Handlooms: A play about one of Manchester’s last sari shops

Exploring the changing experiences of British Asians, a new play has been made for one of Manchester’s last sari shops.

Since the late 1970s, Manchester’s Curry Mile has been an area much-occupied by Indian-Pakistani shops and restaurants. Most of these shops and restaurants became rivals competing for custom from the area’s growing south Asian community.

Forty years later, many young British Asians are turning away from the sari as an everyday form of dress. However, Alankar House of Sarees is one of the area’s few surviving traditional sari shops.

34-year-old Poonam Modha sits in the store, surrounded by piles of intricately embroidered fabrics. Modha says she had never planned to dedicate her life to the family business. She is the granddaughter of Gokuldas Modha, who founded the shop after arriving in Britain from Tanzania.

“When I was growing up my mum and dad used to bring me to work during the holidays when all I wanted to do was play,” she says. “But as I grew up and got into my late teens I fell in love with the clothes.”

The Manchester shop, and the family’s store in Leicester, provide the settings for Handlooms. It is a new play by writer Rani Moorthy and her company Rasa Theatre, made in collaboration with Manchester’s Contact theatre.

Handlooms seeks to explore the changing experiences of British south Asian communities. It tells the story of a mother and son who disagree about how to deal with a crisis in their sari business.

Much of the performance will take place on the traditional raised, cushioned platform that shop workers stand on to demonstrate the fabrics to their mostly female customers, who sit drinking masala tea.

Audiences in Manchester and Leicester will watch the performances in the shops themselves.

Showing from 12 – 24 March at Alankar House of Sarees

TNT Arts & Culture

Photo Credit: Nguyen Du

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