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Meher Pavri and Andrew Haji in Sāvitri. Photo by Dylan Toombs.
I had my Carnegie Hall debut in the first week of March of 2020—in celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

It’s surreal to think about it now. I left Toronto on March 2, we performed in New York for a packed audience at Carnegie, and then I returned on March 6, on a flight that felt completely normal… no masks. I haven’t been on an airplane since. 

By the end of March, my whole calendar for 2020 was suddenly wide open—every show had been postponed or cancelled. Yes, it sucks to have your entire livelihood taken out from under you. My wife was eight months pregnant at that time, and it was a tense time professionally. 

My son was born on April 2, 2020, just as all the precautions were being ramped up and life was being locked down. I was with my wife for the birth, but I was asked to leave the hospital shortly thereafter. So, I was Facetiming with my son and wife from home for the first three days after the birth. We were so lucky— he was a totally healthy baby.

In a way it was a blessing to have an empty schedule that allowed me to spend time with our baby son in the first months of his life—as everyone isolated in their own, little bubbles. 

In early 2021, Joel Ivany approached me, and asked if I’d be interested in joining Sāvitri, and I was happy to say yes. My dad is Indian, and I was raised watching a couple of TV series based on stories in the Mahābhārata and Ramayana.

I relate to Sāvitris themes of love, duty, respect and courage.  

When I learned that there was an opera by Holst based on this story, I was so interested to be a part of it. I also knew that Against the Grain would approach this material in a very careful and sensitive way; that they would do justice to the original material while evaluating it with a contemporary lens. 

My dad’s family is Indian, but lived in Tanzania for generations, before migrating to Canada in 1975— he belongs to the Ismaili faith. His family settled in London, Ontario—where he met my mom, who has Irish, French and European roots, and whose family had settled in Nova Scotia. 

I’m inspired by the incredible devotion that Sāvitri has for her husband, and the love that they share— and intrigued by the supernatural element of death personified in this story. Thankfully for me, my wife hasn’t had to have a stern talking-to with death. 

We filmed Sāvitri on a farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario over the May long weekend. It was a beautiful setting, and right on the water. We all got sunburns and bug bites—and yes, we were all tested for COVID. 

As a performer, it felt incredible after more than year to finally interact with other artists.

To be in the same physical space with them… even just to shake someone’s hand. It was really interesting too, because I got to dress up in some wonderful traditional Indian wedding attire, and I sent my dad a picture with a note: This is the traditional Indian wedding you always hoped I would have!

Creating Sāvitri with this team brought back so many memories of the “before times.” As we start relaxing guidelines, I predict it will feel great, but also, weird! More than anything, the film shoot left me with a sense of hope—of remembering what it is like to be able to do this work in person. It rekindled so many feelings, and my love for the artform. 

When it comes down it, when you haven’t been able to do what you love professionally for fourteen months, you start to forget what it feels like… so it was an exciting reminder of how much I love what I do.

Thank you to Andrew for contributing his artistic voice and being a part of Sāvitri. Read Andrew’s bio here.

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