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Feb 11th
Black and white photo of a dark-skinned south asian genderqueer person wearing a jewellery head piece, septum ring with a chain to their ear, and a necklace. They have black hair and dark brown eyes.
Tanja-Tiziana, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

ACHA BACHA by Bilal Baig (Theatre Passe Muraille/Buddies in Bad Times). Runs at TPM Mainspace (16 Ryerson) till February 18. $17-$38. 416-504-7529, passemuraille.caAcha Bacha (meaning ‘good child’) boldly explores the intersections between queerness, gender identity, and Islamic culture in the Pakistani diaspora.

Last Thursday, over 20 queer, trans South Asians excitedly went to see Acha Bacha - after all, it’s not everyday that we get to see theatre with stories that resonate with our experiences acted entirely by bodies that look like ours.

Many of us will be going back to see the play and we figured, instead of a review of the play by ACD, we'd have queer, trans South Asians speak for themselves as to what the play meant to them and why you should go see it:

You should watch this if you enjoy seeing folks who look like you, your loves, your families, and your communities portray the complications of trauma, queerness, religious identities, and the suburban experience without settling for a cookie-cutter coming out narrative.

Beyond this, Zaya’s mother (played by Ellora Patnaik) and Salim (played by Matt Nethersole) were memorably entertaining. When Ellora (Zaya’s mother) starting speaking in Urdu, I immediately felt intimately connected to the familial moments. I could listen to her berate her son all day. Matt’s movement, elocution, and wardrobe on the other hand were enthrallingly elegant. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to be them or be with them.

– A.A.

As a queer Pakistani Muslim this was the first time I saw some of my nuanced struggles depicted on stage. I loved that the play did not portray Muslims in a simplistic or monolithic way - it showed all of the layers and wonderful contradictions of our community. It also showed that not only do queer Muslims exist, but that faith can continue to play an important part of our lives. Finally, there was a lot of important truth-telling about sexual abuse in Acha Bacha, as it showed struggle involved in piecing together memories of childhood trauma, and how difficult it is to break through family and community denial and taboos. So many difficult topics were dealt with using humanity and love. It was the best theatre experience I've had in Toronto in years, and I am grateful for it.

- S.A., Toronto

Acha Bacha works against the inherent myopia existing within South Asian Canadian theater, and goes to fearless places. For a young playwright like Bilal Baig, this is extraordinary fearlessness. It breaks boundaries of convention and stasis, invigorating a community of playwrights and theater that very badly needed this revamp. There are no limits or shame within Baig's work, which in turn sets new standards for others within the South Asian Canadian theater community. These are high standards. Very high.

Sanchari Sur

Go see this show because:

  • every character has depth
  • there are unanswered questions but not gaps in story
  • I couldn't name another show that weaves gender, sexuality, Islam together that doesn't rely on stereotypes
  • the recounting of trauma is SO real and gives the character power instead of replicating victim narratives
  • you will get something out of it even if you don't (think) you align with all the idenitities/experience/themes
  • there are hilarious references to GTA/sauga life.

more generally,

  • it's rare to see an all brown cast in theatre
  • I've never seen a genderqueer character played in such nuanced ways that still leave room for imagination - and the first time i'm seeing a genderqueer character at all in a theatre season (I'm not counting Rhubarb ECU/YCU shows)
  • you are supporting a young queer, genderqueer, muslim human who is a force to be reckoned with

- kumari

Acha Bacha was a well-written play, with 3-dimensional South Asian Muslim characters that were played by very talented actors. Each of the actors embodied the personalities of their characters to a T. The script showed the intricacies of being a (imperfect) queer South Asian Muslim man who's learning to come to terms with past and present trauma, while also trying to navigate being in a loving relationship. While I'm not Muslim myself, there were definitely a lot of relatable moments; the interactions between Zaya and his mother, and Zaya's relationship with his religious upbringing and sexuality stick out for me in particular. Definitely check it out for the acting and script, queer-centered storytelling with well-rounded South Asian characters, and Bollywood/South Asian mom references in Urdu. I'm looking forward to more amazing pieces from Bilal Baig in the future :)

– C

Acha Bacha, along with some other theatre this season in Toronto, gives me hope at the possibilities of seeing more complex stories/characters written for and by queer, trans communities, communities of colour, immigrant communities, and so much more. Bilal’s play doesn’t feel like I’m watching fiction but rather the telling of stories from our communities. The tenderness and complexity of Zaya and Salim’s relationship will resonate with anyone that’s had to balance familial expectations, gender, queerness, trauma, with love; Qasim Khan and Matt Nethersole are brilliant in their respective roles. Similarly, the interactions between Zaya and his mother (played by Ellora Patnaik) hit so close to home and are hilarious to watch; Ellora perfectly embodies some version of every racialized mother, balancing the clear love she has for her son with the complicated relationship they both share with each other.

Acha Bacha is that rare play that feels authentic and raw, like you’re getting to experience this intimate moment in someone’s actual life. It feels validating and refreshing to be able to see characters that are multi-dimensional and not just stereotypes. And on another note, it’s important that we support theatre/writers/actors in productions like this, so Toronto continues to make space for more complex BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, POC), queer and trans stories.

- Taashi

I have now seen "Acha Bacha" twice. And I'll see it a couple more times before it ends.

I can't say enough about what it means to see QPOC experiences represented on stage. So much brownness. Bilal Baig has gone deep to explore and lay bare the many different trusts that constitute love, loss, and relationships for many of us.

Each time I watch it, I find something different to connect with, something palpable that alienates - but I always leave knowing that this story is for me! For once, I am on the inside. And that makes my heart sing; my soul whole.

Thank you, Bilal! An amazing effort by Brendan Healey and the ensemble. Until next time...Huzza!

- Dirk Rodricks

Check out Acha Bacha at Theatre Passe Muraille between now and Feb. 18. Note that tickets are only $17 for youth (29 and under).

We are a collective of four queer south asians, most of whom are youth and some of whom are also trans-identified. We use this account for collective posts and updates. For questions or concerns, you can contact us on this profile, our individual profiles or through the contact/feedback forms.