As Indian Australian director Bali Padda prepares for his play ‘Sunderella’ to hit the stage during Sydney WorldPride, he wants to remind us that there was once a time when queer South Asian voices didn’t have the spotlight they’re now getting.
“Around 10 to 15 years ago, the queer South Asian community had zero presence around Mardi Gras time,” Bali tells Draw Your Box. “We didn’t quite feel like we fit in or belonged. We didn’t necessarily feel like we were allowed to take up space.”
Now, the Sydney-based creative is bringing ‘Sunderella’ back to life after it first staged in Sydney in 2017 as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.
Being a queer Bollywood twist on the classic fairytale Cinderella, this production revolves around a young man, Sundar, who lives with his evil stepmother and two self-centred stepsisters. Set in 18th century India, audiences will see the magic unfold when when a celestial force transforms Sundar into a beautiful woman named Sunderella and sends her to the prince’s palace.
Once again, Bali has the the support of the show’s primary producer, Trikone Australia – a non-profit, volunteer-led social support group for South Asian LGBTQIA+ people living in Australia. Trikone’s members marched during the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade this year, and its clubbing night, Bar Bombay also took place during WorldPride festivities.
“Through solid, hard work with Trikone Australia, its volunteers and other people that have come through, we’ve stepped up and gone, ‘This is who we are, this is the kind of work that we do,'” said Bali. “We put on amazing shows, entertain people and express our community and version of queerness to Australia.”
Along with ‘Sunderella’, Bali’s worked as a creative producer on another South Asian theatre production, ‘Sex Magick’, which is also running during Sydney WorldPride. Bali said “this has never happened before” where we’re seeing a multitude of productions during Mardi Gras time that showcase queer South Asian talent.
“I think we’re having a bit of a Desi renaissance in Australian theatre at the moment,” he said. “We’re having a really great moment where South Asian Australian artists and arts workers are in the seats, on the stage and at the table.”
In terms of who ‘Sunderella’ is ultimately made for, the director said the audience has been divided into three key segments.
“One is queer South Asians to be seen and represented – to see a version of themselves on stage while being highly entertained,” he explained.
“The second is the broader queer community that are here for Sydney WorldPride that love the Bollywood flavour and love the magic that we bring in terms Bollywood as a genre and format.
“And then, also the broader South Asian community to come and be allies and assist in shifting attitudes within broader South Asian communities about acceptance and love.”
With the show running from March 1 to March 4 at Darling Harbour’s ARA Darling Quarter Theatre, the opportunity’s now here to be transported to a magical world of South Asian love and queerness. Ticket information for ‘Sunderella’ is available here.