Time to hear from young South-Asians

The demography of Australia particularly Sydney is changing faster than ever. With Parramatta becoming the second great city, it is about time we hear from the younger Australians with a South Asian background as to how they feel about themselves i.e. their identity, parenting, profession, politics and contribution to the society. Each panelist will be given about 7 minutes to speak and introduce themselves before the forum goes to the audience for Q & A. The forum will be conducted by a mediator who will ensure a smooth flow of discussion.

Azal_KhanAzal is a first generation Pakistani who has grown up in Sydney. She studied law and journalism at UTS and recently finished an MBA in entrepreneurship. She is a writer and journalist and has worked at various publications including News Corp at the Daily Telegraph. She is now spending time working on her own ethical fashion business, Kan & Khan. Azal has always been passionate about art and design and she has channeled her passion for sustainability and artisan empowerment into her fashion label. She is also an Indian classical dancer and completed her Bharatnatyam graduation in 2016.


Bali is an actor, producer, director and diversity advisor for Australia’s theatre and screen industry consulting on story development and the engagement of members of diverse communities in Australian productions with Producers, Directors, and Casting Directors in Australia.

Bali PaddaInternational stage performing credits include​ Festa!​, a British-Brazilian co-production​ staged at ​London’s Young Vic Theatre, followed by a critically acclaimed season of STOMP’s Lost & Found Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London.​ Australian credits include The Big Funk (TAP Gallery), Babies Proms: Bollywood Baby, Oneness: Voice Without Form​ ​(Sydney Opera House), Singled Out (Seymour Centre), The Lunch Hour (Darlinghurst Theatre with Siren Theatre Co) and In the Space Between (Cleveland St Theatre). On the screen, Bali played the lead role in the award-winning short Letters Home, as well as featuring in roles in​ Rake, Home & Away,​ Top of the Lake: China Girl, UnINDIAN,​ and​ Legally Brown.​ You’ve probably seen him in a few commercials too.​

Theatre producing credits include In The Space Between​ (Cleveland St Theatre – Mardi Gras 2011), Sunderella​ (PACT – Mardi Gras 2017), Lighten Up​ (Griffin Independent 2016), as well as Hats Off! in 2015 and 2016 (Seymour Centre – Mardi Gras). Sunderella also marked his directorial debut. Bali is currently transferring these skills into film and television as a Development Executive and Producer for film and TV.


Ishani DasIshani grew up in Sydney, the daughter of an avid photographer and classically trained Odissi dancer. Ishani is a lawyer by trade and lead singer and keyboardist of a little band known as Greg’s Intervention by night. When she’s not performing or fighting for justice, Ishani has established a young writer’s group, is a published author, facilitates a poetry circle for culturally and linguistically diverse women, and is passionate about young people of South Asian descent expressing themselves through the arts.


KershKersherka was Born and raised in Melbourne by Sri Lankan parents. She has kept close ties to her ancestral background through her large family, most of whom reside in Australia, through the last two decades of learning and teaching Indian Classical Dance (Bharathanyam) and through cooking and eating deliciously spicy Sri Lankan food. Conversely, working for Woolworths, one of Australia’s largest retailers as a user experience designer and data analyst, Kersh stays well connected to the Australian people and culture, thinking about how to make retail experience with the Fresh Food People, a happy one. Every day Kersh analyses to see what an amazingly diverse and rich culture Australia has, drawing on the best parts of all different countries, cuisines, languages and art to create a warm and accepting place for it all to live.


OsmanOsman is the News and Politics editor at Junkee Media. He also hosts FBi Radio’s news and current affairs program Backchat. Prior to that he co-founded a digital research start-up. He’s worked in federal parliament as a political advisor and has written for The Guardian, GQ, Fairfax, The Australian and the ABC. He’s a regular commentator on ABC TV and radio, Sky News and SBS on politics and current affairs.


