NEW YORK – The Houston, Texas-born, Brooklyn, New York-based playwright, writer and actor Naren Weiss is the kind of Indian American, who really has had an immersive experience in both cultures, in India and the US.
Weiss, 28, who is best known in film and TV circles as the actor who played the role of Osama bin Laden in the Kamal Haasan starrer ‘Vishwaroopam’, and as Dekker in the ABC series ‘Deception’, has been critically acclaimed for his work in theatre in India and the US as well.
Weiss, whose mother is of Indian-origin, and father Caucasian, emigrated to Madras, Tamil Nadu, at the age of 12. He went on to attend Madras Christian College, and Brooklyn College. He received his Master of Fine Arts, from the latter, in 2015.
A former model, and VJ for Channel UFX, in India, Weiss auditioned, albeit unsuccessfully, for the title role in ‘Life of Pi’, according to Wikipedia. He, though, played a separate character named Pi years later in the Chinese film ‘Love is a Broadway Hit’, directed by Peter Lee, a long-time friend and associate of Life of Pi director Ang Lee.
Over the years, in the US, Weiss has been active as a writer and actor, notably in theater. He has appeared on stage at the Geffen Playhouse, Kennedy Center, Off-Broadway, and has done guest roles on American television shows, including ‘Elementary’, ‘The Brave’, and ‘Broad City’.
For his work on ‘The Brave’, NBC submitted Weiss for consideration in the Outstanding Guest Actor category for the 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards, although he did not receive a nomination.
Weiss has now come out with a book, ‘God is Dead’ ($15, paperback, 111 pages), comprising of five plays and five short stories he’s written.
The works, with their hallmark dark humor and pathos, demonstrate the influence of cultures he’s imbibed, in India and the US.
The title work, ‘God is Dead’, is a short, tragic story reminiscent of a Bollywood earnest romance from the Guru Dutt era, with a lopsided ending, that may shatter the hearts of wannabe lovers.
In all his works, the playwright side of Weiss comes through luminously. The works have a lyrical quality to it; some of them beg to be enlarged, characters to be magnified, given more depth.
The play ‘Censored’, a striking work in the age of nationalism and enforced morals sweeping across the globe, has ensconced within the folds of its dramatic elements, bitter truth. It’s also perhaps autobiographical in nature, gives an insight into perhaps some of the barriers Weiss encountered in India while trying to display artistic freedom.
A refreshing, piquant work is the play ‘Lily and Mona’, revolving around two sinister teen sisters who have murdered three people. And perhaps, worse, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Weiss, while stretching readers’ imagination, infuses plenty of humor in his works, to keep it relatable.
A highly creative work is the play ‘Mon Dogra’, which again is an insightful look, like ‘Censored’, into the vagaries of the life of a playwright and writer where government scrutiny is intense.
The play examines the playwright’s urge to interact with his characters – nebulous, intangible and fleeting as they may be.
Can an artist fall in love with a woman he has created on paper, and set her free on stage?
One can only conclude that Weiss has been inspired by the plentiful of flamboyant love stories to be found in Indian fiction and films.
MATWAALA EXPANDS TO THE UK
Matwaala, a South Asian diaspora poetry collective based in the US, founded by poets Usha Akella and Pramila Venkateswaran, is going transatlantic for the first time year with the participation of the UK diaspora and a poetry reading at Cambridge University, in May, according to a report in the Hindu newspaper.
Matwaala was started after the duo realized that the Indian diaspora was under-represented in anthologies and university reading lists in the US.
Matwaala’s poetry festival, which had its fourth edition earlier this month, in New York, began in Austin, Texas. It later expanded as the Matwaala Big Read, at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, a New York-based nonprofit. Attendees included the late Meena Alexander, Vijay Seshadri, Saleem Peeradina and Ravi Shankar, the report noted.
Venkateswaran, poet laureate of Suffolk County, Long Island (2013-15), is the author of Thirtha (Yuganta Press, 2002) Behind Dark Waters (Plain View Press, 2008), Draw Me Inmost (Stockport Flats, 2009), Trace (Finishing Line Press, 2011), Thirteen Days to Let Go (Aldrich Press, 2015), Slow Ripening (Local Gems, 2016), and The Singer of Alleppey (Shanti Arts, 2018).
Akella has authored four books of poetry, one chapbook, and scripted/produced one musical drama. She was selected as a 2015 and 2019 Creative Ambassador for the City of Austin.
This year, Matwaala released an anthology, conducted readings in three colleges, including NYU and Hunter College, and at the Red Room, a poetry lounge headed by author Tim Tomlinson. The audience included Salman Rushdie.
Now, Matwaala expands internationally, to the UK.
Akella was quoted as saying, “We are formulating the festival as a series of readings in colleges, universities and cultural institutions very deliberately so that we can increase the visibility of the South Asian voice within mainstream institutions. In this sense it is different — it is not hosted in one venue but hosted in satellite fashion.”
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)