Guru Imparts his Comic Wisdom

By The Sydney Morning Herald

The wisdom of the Guru Kutisah is good for what ails you. Good for the heart, he tells us, good for the mind. It may also relieve the symptoms of painful urination. He’s right on at least two counts.

Written and performed by the talented New Zealand actor Jacob Rajan, The Guru of Chai begins with a humorously shonky motivational talk which opens up into a gripping story as complex as anything Victor Hugo ever dreamed up. Over 90 minutes, he weaves together the destinies of seven musically gifted orphans, a handsome poet, a chubby policeman and his shadowy nemesis, a gangster known only as “The Fakir”. It’s labyrinthine stuff, and thanks to his love of cockfighting and easy money, the guru is a perfectly unreliable guide.

Lifting a cloth to reveal a portable chai stand, Kutisah conjures up the Bangalore railway station in which he was a fixture, selling spiced tea to commuters. He recalls the day that Balna and her six sisters, abandoned by their father, took to busking nearby and brought the bustling station to a standstill. Their singing and their beauty won them many admirers, he tells us, none more ardent than a station policeman, Punchkin, who assumes the role of their protector and begins a meteoric rise to power.

The Guru of Chai blends archetypes of Indian folklore into an exotic romantic thriller. It’s cleverly constructed, full of melodramatic twists and humorous asides on contemporary Indian society: on the gulf between rich and poor; the rush to Westernize (Kutisah operates a stall next to a Starbucks at one point), and the stranglehold of bureaucracy and corruption.

Rajan is a masterful storyteller and a gifted comic actor. Supported by live sound effects and music from multi-instrumentalist David Ward (on banjo, drum machine, whistles, a humble plastic bag), he plays over a dozen characters and walk-on parts. His command of the material is total: in a flawless 90 minutes he does not miss a beat or overlook an opportunity to draw a laugh and his deployment of magic tricks and puppetry is a delight.