The time I joined Nautanki…

For some time in the recent past I had been thinking about life, career, achievements, goals identity, sexuality and happiness.  I kept telling myself that I wanted to do those things I always wanted to but like most people do, I kept procrastinating. I was all talk. Early this year, I was going through a hard time and was battling depression. On a friend’s page on Facebook I saw an advert that said ‘Actors and Extras needed’. That was it. I decided I would do it this time. I had very poor self-esteem and was full of self-doubt but Nautanki Theatre Company saw beyond that.

I spoke to Neel Banerjee and soon realised that his thought processes and views were something I looked for in people I wanted to work with. His love for theatre was truly admirable.

I was nervous but excited at the same time.

We soon started with rehearsals where I met so many wonderful people. People who brought with them such joy and life filled with laughter. I soon realised that it wasn’t just acting and a passion for theatre that defined Nautanki. It was way more than that. There was a strong sense of belonging where I truly felt, after a long time, that I belonged to something. I could be myself and not be judged. Everyone was equal and treated the same way. It was also very relevant that we were doing ‘The Jungle Book’.

Being of a migrant background and of a diaspora where I was often feeling different; ‘The Jungle Book’ became a play that I instantly got connected. We started to use dialogues from the play like a mantra playfully. It soon started to have such a deeper meaning though. “The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

We were introduced to our Director; Joyraj Bhattacharjee who is such a humble and down to earth person. He allowed us to feel our own connection to the characters we played and feel comfortable in our own skin.

What a journey it’s been. I didn’t think I would make the cut but I’m so glad I joined Nautanki. Everyone is family. I have made such good friends at Nautanki and I’m sure I will continue to meet great people.

To Nautanki and the entire team, Vinaka Vaka Levu and Bahut Dhanbaad (Thank you very much in Fijian and Fiji Hindi) .

Salvin Kumar

Salvin Kumar writes about his experience after working in The Jungle Book production.

Drama~Sutra Playwriting Project

Drama~Sutra is a maiden initiative of Nautanki Theatre Company to contribute contemporary and socially relevant plays to Australian stage and literature.

The entire project runs for a year yielding a number of Australian plays about South Asian diaspora. Project is divided into 4 phases i.e. ground work, play development, reading and producing. After playreading, Nautanki company would like to work further with the playwrights to develop the plays with an aim to produce, if possible.

For the year one (2017-18), Nautanki company will be running this playwriting program under the guidance of John Suter Linton to develop three Australian plays about South Asian Diaspora.

Bellow Australian playwrights from South Asian background will contribute to this program.

Sonal Moore: Playwright

Sonal is a lawyer by day, a writer by night and she knows which she prefers. She was born in Melbourne, her parents are from India who moved to Australia in 1959. Sonal Sonal-Pic-231x300has been writing short plays since 2004 and has since that time had her plays regularly produced in festivals around Australia, in the USA, India, Dubai and France. In 2010, her play “The Shadows Within” won best production and people’s choice in the inaugural Short+Sweet festival in Delhi. In 2013, a film based on the play won a highly commended in the North West Film Festival, NSW.  Sonal’s play “White Weddings” was performed as part of Brand Spanking New in 2009 and explored the feelings of an Australian born Indian girl the night before her arranged marriage in India.

Roanna Gonsalves: Playwright

Roanna came to Australia as an international student from Mumbai, India. She is the author of The Permanent Resident, an acclaimed collection of short fiction published by Roanna-HeadshotUWAP in November 2016. Her four-part series of radio documentaries, On the tip of a billion tongues, commissioned and broadcast by Earshot, ABC RN, is an acerbic socio-political portrayal of contemporary India through its multilingual writers. She is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award, and is co-founder co-editor of Southern Crossings.

Roanna has a PhD from the University of New South Wales, and has been facilitating and teaching creative writing workshops for all ages within communities as well as at schools and in the university sector for many years.

Kevin Bathman: Playwright

Malaysian-born and Sydney-based, Kevin Bathman is a designer, storyteller, curator and Kevin-Bathmansocial change advocate. Using the arts as a catalyst for change, Kevin co-founded an initiative called Carnival of the Bold in 2013. Showcasing artists that use their craft to enrich cultural identity, the movement explores shared values and empowers communities. With an Indian-Chinese ancestry, Kevin has been researching the history, connections and cross-cultural stories between the Chinese and Indian culture for his project, The Chindian Diaries.

