Festival of lights and culture

Dancer Arno Kamolika. | Photo courtesy Diwali in B.C

This year’s Diwali Festival in B.C. promises to both entertain and educate. Founded by Rohit Chokhani, Diwali in B.C. is an artistic platform and a celebration of the festival of lights during the Indian New Year. A multi-cultural festival, Diwali promises to engage artists and people from different backgrounds and specialties.

Raised in Mumbai, Chokhani grew up with the mindset that he would become a doctor or a lawyer. While pursuing a career in computer science, he managed only to participate in the arts as a side project.

Fast forward to 2018 and Chokhani is now an award-winning artistic director of Diwali in B.C. Having only founded Diwali B.C. in 2017, Chokhani has made a great deal of progress in making Diwali B.C. a B.C.-wide celebration. Chokhani’s day-to-day is filled with content curation, collaboration, partnerships and a lot of chai. Though making space for different perspectives can be difficult, he credits his passion for providing a platform for artists that are not often represented as his driving force.

This year’s celebrations are themed New Horizons.

“[The theme is]an artistic response to racial tensions and gender abuse that continues to threaten the safety of the world in which we live,” says Chokhani.

Many of the performances this year reflect this choice of theme. In the production A Vancouver Guldasta, there are fresh conversations around trauma and healing through the lens of a Punjabi-Sikh family living with a Vietnamese refugee in Vancouver. In The Believers Are But Brothers, through the world or technology it takes a deeper look at toxic masculinity, and Shyama explores different colours of love, the price of desire, forgiveness, and morality through one of India’s most celebrated playwrights – Rabindranath Tagore. The theme also refers to Diwali B.C.’s geographical expansions. This year Diwali is expanding to three new cities, including Vernon, Nanaimo and Maple Ridge.

Chokhani hopes that this year’s celebration encourages more local productions. He also hopes Diwali B.C. will experience growth both organizationally and financially, allowing the organization to undertake projects that have a more culturally specific process for creation.

“We want to develop and produce more theatre shows locally. We want to represent more underrepresented groups from different backgrounds and abilities, provide more free accessible residencies, mentorship opportunities and internships,” explains Chokhani.

Universal artistry

R. Chokhani, founder of Diwali in B.C. | Photo courtesy Diwali in B.C

Another project Chokhani has been working on is Project SAT (South Asian Theatre). Described as an initiative aimed at creating a network for developing, touring, producing, and presenting national and international South Asian theatre projects in Canada, Project SAT serves to inspire the next generation of South Asian artists. Through a series of workshops, artists can learn producing, playwriting, dramaturgy and Natyashastra (a text on the performing arts). As the program enters its third year, Chokhani says he has received an overwhelmingly positive response. Many workshops are fully booked, but there are still opportunities for those eager to learn. With hopes of developing more workshops and opening their doors to different underrepresented communities,Chokhani has high hopes for expanding the project.

“Speaking out and representing underrepresented voices is part of living my truth. I know what it is like to be ignored, to be on the outskirts or feel unheard. It has happened to me and it made me stronger and hungrier to not let it affect me and so I want that platform to exist that can offer space for folks who need it the most,” says Chokhani.

Diwali in B.C. takes place between Oct. 3 and Nov. 17. Through theatre, dance, and culturally specific workshops, Chokhani promises a rewarding experience for all who attend. For more information, please visit www.diwalibc.ca and www.projectsat.ca.