22nd March 2022

Interview with Rukhsana Ahmad, Writer of Queen of Hearts

Ahead of the World Premiere of Queen of Hearts, on the 25 & 26 March, we spoke to Rukhsana Ahmad, the writer of the play:

Hello Rukhsana, we are very much looking forward to seeing Queen of Hearts this week, what inspired you to write it?

Piali Ray, the Artistic Director of Sampad proposed the originating idea, which immediately grabbed me as an older writer. I feel it is integral to the experience of ageing. Everyone ages differently but by and large your age is an aspect of yourself that is more apparent to others than it is to you. Yes, age changes you, but perhaps much more outwardly than it does in terms of personality, impulses, desires, hopes, dreams and passions. In your head and heart, in your imagination lurks the younger, wilder self.

The play focuses on a fading Bollywood star, struggling to reconcile how she sees herself, versus how the world perceives her in age. Sparks fly as her younger self arrives to question her memories, and to suggest that maybe it’s time to slow down and embrace aging. Do you relate to any of the characters?

All the characters I create have something of me somewhere tucked inside them; but the main character, Lalita, and her alter-ego, her younger self/her conscience: Laali, are both relatable characters. Lalita, because of her vulnerabilities (she dreads ageing and her reduced prospects of employment as a Bollywood leading lady) and Laali, because of her quest for truth and her quickness of mind, her teasing voice and her fearlessness.

Why do you think Queen of Hearts is an important story to tell?

I feel negative perceptions of age in the film industry need to be challenged. They are unfair and marginalise older performers just when they have acquired all the experience they need. By ranking looks over and above all the inner attributes of the mind and spirit, they devalue the most experienced actors. There is a sexist dimension to this in Bollywood and Hollywood, of course, which also makes it offensive and grossly unfair to women. Female stars are seen as ‘old’ a whole lot sooner than their male counterparts.

If you could summarise Queen of Hearts in one sentence what would it be?

The Queen of Hearts begins to accept the view of her life from a summit – from which all paths lead downhill.

Why should people come and see the play?

It raises some important issues, but it is in essence a light textured and fun piece of entertainment – studded with songs and snatches of music sandwiched between two exciting dance sequences choreographed by Aruna Kailey. It’s a genuinely bicultural experience, enriched by memories of past super hit songs and life’s insurmountable dilemmas that are universal and stretch from Bollywood to Birmingham, from Kolkatta to Karachi and from London to Lahore. Everyone will enjoy it, I am sure!

Queen of Hearts looks at the ageing process and creativity. How do you think they affect each other?

In my experience, ageing is not in itself antithetical to creativity but the fear and taboos that hound ageing do tend to hold all creative artists in thrall. Unless you can cut a deal with the ageing process that accepts its limitations and gains with grace and confidence, you can very easily lose out…

Queen of Hearts is at Midlands Arts Centre on the 25 & 26 of March. Tickets are just £6. Buy them here.