Neel Banerjee: Program Co-ordinator

Neel Banerjee (Full name Bengali: ইন্দ্রনীল ব্যানার্জী) is an acclaimed Indian-Australian thespian, writer, producer and director, has been actively involved within the NeelAustralian-Indian theatre scene for more than a decade. He has formal training in both analytical and physical theatre, Tagore Song, Tabla, Indian folk instruments and Chhau Dance and has performed interstate and overseas. Neel’s theatre ambitions lie in the subject matter engaging abstract pleasure and spirituality. He founded Nautanki Theatre (www.nautanki.org.au) in 2012. Nautanki Theatre is a Western Sydney based independent company committed to provide a platform of cultural exchange between migrants from the South Asian Countries and mainstream Australian audiences. Nautanki Theatre’s productions maintain authenticity by showcasing relevant societal issues highlighting the dynamic and evolving culture that has become a trademark of Australia.

Neel is an engineer by profession, studied Bachelor of Engineering in India and later completed his Post Graduate Degree in Business IT from Sydney University.

John Suter Linton: The Guide
John Suter Linton is an author, scriptwriter, journalist, researcher and producer. He began his writing career in radio, then moved to print media and television, both storylining and scriptwriting for such dramas as Sons’and Daughters’, and Neighbours. In 1985 he was accepted into the first year of NIDA’s Playwrights’ Course which ran in conjunction with the Directors’ Course. Over the years John has written extensively for radio and television, both here and in the UK, and written articles, poems, and short-stories for various publications. More recently, John is a published author of six non-fiction books. Throughout his career, John has developed a good sense of storytelling, knowing how to capture the attention and take an audience on a journey with whatever media the story is told. While he admits to still being a student, learning from every writer he reads or whose work he sees, he does count Harold Pinter and Alex Buzo as his two favorite and influential playwrights.

Melodies for Art – About Musicians

Debjani Guha:
Debjani started learning Hawaiian guitar when she was 6 years old. Her mother wanted the daughter to play some musical instrument, though Debjani didn’t like the music and the teacher at her tender age. By age 9 she started picking up more familiar tunes on a tiny 1-octave toy. She got a keyboard from her parents. A year later, Debjani started learning keyboards from Late Amar Nath Laha – her guru/teacher. She struggled hitting the right note with her tender fingers on piano and her family couldn’t afford one. She kept learning music and keyboard but later at her life music took a backseat while Debjani graduated to become an IT professional. She keeps practicing music and humbly remembers her guru taught her -that music instrument bounds no language nor genre; just keep play anything and every style that one possibly can. Debjani’s inspirations have been Yanni, RD Burman, Robert Miles. She would love to run fingers like Ming Freeman someday. Looking back Debjani cherishes the teaching and memory of her first teacher who tuned her to the songs of Tagore that she plays when she is alone at home.

John Napier:
John began his performing life as a virtuoso boy singer, before taking up the cello and studying at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. After graduating and winning that institution’s Medal for Excellence, he became principal cellist of the Queensland Theatre Orchestra. He subsequently moved to Sydney to explore a wider range of music making, eventually taking training in North Indian music with late Pandit Ashok Roy, and working frequently with Sumathi Krishnan. He has performed around Australia, India, New Zealand, UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, China, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Jamaica, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Fiji. He completed a doctorate on accompaniment in North Indian music in 2001, and teaches music history and performance at the University of New South Wales. In 2013 his study of Jogi musicians in Rajasthan, They Sing the Wedding of God, was published, and he is currently working on a study of the music of the Kodava (Coorgs). His most recent major musical works have been as a composer and performer for the Taikoz-Lingalayam production Chi Udaka and the advocacy band Asylum. He appears courtesy of UNSW Australia.

