The Wrong Bashir at Crow’s Theatre

As a South Asian person, I often find myself struggling to find meaningful representation of South Asian People on screen and on stage. Oftentimes, these representations follow specific tropes and stereotypes, and very rarely do they represent South Asian-Canadians. Even though I am not a part of the religious or cultural group represented in “The Wrong Bashir” playing at the Crows Theatre I felt seen as the child of South Asian Immigrants, growing up in Toronto. 

Written by Zahida Rahemtulla and directed by Paolo Santalucia, the play tells the story of “Bashir Ladha, a bohemian philosophy podcaster, finds himself unwittingly thrust into the spotlight when he is chosen to assume a distinguished religious position that his parents have eagerly accepted on his behalf. Before Bashir can object, two committee representatives are at his door to congratulate him. As the representatives start to suspect a mistake has been made, Bashir’s jubilant grandparents and relatives arrive to commemorate the honour. A charming farce ensues, prompting questions around whether the seemingly wrong Bashir may, in fact, be the right one.” 

Walking in the theatre, I was in awe of the incredible set design. It genuinely looked like someone took a slice out of someone’s house and placed it on stage, complete with family photos, chotchkies, and the two mortar and pestles found in many South Asians homes.  

The cast of this play was absolutely wonderful! When Sultan (Sugith Varughese) and Najma (Nimet Kanji) came out, I thought to myself, “I have an aunty and an uncle who look and sound JUST like them”. Sharjil Rasool who played Bashir Ladha (who I have also had the privilege of watching in a few Second City Revue shows) and Bren Eastcott who played Bashir’s teen sister Nafisa did a great job playing the two second-generation Canadians, but more on that in a bit. Bashir’s grandparents (played by Salim Rahemtulla and Zaittun Esmail) and family friend/local gossip Gulzar (Pamela Mala Sinha) were also wonderful additions to the cast overall. However, it was two local Ismaili council representatives, Al Nashir (Vijay Mehta) and Mansour (Parm Soor) who stole the show for me. The two were a hilarious duo, with the timing of other great Duos such as Abbott and Costello. They were constantly cracking up the audience and adding layers of problems to the already complex situation that we see. We learn part way through the play that they have unfortunately gone to the wrong Bashir’s house, and have no idea how to rectify this problem without letting down the entire family and the council. 

For me as a second-generation Sri Lankan Canadian, how the parental/child dynamics were important. I very much saw myself in Bashir, and I also saw elements of my parents in his parents. My parents have also struggled in their lives to raise two children in a quickly changing Western world. They had no problem living in a status quo just like Bashir’s family, he and his little sister have dreams of more. Basir dives into philosophy and tries to even get a podcast up and running – except his podcast is weirdly analog and must be played on a boombox. Now even though I’ve not attempted an analog podcast before, I have had my fair share of dreams that can only really be of existence because of my parents’ struggles, and their choice to move here. We do learn and see as the play progresses that Bashir’s family especially his dad, had to give up a lot just to be in Toronto. 

Another thing I found fascinating about this play was Bashir’s failed attempt to demonstrate his connection to his religion and his culture. This is quite evident when he is asked to say a set of prayers and doesn’t even know them, or speak in their native tongue. Bashir and his sister then have side conversations on how they are “bad children” while messing up some traditional chai tea, throwing in Masala and fenugreek into the mix ( which for those of you who have never had those flavors together, I assure you, they do not belong in Chai). 

The cast also does an excellent job of playing with and demonstrating true elements of South Asian culture, including the expectation that the child’s success equals the parent’s success, and how their acceptance in their community rests on the next generation. This is completely unfair, but I will admit, is quite true. Oftentimes at parties, aunties and uncles will discuss the success of their children and will cast judgment on their friends and family’s children who have not succeeded in ways they expected them to. A lot of pressure is put on second-generation Canadians to be the answer to the question, “Why did we move to this country?” just like in Bashir’s case. 

Paolo Santalucia, who I mainly know as a fantastic actor,  has done an excellent job directing this show, putting his stamp on this play while allowing the actors to have free rein to express themselves and shine as individuals.  The pacing of the show feels excellent and choices that were made by Ken Mackenzie for lighting and set design were right. It does seem like this play can be developed even further, maybe even into a TV series. 

 Even though this play was excellent, I did have a few issues with it. I, like most of the audience, am not a member of the Ismaili Muslim community, a lot of the dialogue and text felt like we should have already known what a student mukhisaheb is (basically a student religious leader). The playwright Zahida Rahemtulla does give you enough hints and clues to get the gist of cultural terms, but it’s not exactly the easiest. I also noticed that small sections felt a little fluffy, almost as if the play was about 15-20 minutes too short, and the playwright had to add extra bits here and there to make up for it. However, overall I felt that the play was not only enjoyable, it was relatable. It was a lighthearted yet meaningful look at the effects one generation puts on another, and what it means to sacrifice one’s own interests for the sake of their families. 

An example as to why this play and plays like this are important was demonstrated for me at the play. At one point Mansour delivers a one-word punchline which was very funny (especially with the timing), but the person behind me repeated the punchline WITH an Indian accent, and I can assure you, the man behind me was not Indian. It soured a bit of the play for me because I had to sit there simply hoping that people in the audience were laughing at the jokes because they were funny, not because a person with a South Asian accent was saying it. However, the story being as deep as it was has me hoping that people no matter their colour or culture see themselves and their family dynamics in the characters, and not get hung up simply on accents. 

“The Wrong Bashir” is playing until June 16th at The Streetcar Crowsnest’s Guloien Theatre, 345 Carlaw Ave. Tickets can be bought at 

[Review by Shan Fernando]