FRINGE 2019: Why you need to see… Eshaan Akbar
Who: Eshaan Akbar
“My mum was like a Luis Suarez figure in the family - if she's on your side, you fucking love it; if she isn't, she's just a racist who bites people...”
It is fair to say that Eshaan Akbar has been unlucky in love. That's not ideal for him, but it does make for dynamite material to mine for this droll and absorbing hour of romantic rumination, sexual misadventures, and the eternal quest for 'the one'. As much as others may have trod the same ground over the years, what sets Akbar's Infidel-ity apart is his naked honesty and unique cultural perspective.
Whilst others may attempt to retrospectively map the modern world of online dating and app-based hook-ups onto their own experiences, Akbar explains the fundamental premise of Tinder - to very quickly decide yes or no on prospective suitors based on photos and basic information - has been around for decades in the Asian/Muslim community in the shape of 'biodata' - which is basically pages and pages of singleton CVs to peruse and pick from.
It is through this South Asian lens that Akbar explores the many particular difficulties in finding love as a second-generation Pakistani-Bangladeshi growing up in the UK. So he has to contend with his omnipresent parents growing up; an often self-inflicted friend-zoning as an adolescent; the fact that the Asian community's definition of 'eligible' can be blinkered and narrow; and a society that doesn't readily accept Asian men as viable sexual options.
Akbar drives the last point home by asking the audience to name five Asian men who are widely perceived as sex symbols. It takes an age to reach that number, as a voice in the crowd offers Imran Khan. "He's 66 years old FFS!" Akbar responds. He goes on to regale tales of his various significant others, from a girl at school who ended up with his best mate, to an ill-fated attempt to keep up with an S&M enthusiast. Each is greeted with hearty laughter and warm empathy.
Whether it's describing his enigmatic late mother - who once subjected him to the most blistering heckle of his life - or explaining the unchanging plot of Indian drama Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi ('Because a mother-in-law was once a wife too'), Akbar is an expert raconteur who always has the audience entertained and on his side. You find yourself rooting for him every step of the way. In spite of his many ups and downs, his belief in true love remains undimmed. There is plenty of affection for him in the room that's for sure.
You can buy tickets for Infidel-ity here.