Brian Beacom

ARRANGED marriages are fast becoming thing of the past. Aren’t they?

Not quite. Not in Scotland, says playwright/actor Taqi Nazeer.

But the burning question is do the arranged marriages work? Are couples happy to leap into the unknown that is an untested relationship?

Taqi has been asking these questions and the results have emerged in the form of a new Oran Mor comedy play, Rishta, (which means arranged marriage proposal).

It’s set at the wedding of Niyal and Zahra, an Asian couple in Glasgow. And those in attendance hear a few surprises.

First-time playwright Taqi explains how his play, developed in association with the National Theatre of Scotland, came about.

“I came up with three ideas for the Breakthrough Writers scheme and the one they chose was the comedy about an arranged marriage.”

But Taqi wasn’t convinced a play about an arranged marriage really had relevance today.

“I thought ‘Surely the idea of the arranged marriage has been done to death. But then when I thought about it the idea hasn’t really been explored in Scotland.

“We’ve only had the plays which come up from Down South, about forced marriages. And while it’s good that these plays develop the conversation it also made me think of the flip side of arranged marriages that many people still go through.

“And I really wanted to paint a picture that’s non-apologetic.”

Taqi adds; “This play is about saying ‘This is how we are culturally. This is part of our identity.’”

Taqi also wanted to bring the issue of homosexuality into the mix.

“I wanted to explore this notion about being gay and being Muslim, and also being Scottish. It’s a real mix of ideas.”

He adds, grinning; “It’s been a journey in the past year.”

The play, which also features Mandy Bhari and Paul Chaal, is not set out to establish the rights and wrongs of an arranged marriage.

“I want to say we can be a diverse community, we can be different. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” he says.

Taqi is all too aware the concept of arranged marriages attaches itself to other cultures and religions; Catholics and Protestants will often marry those of their own faith, very often a result of separate schooling.

Jewish people tend to marry within their own background.

“There are pluses to these sort of marriages,” says Taqi. “The compatibility can be a lot more likely.”

He adds; “And when you think about Charles and Diana, that was very much an arranged marriage.

“But the downfall of the arranged marriage situation is that it doesn’t take into consideration wholeheartedly the nature of someone’s personality.

“This play reflects how the relationship process is really working backwards. And it starts with the couple at their wedding looking back at how they got to that point.”

The play reveals the couple wonder if they have made the right choice. And it explores the impact of parental pressure.

Taqi hasn’t been through the process of an arrange marriage, but friends and family members have.

“Yes, with positive and negative results,” he says.

“And as I was growing up and my mother said; ‘Taqi, we should be looking for (someone for) you,’ and my feeling has been, ‘Yes, go for it.’

“And I’ve also had friends come up to me and say it would be really lovely if their parents helped find someone for them.”

Taqi didn’t set out to become a playwright. Growing up in Edinburgh he completed a Masters in Business at Herriot Watt University.

After landing a traineeship with the BBC he then “fell into acting” when he joined a community arts hub for those from diverse backgrounds.

It was there he was talent spotted by Maggie Kinloch, then director of Acting at the RSAMD.

“Maggie saw me in an am-dram production and invited me to audition.

“I’d never thought of acting as a profession, but I gave it a bash and that was ten years ago.”

Taqi’s acting credits include Beautiful Burnout and Robert Dawson Scott’s Edinburgh Festival success, The Assessment.

“It’s been a really exciting journey,” he says, the passion in his voice audible.

“I really love acting. And becoming other characters certainly makes you think about your own. But it’s also great to have the academic background I have.”

Is it difficult being an Asian actor in Scotland? “It was different ten years ago, and it was easier when I worked in London.

“But now I’m being seen for standard parts and hopefully we will soon reach a point where we don’t have to have this diversity conversation.”

He adds; “Having said that, acting is tough. And that’s one of the reasons I got into writing.”

Taqi wants to see society represented in the world of performance. But he doesn’t believe actors of colour shouldn’t be crowbarred into period roles written for white actors.

“You want to stay true to a piece,” he says. “And you wonder if producers cast diversely in order to hit the numbers.”

The answer is writers have to write more for people of colour. Writers such as Taqi.

“Yes, and I’ve written this play,” he says with a wry grin. “But already I’ve been asked on Twitter why there are no Caucasian people in the play.”

He adds, smiling; “This is a play about Asians being married. It wouldn’t be right to cast white Scots actors just for the sake of being diverse.”

Taqi isn’t trying to make a massive statement with his play. He’s trying to open a door to a world others may not be entirely aware of.

“The couple go through their journey, and ask what they want for themselves,” he says.

“And it’s a comedy. Not a judgement.”

* Rishta, Oran Mor, until Saturday.