AYESHA – The struggles of a South Asian woman

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a full-time freelance performer. This includes acting, emceeing, choreography and dancing. I studied acting for a long time and had a lifelong goal to be an actor in the Indian Film Industry. Unfortunately, that dream took a backseat as I focused on my choreography and dancing over the past 3 years. This year, though, I’ve created AYESHA as my way to foray back into the theatre industry and to represent the youth within the South Asian entertainment industry in Singapore.

When did you start acting?
I started acting when I was 5. The last time I acted was in 2015, when I graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts. AYESHA will be my first time back to it since then.

Can you tell us more about AYESHA?
AYESHA explores the role of women within the South Asian culture. I wanted to understand how women succumb to this puzzle that was created for them by the generations before them, and the emotional struggle one faces in their journey of compromise and change.

The one question that constantly rung in my head was “Is happiness in spite of oppression, truly an emotion worth feeling?”
Most of AYESHA may not be relatable to the modern-day woman of Singapore, but I believe that the audience will be able to draw comparisons within certain parts of AYESHA to their lives. For example, we’ve had a Malay lady attend our dress rehearsal, and although she couldn’t understand the text spoken, she was able to follow the story and she said certain parts of the play resonated with her life.
AYESHA is not a play that directly challenges. It is a play to show the truth, for us to acknowledge that these issues exist, more than we’ve considered.

What was your inspiration for AYESHA?
My paternal heritage is from Pakistan, and whenever I’ve visited my extended family, I’ve often felt disturbed or lost. My father built a life for himself in Singapore, and although my culture is heavily embedded in my lifestyle, I am still given the liberty of choice. When I look at my female relatives, I often feel that choice is not something they are allowed, and its bitter-sweet as they are happy with that. I then ask myself, “Is happiness, within the confines of sadness, truly happiness?”

My inspiration, is one particular cousin of mine who is married to another cousin of ours. She hides her fashion designing business from her husband as he thinks that her working distracts her from fulfilling her responsibilities as a mother towards their 3 children. The day he told her to stop, she decided to take her work ‘underground’ and since then, he has been happy with her and has no complaints about her day to day work and activities in the household. Yet, she loves her husband, smiles as she serves him his lunch and dinner when he comes home from work, and stays up at night after he’s gone to sleep with their 3 sons, to finish her work.

AYESHA, is my way of expressing her pain, that she masks so beautifully with her effervescent smile.

Were there any challenges during this journey?
Firstly, and most importantly, I decided to do this all on my own. I decided against sponsorship and partnership. This was a decision I made as I wanted this project to be mine. It was my first venture and I wanted to ensure I had full say on all decisions that were being made. I also felt like I had a point to prove – that doing something on your own is absolutely possible if you work really hard on it. And, thank God, we’ve managed. My cast is very supportive and has backed me on all my decisions. 
Secondly, getting people to watch our show was going to be tough. I’ve been known as a dancer in the industry for so long, that getting people to know me as an actor was going to be a very big shift. I didn’t anticipate this to be a hardship, but when it came at me, I must say I was not prepared. All said and done, we’re almost sold out now, and knowing how much effort my cast and I have put into this, I must say its all coming together.
Thirdly, ensuring my cast continued to trust me was something that constantly bothered me. I knew they were coming onboard this project in blind faith, because they respected and loved me personally. I’d like to believe that the love and respect has transcended the personal and now we are professionally on the same page as well. If my cast didn’t trust me, I couldn’t succeed – this was a driving factor throughout the AYESHA journey.

What should  the audience take away from AYESHA?
To be honest, I thought I had an answer to this. But now, after people who have come to watch our rehearsals and devising process have had such varying responses, I don’t know anymore. I want the audience to ask questions and to acknowledge these very real issues, but I also don’t want to impose a “take away” on them. I’m looking forward to knowing what they feel after watching our show.

What do you aspire to be in the future?

At this point in life, I’m taking it a day at a time. But I’ve decided not to limit myself. I am a performer and my options and opportunities are endless.

You are versatile in the aspects of acting, dancing, choreography and hosting. Would you not want to be a master of one instead of being a jack of a few trades?

I don’t want to limit myself, and at the same time, I must feed myself. To survive in the ever-changing entertainment industry, we must be able to excel at more than one thing.
Also, I take inspiration from my dancing in my acting and vice versa. The two teach me very different things, and yet are so relatable to the other. I’m very thankful that through these two, I honed my skill for hosting as well. I will continue to do all 3, until I find my place and perhaps specialise in one. or could see myself continuing to do them all simply because i enjoy them all.

Why should I limit myself? 

What are your thoughts about entering the Bollywood industry?

There was a time I chased that goal with a vengeance. That has changed now, and I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore. Although, if life comes to me with an oppurtunity, I will take it. But not to be any kind of actor. If I could be half of Vidya Balan or Randeep Hooda, I would be honoured. Till then, Saher Rida Hashmi will keep chasing dreams, one day at a time.

Photo credits 📷: Grisha Parikh
[Ed Note: I am extremely proud of Saher and her growth in the past few years. Truly an inspiration. Honoured to be part of her journey in my small part. ]

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