As a South Asian woman and a writer, I’m always interested in learning about initiatives that combine both of those identities. While I favour writing creative nonfiction and opinion pieces, I am pulled to poetry and theatre for my entertainment, and to stretch me out of my own mind, into the stories of others. When I identify with the stories acted out on stage or film, or spoken from a poet’s mouth, it’s an even deeper experience for me. Learning about the expansion of Diwali in B.C. makes me so happy, knowing that more people have access to such stories that they can either identify with or learn from.

Nobody understands this better than the creative behind such initiatives, Rohit Chokhani, who is an award-winning producer and director. The recipient of the Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion award at the 2018 Jessie Richardson Awards, Chokhani is recognized for encouraging the diverse voices in theatre and dance, and for creating a platform for South Asian artists. In particular, his endeavours Project SAT and Diwali in B.C. appeal to artists and art-lovers who appreciate such a platform.

What is Project SAT?

Project SAT, which doubles as an acronym for South Asian Theatre and the Sanskrit word meaning ‘pure and true essence’, has a mission to “build a platform for the next generation of South Asian artists and the next wave of South Asian stories being told,” says Chokhani. “There are a lot of Western organizations where South Asian artists can go and learn but they’re going to teach them how to create and tell their stories based on the Western approaches.” Workshops that further this mission are offered throughout the fall with a focus on dramaturgy, Natyashastra, producing and playwriting. These workshops are specifically tailored to members of the South Asian community who experience marginalization, and translators are available in Hindi, Punjabi and ASL.

What is the difference between Western and Eastern philosophies of training in drama?

I was curious about this because it seems to be the crux of Project SAT. Without knowing the difference between the two philosophies, I felt like I couldn’t quite grasp the importance of the work that happens in this space. Chokhani explains, “Basically, the key element is ‘text or non-text’. In most Western work, more often not, the work starts with ‘what is the script, where is the script, get the script made, THEN we will work from the script. In a lot of Eastern traditions, whether it’s theatre or dance…the source is emotion-driven…what is the emotion you want to tell? In the Western world, they also focus a lot more on character and what the text needs to tell. In the Eastern world, you could be emoting a lot of things…like the weather.”

diwali in b.c., taslim jaffer, rohit chokani


The Natyashastra workshop this fall takes place over 4 days and dives deeper into this distinction between the two philosophies, comparing the dramaturgy of Bharata’s Natyashastra text and the Western dramaturgy of Aristotelian poetics.

In another workshop, Introduction to Producing, Chokhani will focus on the fundamentals of theatre production.

Do you have any ideas about what is lacking in the South Asian arts scene? Questions about his workshops? Chokhani welcomes your comments and questions, and loves chatting about cultural arts.

Diwali in B.C. October 3 – November 17, 2018…YES! 6 Whole Weeks!

Last year I had the privilege to speak with Chokhani about his new province-wide Diwali celebration, celebrating the Festival of Lights as well as South Asian culture in an inclusive way. With programming that centred around sex trafficking, abuse and healing, last year’s festival was a hit – and this year, it’s back and BIGGER.

Expanded to include 3 new cities, you can find programming for 2018’s theme New Horizons, in Vancouver, Coquitlam, Vernon, Maple Ridge and Nanaimo. When asked about this expansion, Chokhani explains, “What was lacking was to go beyond Metro Vancouver. So last year I created a new brand, a new organizational structure and launched Diwali B.C. specifically with that intention, that the programming in Metro Vancouver should continue…but I did want to step outside of that and cater to the needs for such programming as well as the need to connect with community beyond the major urban centres. So, this year we are starting with Vernon, Maple Ridge and Nanaimo.”

A really amazing accomplishment is the launch of this festival in Vernon. Diwali in B.C. is taking over this Okanagan town with events throughout the whole week that cater to individuals as well as families. Bollywood fitness classes, yoga classes, Rangoli making, and a special number performed by the Shiamak Vancouver dance team (I highly recommend experiencing a Shiamak performance!) fill the calendar among other fun and tasty events, as noted below. Visit their website for more details about the festival and each of the events.

2018 Diwali in B.C. Programming:

A Vancouver Guldasta October 2-21 at Vancity Culture Lab | Presented with The Cultch

A Vancouver Guldasta focuses on a Punjabi family in Vancouver in the early 1980s as they navigate through the experience of trauma and violence occurring in Punjab, and their daughter’s complicated friendship with a Vietnamese refugee teen who lives in their basement. The story takes place during the Indian government’s armed invasion of the ‘Golden Temple’ — the holiest shrine of the Sikhs — in the epicentre of the Sikh diaspora, South Vancouver, B.C. A Vancouver Guldasta is an examination of common experience, identifying home, and processing trauma.

diwali in b.c., taslim jaffer, rohit chokani

Diwali in B.C., Vernon  October 9-13 at various locations in Vernon, including the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre

This inaugural event is presented with the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre and will culminate in a multicultural showcase of diverse artists from different backgrounds. Activities throughout the week will include workshops, discussions, dance performances, musical performances, cultural activities, and crafts. The festival’s final performance, featuring headliner Shiamak Vancouver, takes place at the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre on Saturday,  October 13 at 7:00pm.

diwali in b.c., rohit chokani, taslim jaffer

Shyama  October 27 at the York Theatre Co-presented with Vancouver Tagore Society and in community partnership with Mandala Arts & Culture Society, with support from BC Arts Council

A Bharatanatyam interpretation of Tagore’s epic Bengali dance drama Shyama with original choreography by Jai Govinda. This dance theatre piece is a tribute to the first non-European Nobel-laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore and his magically visual poetry and music of love. Dance artist Arno Kamolika has been collaborating with musician Shankhanaad Mallick and with director Rohit Chokhani for over two years on this production, and Diwali in B.C. will debut their most current version of this poetic, deep philosophical story that will be performed on stage with other Bharatanatyam dancers in B.C.: Grihalakshmi Soundarapandian, Jaylakshmi Ravindra , Malavika Santhosh, and Vidya Kotamraju.

The Believers Are But Brothers October 30-November 10 at Vancity Culture Lab | Presented with The Cultch Written and performed by Javaad Alipoor, and co-directed by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley

The Believers Are But Brothers is an electronic maze of fantasists, meme culture, 4chan, the alt-right, and ISIS. Old orders are collapsing, from the postcolonial nation states of the Middle East to the European Union and to the American election. Through it all, tech-savvy and extremist groups rip up political certainties. Amidst this, a generation of young men find themselves burning with resentment and without the money, power, and sex they think they deserve. This bold one-man show explores the smoke and mirrors world of online extremism, anonymity, and hate speech.

diwali in b.c., taslim jaffer, rohit chokani

Diwali in B.C., Maple Ridge  November 10 at The ACT Arts Centre This inaugural event is presented with The ACT Arts Centre

The evening celebrates South Asian culture with classical and contemporary dance as well as live music performances, and a special performance by Shiamak Vancouver.

Diwali in B.C., Coquitlam  November 11 at Evergreen Cultural Centre

Diwali at Evergreen is in its second year and is presented by the Evergreen Cultural Centre. The South Asian themed evening features live music as well as classical and contemporary dance performances, including a special performance by Arno Kamolika.

I hope you are able to participate in one of these events and, if you do, I’d love to hear about your experience!

taslim jaffer writer