Venkhatesh Sritharan:
Venkhatesh was born into a family blessed with music. His mother Sangeetha Vidwan Varalakshmi Sritharan, a well-known Veena artist in Sri Lanka and Australia. Venkhatesh began to learn flute at the tender age of five under the tutelage of Sri Suthanthiraraj. While continuing to be his student, Venkhatesh was fortunate to have the opportunity to refine his skills under flute maestro Ramani Thiagarajan in Chennai. Venkhatesh also completed his Arangetram – Graduation; along with his sister Saumya Sritharan on Veena. As a promising artiste Venkhatesh has learnt tabla, piano, veena as well as classical vocal and has performed for dance ballets, Arangetrams and has accompanied various light performances. He has just completed his Bachelor of Medical Science degree and hope to balance his career with music.

Abhijit Dan:
Abhijit is a young talented tabla player who started his journey at an early age of 5 years. Tabla, the instrument craved his attention and plunged him into the music world. Abhijit started his first tabla lessons from Shri Harihar Das of Lukhnow Gharana under Prachin Kala Kendra, Chandigarh. Since 1994 Abhijit began his Tabla training from Tabla maestro Pandit Swapan Choudhury of Lukhnow Gharana. Abhijit is a regular Radio and Television artist in India. Besides a tabla player he has also been a good composer and arranger and has launched several albums in India and also performed with good numbers of great musicians from all over the world. Presently he lives in Sydney and is known as one of the best tabla players in Australia.

Sadiq is a self-taught musician and singer and started singing and playing guitar during his school days in community and religious functions. Today he is one of the most sought-after guitarists in Sydney. Sadiq’s entire education in music is by the virtue of playing with other musicians and singers, backed up with his perseverance. Professionally, he did his medicine in Pakistan and currently works as an allied health professional in Sydney.


2016 an eventful year for Nautanki Theatre

The year didn’t start in January 2016 for Nautanki Theatre Company. I have to go back a few months back in 2015. In fact, for an Independent Theatre Company like Nautanki the calendar is from November to November, almost.

January in 2016 saw the entire production running around in a dying urge of creation. Actors busy doing their lines, creative team designing set, prop and lighting. Lenore Robertson calmly directing the entire ensemble which in later half of January presented 3 successful shows of The Last Dance at Dum Dum by Ayub Khan-Din at Lennox Theatre in Parramatta.

Nautanki company had two successful venture with School kids this year as well. A dance and mask making workshop in April and another workshop in June on Learning Theatre through Games was two great opportunities to work with children and young kids.

While company had a less successful year securing grants but our vision that was set a year ago, was firm. We worked with available resources, planned smartly and decided to concentrate more on our niche audience rather sucking up to the grant officers who are clueless about South Asian Diasporic Theatre. A grant officer while giving me feedback on company’s unsuccessful application suggested that our application could have been better with a community support letter from an Indian organisation. If I were 5-year younger I would call this grant officer a moron and tell him to bugger off but with age my tolerance has grown I suppose. I corrected him not to attached a tag ‘Indian’ with the company and asked whether he would look for a supporting letter from Greek community when some other company decides to present Antigone? I did cut short the conversation after that. I could tell you that grant officer was not embarrassed, he just didn’t understand what I was meaning or where did he stand!

Despite all hardships, we managed to get some support and carried on with 1st South Asian in language Theatre Festival. Two nights of successful presentation of 3 short plays was more than an experience. South Asian community backed the festival well and took the opportunity of seeing 3 plays in language free of charge. The audience failed to understand Pay-As-You-Think concept introduced by Nautanki company however we were able to create a theatre awareness within them. Our community connectors did a fantastic job directing audience to Rafferty’s Theatre for two consecutive shows.

Reema Gillani and Sunny Singh joined in Production and Marketing units of the company in 2016. Avijit Sarkar’s advices on organisation and projects from time to time is greatly appreciated. Manisha Jolie Amin as Executive Director of Nautanki Company still takes my phone calls and answers my questions, she promises to continue doing.

