My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak
an homage to Bollywood westerns

Premiering late last year at Auckland's Q Theatre, the play My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak enthralled audiences with its colourful, high energy take on 1970s Bollywood westerns. In the play, legendary Bollywood director Rakesh Ramsey has died in the middle of shooting his latest film and his two children, Roshan and Kamala, are forced into the director’s chair. But they’ve inherited a disaster… We chat with writer and director Ahi Karunaharan (A Fine Balance, Tea, Swabhoomi: Borrowed Earth) about the play and what inspired it.
Ahi kneeling on stage watching a performance

Ahi Karunaharan in rehearsal for My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak (Silo Theatre, 2019) Photo: David St George

Where did the idea for My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak come from? What inspired it?

'Thadak Thadak' is a phrase that I've heard my elders use in conversation. It's a word that captures so many feelings and experiences: a euphoric high, a racing heart, a thousand horses galloping, the beats of a Bollywood tune.

My Heat Goes Thadak Thadak was an attempt to capture that sensation. An homage to the films that my parents grew up watching. It was set in a time and a place that I was never a part of.

Writing about the past in my present meant that I could rewrite parts of our history, give voice to those who were drowned out or not allowed to speak.

My inspiration for the work came from my childhood obsession with Indian cinema and spaghetti westerns and wondering what a collision between the two would look like. 

 Why did you want to bring this story to a New Zealand audience?

I wanted to bring this story to New Zealand audiences as a way to keep reminding ourselves that despite our differences, circumstances, histories, as people we all still strive for the same universal human want: to be loved, to be heard to be seen.

Technicolor dreams, a story about underdogs, making the impossible possible, second chances are some of the threads of the story of My Heart goes Thadak Thadak. I wanted to create a joyous theatrical experience for us to have bigger conversations about representation, status quo, colonization, and the value of art and what makes our hearts go thadak thadak.

 How did audiences respond to the play?

The audience were super appreciative and the reviews reflected this. The audiences that came were varied and you could hear a different section of the audience laughing at different times.

If you took away Bollywood, the western, it's ultimately a play about a group of dysfunctional misfits, outsiders trying to band together to leave something to be remembered by. I think those dynamics, the human story, is what allowed the audiences to connect with the work.

Actors dressed in 70s outfits on stage

Actors Sanaya Doctor, Shaan Kesha and Mayen Mehta performing My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak (Silo Theatre, 2019) This photo and banner image by Andi Crown

Are you connected to the theatre scene in India currently? India is changing rapidly so how is this change reflected in theatre-making trends there?

The theatre scene in India is so huge. Overwhelmingly massive. There are multiple companies within states and regions, and a multitude of form ranging from traditional theatre to contemporary art being presented.

The works being created range from experimental live art to escapist entertainment, and the theatre being produced is reflective of the diversity of the country.

I always wonder what practitioners from India would make of our art here in New Zealand. While the resources are limited for works of difference here, our theatre industry is somewhat funded, whereas in India, government funding does not exist, which makes it difficult to maintain a sustainable career in theatre. So the works feel more urgent, more political and disruptive. From the conversations I've had with practitioners, the works they are creating is pushing form in ways that we are yet to even discover here.

Most New Zealanders would know something of Bollywood, but few know much about the history of ‘westerns' in India. How well informed do you think New Zealanders generally are about Indian culture?

I wrestled with the premise of My Heart is Thadak Thadak because the go-to, the gateway to Indian culture here in Aotearoa can sometimes feel like it has been reduced down to Bollywood, Diwali and Butter chicken.

When I started to look into the influence of westerns in the cinema of India, I started to find things that even I wasn't aware of and that curiosity gave me the specificity to keep creating.

I was deliberate in the choices that I made to subvert what I assumed most of us knew to give newer insights. I think as humans we are curious to discover, and each artistic encounter that allows for this is rewarding.

Ahi crouching on stage during a rehearsal

Ahi directing a rehearsal at Silo Theatre, 2019; Photo credit: David St George

What are you working on now?

My latest work that I'm developing is called A Mixtape For Maladies. It examines and explores memory and nostalgia, and questions why we hold on to the things that we do.

It's a kaleidoscope of a work tracking through home videos, mixtapes, letters, and various other artefacts of the past to research, reminisce, and respond to what we choose to hear, remember and present to others. 

A Mixtape For Maladies investigates how reliable our memory is, the mythologies we inherit, the narratives we tell ourselves, the romanticized past that we cherish, the rituals we follow, and the stories we like to repeat. It's inspired by a mixtape that an uncle of ours compiled for us when we moved to New Zealand. 

The Asia New Zealand Foundation provided funding towards the production of My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak with an Arts Project Grant.