'For The Love Of Paper' Explores The Often Untold Migration Story

"There are millions of Australians right now living this – where they don't see that narrative being told."

For The Love Of Paper stars Antony Makhlouf and Almitra Mavalvala.

“The amount of times that I've heard someone say, ‘just get married’ is ridiculous,” laughs Almitra Mavalvala. 

Yes, it’s a phrase many young women across various communities hear these days. The external pressure to find a life partner rather than live alone is undeniable, and it’s perhaps the reason we’ve seen a rise in dating apps, relationship-focused reality shows and a booming wedding industry. But in Mavalvala’s case, there’s a lot more to it. When she’s told to ‘just get married’, it’s not really about love. 

After moving to Australia from Pakistan seven years ago, the 31-year-old – like so many others – has navigated the complex immigration system of this country. After holding student and post-grad visas, surviving on a 20 hours per week work limit (that’s imposed on such visa holders,) and feeling restricted by a set skilled migration list of occupations to land permanent residency, Mavalvala’s time in Australia comes to an end in June. A potentially easy way out of this immigration mess would be a marriage of convenience! 

It’s this concept that her new play, For The Love Of Paper, explores – using a sense of humour to delve into the struggles of migrating to Australia and what it means to belong in this country. 

“People do marriages of convenience all the time,” Mavalvala tells Draw Your Box. “I've heard some real horror stories of [what’s] gone wrong with these visas as well. And I was like, ‘I’ll write about it’.” 

In the play, Mavalvala’s character Amaliah is a South Asian woman, who along with her friend Kaveh (a queer Afghani man played by Antony Makhlouf), faces immigration complexities that threaten their friendship. While she contemplates pursuing a marriage of convenience to avoid potential deportation, it’s an idea that’s at odds with her belief in true love. With Kaveh determined to find a solution, the pair soon find themselves navigating “the bureaucratic maze of immigration laws and cultural clashes”. 

Like her character, Mavalvala can’t fathom having a marriage of convenience, and as she prepares to leave Australia in June when her visa expires, she reflects on how some aspects of the play are an exploration of her own life in “real time”. 

“The fact that she [Amaliah] has a year to stay in the country is true,” she says. “And I guess I use the inspiration behind the phrase, ‘just get married’, but add a cultural twist.” 

For The Love Of Paper star and writer Almitra Mavalvala

Almitra Mavalvala. Image Source: Supplied

Kersheka Sivakumaran is the director of the production, and says Mavalvala’s script particularly appealed to her because it’s vastly different to the majority of immigration narratives we see play out in the arts and media. 

“The thing that was so unique when I read it was it's a story that's never really told. It's the unsuccessful migration story,” says Sivakumaran.  “You always hear the successful one and the wins. This is the one where it didn't work out. I feel like a lot of the time those stories aren't told because they’re never here to tell it.

“There are millions of Australians right now living this – where they don't see that narrative being told.” 

Mavalvala agrees, saying that if we get even more specific about South Asian storytelling on stage, it’s still rather limited in some ways. 

“In the theatre realm, I don't see representation of South Asian work that’s genuine and authentic. It’s all just either stereotypical and it's the same stories that we are churning out, day in, day out,” she says. “They all start and end at 9/11 – I don't know why.” 

Being an immigrant on a temporary visa, Mavalvala has faced various barriers including financial ones where she’s not eligible for grants, funding or acting residencies. She’s been forced to create her own opportunities in the arts space, and joining forces with Sivakumaran has been the ultimate match made in heaven to bring this important story to life. 

“For me, it's all centred around, ‘How can we really elevate the stories of – I'm going to use a term I hate – 'multicultural Australia' to a point where we stop calling it multicultural Australia and we call them Australian stories?” Sivakumaran explains. 

For The Love Of Paper director Kersheka Sivakumaran

For The Love Of Paper director Kersheka Sivakumaran. Image Source: Supplied

She acknowledges that so often the issues of dispossession, generational trauma and other struggles faced by culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, can be rather heavy and emotionally draining. To then see someone like Mavalvala come in and incorporate humour and a lightheartedness to this production is refreshing, and a powerful way to uplift audiences while still sending an important message. 

“At the end of the day, if we want to get outcomes. a lot of that will come from building optimism and that hope,” says Sivakumaran. “Almitra is just hilarious. She has the ability to infuse genuine humour into bureaucracy, bleakness and horrible circumstances… and it's not in a ‘making fun of’ way.

“Even when she talks about the multicultural elements, it's not in a tokenistic way. She manages to pull things through and make them relatable at a very human level. That is where you can genuinely drive change, change opinions and hit the heart.” 

With For The Love Of Paper having opened in Sydney last Friday, Mavalvala is in her element as she and the cast and crew share this beautiful story with audiences. She’s come to terms with returning to Pakistan in two months’ time. She’s ready to be reunited with her family in Karachi, where she was born. She hopes to find genuine romantic love, to travel more, and to continue pursuing a creative career in a country that’s gradually embracing more women in the arts. 

“But I've already had conversations with people to be like ‘I will definitely come back to Australia’.” 

For The Love Of Paper is running from April 5 to April 20 at KXT on BROADWAY in Sydney. Ticket information is available here