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Review: Lotus Beauty: Much needed story map lives of South Asian women across generations

Review: Lotus Beauty: Much needed story map lives of South Asian women across generations

Women come, women go. We pamper them, preen them, make them beautiful. Make small talk. Never know what’s really under their skin. Lotus Beauty

From the 1950’s when Southall was graced by its first influx of South Asians: the racial disparity they faced: not being accepted by a white community to the extent that in Ealing in 1963 the local authority declared they did not want more than 30% of immigrants in their schools mainly aimed at the growing South Asian community, so children were then picked up by coaches and dropped of at schools elsewhere. This only ended in 1981.

Each year in Britain there are roughly 12 to 15 so-called “honour” killings, many of these women killed because they have left an abusive marriage. The voice of the Asian community is not always as loud when it comes to their ordeals whether from their own community or in the UK as people who do not belong. For Asian women that voice is even smaller, in writer Satinder Chohan’s Lotus Beauty she serves up a big dose of reality addressing racism, sexism and abuse, through the lives of 5 multigenerational women, who don’t get me wrong also pander to the whims of Western women, worried about hairs on their chin and aging.

Photo by Chiara Wakely

Chohan manages to serve this up with some humour, the young spoilt daughter of Lotus beauty salon owner Reita (Kiran Landa), Pinky (Anshula Bains) does a good job “representing” her generation with her social media knowledge and secretly dating behind her mothers back. School work experience at her mother’s salon is an opportunity to paint her nails. Pinky and Tanwant (Zainab Hasan) , who is a worker in the salon bounce of each other to push the comedic value, Tanwant’s speech is decorated with Punjabi words and idioms.

Kamal (Ulrika Krishnamurti) brings more darkness to the story, working as the cleaner in the salon it is clear of her mental instability, which towards the end takes a turn for the worse. Reita is matriarch of a family fueled with dysfunction even her mother Big Dhadhi (Squad Faress) has had own story of trauma. The all female cast deliver brilliantly allow the writers work to come alive: these are the lives of women and they talk like women do about the menopause, aging, sex, etc, etc. Chohan does well to mix comedic elements that lighten some of the very heavy topics, but just enough comedy in order not to mask the important issues that South Asian women, in common with what all women face.

Just over 2 .5 hours the play is a poignant depiction of real life. The writer Chohan states “every character is a real-life mash up of and inspired by so many hard-working funny, feisty woman in the community I have seen, known, love and admire.”

But it is not just a play that sees woman as victims she points to the activism of woman of the Southall Uprising where Southall women took to the streets to fight racism, and working class struggles. Lotus Beauty serves up representation in big doses, speaking to the masses and is a celebration of women of voices and women of color who are least heard. #lotusbeauty

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Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including an interval


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