Heart Warming Cuppa That’s Satisfying And Smooth

By The Business Times (Singapore)

Guru of Chai combines fine storytelling and dramatisation, says CHEAH UI-HOON

What makes a night out at the theatre enjoyable is when you’re masterfully taken – almost by sleight of hand – into a story which, while unfolding, still leaves enough room for your imagination to fill in the blanks.

Guru of Chai, New Zealand company Indian Ink Theatre’s latest one-man show (discounting the unobtrusive presence of a musician-accompanist on stage), was one such “magical” theatre moment – a perfect marriage of good storytelling and excellent dramatisation.

Like a good chai, the play’s two key ingredients are contemporary writing in the spirit of Booker. Prize-winning novel The White Tiger and dramatic elements as seen in plays like the West End’s Woman in Black . Add to the mix some Bollywood-like plot developments and twists for that heartwarming cuppa that’s satisfying and smooth.

The story, narrated by actor writer Jacob Rajan, is told from the perspective of a Chai-wallah in a train station and is about seven sisters abandoned by there by their widowed father and the fate of one sister who has a crowd-stopping voice.

The story is an original tale written by Rajan, but it’s not so much its plot or punchline which is the highlight as how Rajan has cleverly told ‘ the tale, acted the various characters in it, and used music; sound and lighting effects, even magic tricks, to illustrate the story and draw ill the audience.

On the whole, it was like an Indian friend telling you a sordid story of what happened to these sisters in Bangalore, while giving you the low-down on the political and social realities as well.

Rajan also ramped up the humour by giving his narrative a stand-up comedy-like treatment a clever approach which erased the line between make-believe and reality , and allowed Rajan a lot more humorous digs than if it was mere “theatre”.

The chai-wallah’s description of the poet: one who can turn filthy thoughts into pomegranates and figs, he .says, his hand gesturing to the right anatomical places.

Every time you were swept up into th e fairy tale qualities of the story of a singer who falls in love with a poet but has to give up her son, Rajan would throw in an everyman observation to bring you down to earth – but always with a witty thud.

Most of all, one appreciated the tightly -edited writing and directing, the deliberate and well-placed gestures, mimicking and physical play (watch’ out for the part where the audience has to imagine the stuffed parrot flying towards Rajan!) – all of which combined with his narration to give us a heady brew.