Please tell us about yourself

A Muslim in the midst,” the sharp new play about an event that takes place 3 days after September 11th halfway around the world in India opened last Monday for a three-performance run at the Thespis Theater Festival to a standing ovation. The play, which has attracted a great deal of attention due to the subject matter – Islamophobia – doesn’t disappoint.

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 The story takes place three days following the September 11th attacks in Bangalore, India and opens with a young man, Raj Sunder (played by Ram Kanneganti) sitting in his car waiting for his wife, Priya, to come out of work. Priya (played by Nikita Tewani) is a dedicated Westernized Indian woman who is working for an American company that has suffered casualties in the attack, resulting in the personal loss of friends and colleagues. As Raj sits in the car waiting, he notices that there is a young Muslim couple (played by Deeksha Ketkar as Shabana and Gopal Divan as Haneef) trying to secure a ride to their new home, a town no one seems to recognize. Because of pronunciation, or because perhaps they are Muslim and the city is in a state of alert, no one will give them a ride. As Priya and Raj observe how the Muslim couple is repeatedly shunned, they eventually decide to offer them a ride part of the way and take the strangers into their car.

Based on true events, the play is essentially a conversation about the contrasts in their lives, their beliefs, their culture and religion, and most importantly how they perceive each other. It is a clever and clean depiction of everything that is happening around the world when it comes to the Muslim religion and how so many people deal with the question of terrorism. The beauty of the material is that it poses questions, tries to answer them from from both perspectives, and creates a moment in time that deals with a subject of utmost importance.

This work is important and it is unique in that it takes a major American event and turns it on it’s head, giving us a fresh perspective never before seen on a New York stage. The action is relatively static since they are mostly driving in a car and could fall flat if not for the strong dialogue Mr. Rao has written and the clean direction by director Kim Sharp. Sharp has recognized the importance of getting emotional resonance out of the actors and they deliver.

Strong performances all around by this talented young cast that make for a very natural and believable story. There is not one missed beat and quite frankly this is a well rounded ensemble work. In effect, you really appreciate and understand each character if not fully agree with their point of view. What more could you ask for? The characters feel authentic and are memorable.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, interesting and fascinating career?

All of 22, Sriram Kanneganti, or Ram Kanneganti as he is also known, is brimming with ambition. With a degree in acting from the prestigious NYU Tisch School of the Arts, he’s in a very exciting phase of his life, he says. Figuring out what lies ahead and experimenting with the options available to him, he’s ‘happy to be following his dreams’.

He recalls, “I was studying Class VIII when I got my first taste of theatre. Somehow, I loved the world and enjoyed every bit of it. That’s the beauty of art, you meet so many interesting people and just fall in love with the entire process. When I had to choose what I wanted to graduate in, I told my parents that acting was my calling. They supported my decision wholeheartedly, and here I am.”

Tell us about your work

Several years of theatre in the city saw him in plays like The Crucible, The Lion King and Les Miserables, and his four years of graduate studies in acting have surely given Ram clarity on what he wants to do in the future.

Presently in Hyderabad, Ram is soon flying back to the US where he’s playing the much-in-demand role of Romeo in the play Romeo and Juliet! “I am open to all kinds of opportunities. If there’s one thing I learnt during my graduation, it is to be uninhibited in terms of my craft. I have no qualms about the roles I take up, but only want to be a part of good work. I love theatre but it was in my final year of college that I got to be a part of film production and absolutely loved it. It is really exciting to be in front of the camera,” he shares.