Chatting About Paradise – Students Share Their Stories

In late 2013, my Year 11 Drama exam discussed the theatre techniques used by Indian Ink in the play ‘Kiss the Fish’.

I’d seen the show some months earlier and had studied it meticulously in the weeks prior to the exam. It was the final exam in my first year of NCEA, so other than being extremely happy with it was done, all I can really remember is how much my hand hurt from writing.

Fast-forward eight years and I had the chance to chat with students in the same position as I was (but hopefully with less-sore hands!)

Thank you to Sonam, Abhishek, Gheikma, Fatima and Mrs Emma Gillies for taking the time to chat with me about Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream and Indian Ink!

Have you seen any Indian Ink shows other than Paradise?

Abhishek: Yes, Mrs. Krishnan’s Party.

Fatima: – And I’ve watched the original Krishnan’s Dairy as well.

Gheikma: Last year when we were in our Year 11 Drama class, because of COVID, we couldn’t see it live, so we watched an online version of Mrs Krishnan’s Party.

Emma: And I’ve seen all of them except The Candlestick Maker and The Pickle King.

Before you went to see Paradise, what did you think the show was going to be about?

Abhishek: Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think it would be the same as other shows, but I did have a generic idea about the theme of Indian Ink plays. I knew there was going to be some kind of conflict and the theme of duty versus freedom was going to come up because it feels like that is a really big theme for Indian Ink.

Sonam: I expected it to be a little bit like Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, because the poster was really similar. But then I heard it was a one-man show so I thought “this is definitely going to be something different”.

Did Paradise meet your expectations?

Fatima: Well I didn’t really have any expectations, because I had no idea what was going to happen, but I liked it, so it was good!

Emma: So I don’t know how you feel about one-man shows, but oftentimes you go in thinking “oh God, this could be good, or it could be absolute crap”. It’s so dependent on that one actor, and Jacob is amazing, so I knew that we could trust his ability. But with the idea of a one-man show, I just didn’t know if it would keep students interested for that long.

And so I was so stoked when we left, and all the kids loved it! I was so grateful, I feel like I can trust Indian Ink shows to take my kids to, and I know it will be engaging.

Gobi Krishnan holds colourful buckets of flowers.

Abhishek: It kind of went beyond what I thought it was gonna be. When I heard it was a one-man show, I was in a similar boat to Miss. I thought “am I gonna want to watch this whole thing? How long is it?” I was starting to ask questions that I usually wouldn’t ask for a performance. I almost wanted to get it over and done with, in a way, but it definitely blew my expectations. We’re devising pieces for scholarship and watching the show inspired me not only as an audience member but as a student as well so that I could take the tools he’s used and put them back into my own pieces.

What does Paradise mean to you?

Sonam: I think of the best place you could be, like the best-feeling place you could ever go. Sometimes you are in a place, and you get a feeling of just like “this is perfect”. It’s a feeling that everything is fine and you have no care in the present moment.

Gheikma: For me, the first thing that comes to mind is heaven. I think that’s because in Islam the word paradise is always used, so I have the correlation between paradise and heaven.

What were some of the main things you took away from Paradise?

Abhishek: That situations in life are impermanent. I think culturally I also related to it a lot because of the idea of ‘Duty versus Freedom’.

There’s this idea of duty and constantly sticking to your upbringing and sticking to what is culturally right. But there’s also this element of freedom, where you have the more contemporary world and you take what you’ve got from your upbringing, but then you let that guide you and take you to where you really want to go. I think that’s why Meera as a character really inspired me, because she was kept in this trap, thinking that the shop was her potential, but really her potential was to be a researcher or a scientist. The idea of ‘Duty versus Freedom’ was a really big thing between both shows I’ve seen, Mrs Krishnan’s Party and Paradise, and it was cool to see how two different stories showed that in different ways.

Jacob teaches two students wearing Indian Ink masks at a workshop.

Emma: It was really interesting what Gheikma was saying about paradise in Islam because I was not aware of that word and the correlation. So coming into it, I saw the image of the guy with the buck teeth and I thought he was going to be this kind of clown character. I was thinking that this guy from a small town was going to come to this big world. And that was also part of it, like going to Mumbai, which is meant to be this amazing cosmopolitan area, and the things that he was exposed to weren’t that way at all. So, even though he was so excited about the opportunities of that world, it’s not what he experienced and I learned a lot from that.

How does Paradise compare to other shows you’ve seen as students?

Sonam: I don’t really see comedy/absurd theatre that often, we studied it a while back and that was my first exposure to that kind of theatre style, and I feel like it isn’t in theatres much these days.

When we watched Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, after the end Mrs. Krishnan took her teeth out, and everyone was just like “whaaaaaat?”. The whole thing was just a part of the costume and the performance… it was just crazy to me, and I was so interested in it. So coming to this show I was extra excited, because for me it’s difficult to create absurd things because you get caught thinking things like “that’s silly”, or you get embarrassed. These shows have a really good way of teaching you things. They put it all on the table and let you be silly.

Abhishek: I think they did a really good job of using stock characters to tell some very complex themes. We went to another show called ‘The Haka Party Incident’ and in that show it was real characters telling complex themes, whereas in this show it is stock characters (that obviously have names) who are archetypes, telling these really complex themes. I think it’s really interesting and it just goes to show that in theatre you can take either end of the spectrum.

Sonam: I felt like this sort of theatre is way more accessible, especially to people of our age. For a lot of people, the emotion gets too high, or it gets too tense and it feels like it’s going on forever, but those little bits of randomness, or things that don’t make any sense, make the messaging way more accessible to actually absorb. I found myself thinking about it for ages afterwards. I still think about it now, because we have our exam, but also because I really enjoyed it.

What does theatre mean to you guys, and how does it differ from other forms of media like TV and film?

Abhishek: Theatre lets you live in people’s shoes. It allows you to experience what they’ve gone through first-hand. But you’re not just going to get that experience, you’re going to have to work for it. And it’s a really satisfying feeling when you’ve finished a script, or a show because you’ve been on that journey with that character.

We did a play in class where we were performing as six-year-olds, and you get to go back to that time of when you were a six-year-old and how different things were back then. You can take the good parts about what it was like then and put it back into your life. It’s a really good medium to tell stories but it’s also a really nice place to find parts of yourself and parts of your identity, and really let them expand.

Emma: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Paradise has a lot of heavy, intense themes that’s a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone 15-18 year-olds who are still learning and don’t have as much of a concept of death and life, and who are still terrified of death. The fact that it was presented the way it was, in a theatre piece, allowed us to connect to the story, because it is so visceral and in front of you. You just get sucked in, and I think a lot of that is due to the quality of the actors. We often talk in class about the nature of theatre. Is it about watching real life or is it about creating change? We talk a lot about the purpose of theatre and what is Indian Ink’s purpose. It is a lot about watching and seeing, but it is also about challenging us to think. We’ve had lots of existential discussions in the class because of the show, and I think that’s really cool.