Indian actress Kali Srinivasan reminds us what it is to be human in Biryani.
Image: Biryani, presented by encounter and City of Perth Winter Arts Festival. Photograph by Mustafa Al Mahdi.
This unusual performance, combining food, music, storytelling and billowing red curtains, embodies simple but lasting emotions. The mood setting starts as we walk into the Upper Burt Hall next to Perth’s St Georges Church; the massive stained glass windows are scaled down by the swathes of multi-coloured fabric helping create their own performance space within the hall.
In this world premiere we attentively watch as Kali Srinivasan cooks her family’s biryani recipe. This is a south Asian mixed rice dish served for celebrations and the audience uniquely get to both see the dish cooking and taste it during an interval.
Srinivasan is an actress in the Palme D’or winning film, Dheepan, and her acting talents are what make this performance special. This unique take on cooking – much less dramatised than Master Chef – is full of loving stories which recall the significance of food in our lives and relationships. As Srinivasan takes on characters from her first food-related memories – the lady in the towel and two cups of chai – we are immersed in a multi-sensory experience.
Directed by Jay Emmanuel, Srinivasan’s performance is accompanied by live music performed on classical Indian instruments by Tao Issaro, a renowned percussionist/composer/music producer originally from Kerala in South India and now residing in Perth. The music is integral to the success of Biryani, both setting the scene and allowing for reflection. Issaro is a warm and gifted performer.
Srinivasan is a charismatic storyteller who uses humour and mimicry well. She also involves Issaro in small vignettes which were perfectly handled by both performers. Moments where she embodied true desire, responding to the taste of the food she was preparing, were memorable; this is hard to do without over-acting, but here her response was sublime.
Srinivasan’s gently intertwining stories touch on the deity Krishna; the hierarchies involved with the serving of food; the loving preparation of food for children or parents when they are sick; the moments when you are too poor to afford food. At some moments her contemplative tilt of the head when chopping onions was more meaningful than the story itself.
The lighting and set design by Devon Lovelady and Etain Boscato is integral to the performance with the aforementioned billowing material above our heads, the candles flickering on top of a red draped piano, numerous pots of flowers and other details creating an inviting Indian celebration.
Limited audience numbers are fed the biryani, a very tasty version pre-prepared by Emmanuel’s mother, as we chat at tables amongst ourselves. Emmanuel and Srinivasan devised this piece which clearly incorporates their personal own histories. Their extensive research on biryani revealed that one of the key features of the famous dish is the individual flavor of each recipe. The grinding of spices by hand, the stirring and cooking is unique to each recipe and family. How we create identity through rituals and the creation of food is particularly relevant to migrant stories, and reminds us of the fundamental nature of being human – both corporeal and spiritual.
There were slight sound issues on the night we attended, mainly due to the size of the hall and the intimate scale of the performance, but these have been remedied. This is Srinivasan’s first time in Australia and a great opportunity for Perth audiences to see an engaging high-calibre performer in a story that just makes you feel good about life.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Performed by Kali Srinivasan
Directed by Jay Emmanuel
Produced by Mustafa Al-Mahdi
Music Tao Issaro
Lighting and Set Design by Devon Lovelady & Etain Boscato
Photography by Mustafa Al Mahdi
Upper Burt Hall, St Georges Church, Perth
6 – 15 July 2017
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level