Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Rasheeda Ali: ISHQ

By | Published on Thursday 31 August 2017

ISHQ, soon to be performed at Sadler’s Wells in celebration of 70 years since Pakistan’s independence, is London’s first ever Anglo Punjabi Sufi musical, based on a well known tale of love and loss. The show offers a fascinating sounding blend of classical and modern dance, poetry and fusion music, and has been created by award winning company Serendip Productions.
To find out more about the show, and how she got involved with it, I spoke to one of the show’s stars, Rasheeda Ali.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the story the show tells?
RA: ‘Heer Ranjha’ is the classic Punjabi tale of the star-crossed lovers Heer and Ranjha. Heer comes from a noble family, and Ranjha is a flute playing cow-herder who wins Heer’s heart with his music. A fierce love story ensues. Heer’s evil uncle Kaido, overcome with jealousy of Heer’s affections for Ranjha, arranges for her to be married to someone else. The tragedy unfolds as we watch the two lovers try to be together, fate deciding otherwise.

CM: Where did the story come from, and what themes does it explore?
RA: The story was originally penned by Waris Shah in 1766 and is set in Punjab, Pakistan. The story explores many themes including passionate love, family honour, equal rights and the roles of women in society.

CM: The original story was written a long time ago then; in what ways is it relevant to a contemporary audience?
RA: Heer was quite a revolutionary character for the time as she challenged the patriarchal society she ived in. She not only fights for the right to be with the man she loves, but also fights against the notion that a woman should be the bearer of a family’s shame – even when she herself may be innocent. Unfortunately, we still live in a society today that tries to dictate how women should behave. Although we are making progress with equal rights for women, we still have a long way to go.

CM: Which role do you play, and what do you like about the character?
RA: I’m very honoured to be playing the role of Heer in this story. She’s fiery and passionate, and has a fierce tenacity that makes her a very satisfying character to play. I love how she’s ready to fight fearlessly for what she wants.

CM: What kind of music is featured in the show, and who created it?
RA: One of things I love about this show is the fusion between western and eastern music. We have songs in both English and in Punjabi as the music was written by two composers, Ian Brandon (UK) and Emu Fuzon (Pakistan). There are some famous Bollywood songs in there too, so there really is something for everyone.

CM: What attracted you to the idea of working on this show, and how did you get involved with it?
RA: I am a mixed-race British Pakistani performer, and so the opportunity to perform such a famous Pakistani story was an opportunity I couldn’t miss out on. Especially as there is a fusion of art forms in this show. Western jazz dance and musical theatre songs are mixed with Indian classical dance and music.

I trained in musical theatre at ArtsEd and after I graduated, I continued my training personally in Asian dance styles and music. I felt that this show was the perfect combination of everything I had trained in up until now.

I actually had to turn down the initial audition for this show as I was in Wales rehearsing for another play, and my rehearsal schedule clashed with the audition dates. Once the run in Wales had finished and I returned to London, Serendip Productions called my agent as they were still keen to see me. A week later, I had booked the job and we started rehearsals.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your co-performers, and the creative team behind the show?
RA: We have a cast and creative team that are from the UK and Pakistan. It’s amazing to see how the rehearsal processes differ for artists in Asia and vice versa. It’s been a learning curve for us all, and we’ve been able to grow from working with each other.

CM: Are there ongoing plans for the show, after the Sadler’s Wells dates?
RA: The Pakistan High Commission wanted to fund this show to celebrate the 70th year of Pakistan’s independence. I do hope that there is the opportunity to perform it again, perhaps on tour or perhaps in another London venue. However, our cast are already getting booked onto their next jobs, and so we’ll see what happens in the future! It would be great to reprise the role of Heer.

CM: How did you get into performing? Was this what you always wanted to do?
RA: It started when my mother used to watch all the old Hollywood movie musicals. Gene Kelly was a huge influence for me growing up. When I was younger I started in youth theatre groups before training at Gorseinon College performing arts sixth form. I then gained a place to train professionally on the musical theatre degree course at ArtsEd. I had always wanted to act from a young age, and to perform at Sadler’s Wells is certainly a dream of mine. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to perform at such a prestigious venue in London.

CM: Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
RA: At this moment in time I’m keeping my options open and I’m trying as many different types of performance work as I can to see what I like. After I graduated I started to book a lot Bollywood film work. Bollywood is a fantastic industry that is actually bigger than Hollywood in regards to budget and the amount of films that are produced each year. For me, it’s the perfect mix between film and stage!

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
RA: My next film is called ‘Arth 2’, a Pakistani film where you can catch me playing an English lawyer. It’s due for release next year so keep an eye out for it! I’m always up to something new so keep up to date with me on twitter. I post a lot of behind the scenes sneak peaks so you can check in with my latest projects there.

ISHQ is on at Sadler’s Wells from 7-9 September. See the venue website here for info and to book.

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