2017 is just around the corner. For Nautanki Theatre Company coming year will be even bigger. We are staring year 2017 by presenting a 10 minutes’ play in Short+Sweet Theatre Festival in 1st week of February followed by playwriting program. Company will have its annual production in August, South Asian Theatre Festival in November, workshops and discussion forums from time to time.

On behalf of Nautanki Theatre Company I wish everyone a happy and safe new year.

~ Neel Banerjee | Artistic Concept Designer, Nautanki Theatre
rehearsal From the rehearsal room of play Still Alive

SATF Introduces the Marathi Play –Ukirda

Nautanki: Could you tell us a little about you and your Theatre group?

Napoleon: I was born in Bombay, in a catholic family. My father was a teacher in Marathi school. He always encouraged us to read books. Somehow I started reading books about dramas and plays. I found it very interesting. In my young age I started acting on stage. When I realised this field is not as easy as I thought, I decided to study more about acting and attended some workshops. I have also participated in one- act-play competitions and once won acting awards on state level. I have also written one- act- plays and won best playwright award.
I migrated to Australia in 1990. I never thought that I will get an opportunity to act and direct plays in Australia, but if you have a will then there is a way and your talent can be used anywhere in the world. I was very happy to hear about Sydney Marathi Association (MASI). They had been presenting a lot of cultural programs including Marathi plays. I joined MASI in 1992. Since then I have performed and directed many plays including some one acts.

Nautanki: How did you get involved with South Asian Theatre Festival 2016?

NapoleonOne day the phone rings “…this is Neel Banerjee speaking”. He introduced himself and told me about Nautanki and what his plans were. I could not believe that Nautanki theatre was giving me an opportunity to perform in their SATF 2016. I said YES to him straightaway without thinking even though I had already one big project in my hand.

Nautanki: How many cast members are there in your play ?

NapoleonWe have 8 cast members in this one act Marathi play. Marathi people are from Maharashtra state of India and they are very proud of cultural plays. Marathi people took their dramatic art all around the world. Marathi plays are more popular in Maharashtra. Casts in this play are very talented and enthusiastic. They are ready to sacrifice anything they can for this art-form.

Nautanki: Why People should come and see Ukirda?

NapoleonRamesh Pawar is a famous playwright in India who writes in Marathi language. In this one act play titled “Ukirda” (Rubbish) he has chosen a very emotional topic about cast-ism in India. How the low caste people get treated by high caste, and how they have to fight for their rights. Why do we ignore God’s creation and follow man made selfish rules. There is a great message to take away for all of us from this play. This play is very cleverly and powerfully presented without using any props on the stage.


Napoleon Almeida is the director of the play Ukirda.

SATF Introduces the Tamil Play –Nettandu

Nautanki: Could you tell us little about you and your Theatre group?

Srini: Sydney Nadaga Priya (SNP) was founded in 2008 by a group of like-minded Tamil drama enthusiasts with the aim of bringing quality Tamil theatre to the Tamil-speaking community in Sydney. While other forms of South Asian performing arts such as classical and contemporary music and dance have enjoyed growing patronage and exposure in Sydney for many years now, there was seen to be a clear dearth of Tamil drama in Sydney and other Australian cities. SNP was formed in part to fill this niche and to showcase contemporary Tamil societal themes and challenges using only local talent.

Nautanki: How did you get involved with South Asian Theatre Festival (SATF) 2016?

Srini: Mr. Neel Banerjee of Nautanki Theatre reached out to SNP early this year with the concept of bringing multiple regional languages under one umbrella and this concept appealed SNP instantly.  We are happy and honoured to be part of this maiden venture.

Nautanki:  How many cast are in your play?

Srini: There are total 5 characters in the play.  A middle aged couple, a Lord and his two ministers.

Nautanki: Why people should come and see Nettandu, The Leap Year?

Srini: Making adjustments/alterations to system and process in something we evidence many do in our daily lives…. What happens in Devalok…the celestial space? A fantasy tale on the concept of leap year is what people can expect to watch.


NK Srini is the playwright and director of the play Nettandu.