Chai Stand Chats: Jacob Rajan - Indian Ink Theatre Company

Chai Stand Chats: Jacob Rajan

Actor Jacob Rajan as Kutisar from Guru of Chai on a roof, holding a lantern and a tea potWe sit down with Performer & Co-writer of Guru of Chai Jacob Rajan to get some behind the scenes thoughts on the show.

What inspired you to tell this story?

We’d come across an Indian fairy tale called “Punchkin” when we were researching to create a kid’s show. We loved the story but thought it was a little too dark for children. Finally we decided to reimagine it for an adult audience and set it in modern India.

How did you discover The Tale of Punchkin?

It was in a dusty corner of the internet. There was something about the characters, their relationships and their situation that got under our skin. Especially the idea of “keeping your soul locked in a cage.” I think we recognised people who actually live their lives like that.

How is the Guru different from your other characters?

The Guru is the storyteller and in that way holds the drama in the present – the drama in the room with the audience. The characters within the story represent a drama in the past. That story in the past is important but the true drama is the Guru’s need to tell it.

What inspires you for your performance as Kutisar?

Kutisar is based on a real life person. Neoman Surkurta who introduced us to Balinese mask dance in Bali. He was a mask dancer himself, immersed in this devotional and sacred form yet very much a beautifully flawed human being. Loved to drink, gamble and go fishing at any opportunity. Sadly he died a few years after we met him but Kutisar is very much inspired by our time with Neoman.

How do you create a relationship on stage between multiple characters?

There’s an element of procession that happens when you land the character. In a way, the character inhabits you and you look at the world through their eyes. If you can balance that with the craft of knowing where you are on stage then the relationship between characters happens just as it would if there were other performers there with you. You’re reacting to what they do and say.

What excites you about this performance?

I love the engagement with the audience; the way the show magically opens their imaginations. It’s very much a roller coaster ride from start to finish and encompasses the absurd and the profound. I love the idea of this outrageous promise that the Guru makes – to take away everything that’s wrong with your life – actually, in a way, being fulfilled by the end of the show.

Do you come up with characters then the storyline, or is it the other way round?

Well, it sounds like a cop out, but they are totally interlinked. You can’t have character without having plots. Because what is the plot but the character coming up against a situation where they are tested? I think it’s dangerous to just write a story and then throw characters into it. I think that the story design is such that the character is put into extremes so that they make choices. And those choices are what we’re interested in, ‘why did they go that way?’. And that’s to do with their character. To create something that I think is satisfying, you need to see that change. And for that change to happen, you need to have a plot that facilitates that change, and I think that’s what we enjoy.