"I've been writing stories and telling stories ever since school. It came naturally to me," said Pravesh Kumar MBE, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the award-winning Rifco Theatre Company in Watford, UK.
He started the company in 2000 to make a different kind of theatre for a community that could not see themselves represented on English stages. Touring with his latest production, 'Happy Birthday Sunita', Kumar captivates audiences across the UK with his powerful storytelling and diverse perspectives.
Speaking with iGlobal, Kumar reflects on his early life and career, his first theatre productions, and many others. He also announced his upcoming stage musical theatre, 'Frankie Goes to Bollywood', which will be out in Spring 2024, and the tickets are already on sale!
"I grew up watching so much of Bollywood cinema. In those days, we had these chunky video tapes, and we'd watch Amitabh films and all other 80s and 90s films because, at that time in Britain, that was the only way to watch people on screen who looked like me. And this had a real impact in my early years," he said.
With a deep passion for storytelling, he has become a prominent figure in the industry. His exceptional talent and dedication have earned him the prestigious MBE title, recognizing his invaluable contributions to the arts.
Born and bred in the Slough area near London, Kumar shared he comes from a working-class family. He recollects that he probably wouldn't have chosen this journey without his father's and his schoolteachers' support and the early incubation from his school drama club.
"My parents are first-generation immigrants, so they worked hard to keep a roof over our heads. Being an artist or going into arts for a living was unheard of. And I suddenly decided to be an actor!" Kumar laughs.
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His feature film, 'Little English' (2022), stole the hearts of audiences worldwide by skilfully weaving humour, emotions, and cultural nuances into a universal tale of identity, love, and acceptance. Talking about the inspiration behind making 'Little English', Kumar shared that he wanted to authentically represent the stories of strong women in our diaspora like his mother.
"Every time I see stories about South Asian women, they're always weak, and I wanted to change these tropes of stereotypical stories. I wanted to show strong women like my mother, who would get up and fight the world for her rights," he said.
He has gone on to achieve critical acclaim for Rifco's productions and has created some groundbreaking plays and musicals, including 'Britain's Got Bhangra', 'Miss Meena & the Masala Queens', 'Laila the Musical', 'The Deranged Marriage' and many more. His first short film, 'Gods on Mountains' (2008), was nominated for the Satyajit Ray Short Film Award.
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"Bollywood is doing its thing. Indian cinema goes beyond and is fantastic. But then, where are the diaspora films? There's this huge diaspora across the world. It is also essential that we tell their stories," Kumar said.
"I've got so many ideas in my head that I want to make, and I've got a whole list of things that I want to do, and in a way, I didn't start off to do this, but I want to change the world a little bit. As an artist, I can see that we can show a mirror to the world, and that's become my job. And I want to do that in a way that is accessible.
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"I always think of human stories, and if the story is relatable to the audience – that is essential to me. Because there is no point in doing something brilliant if the story is unrelated to the audience," Kumar revealed his success mantra as he signed off.
*Info: Rifco Theatre