybody can relate to the themes of love, finding a partner, intergenerational differences,” he said. “These are all things that we can relate to.

“And that’s what really appealed to us in this story.”

For those who’d like to attend “The Rishta” who are fasting for Ramadan, they will be offering complimentary snacks before their evening performances.

Tickets can be purchased here.

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