Indian Ink Writes New Chapter In Much-Loved Story

An Indian woman with a red bindi, spectacles and black hair tied back in a bun, blows up a blue balloon. She has a gold wedding band on her ring finger.By: Dionne Christian (NZ Herald)


Good things take time, they say.

That might explain why, 20 years after it warmed the hearts of New Zealanders, one of the country’s greatest stage love stories of recent decades is getting a sequel.

But as accomplished as the makers of Krishnan’s Dairy are, they want audiences to know this first season of Mrs Krishnan’s Party is just a first step on the way to its full theatrical glory. Writing, workshopping and perfecting the plays is how Indian Ink, the theatre company founded by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, does things. So they are describing the debut of Mrs Krishnan’s Party as a development season.

Ask star Kalyani Nagarajan about its beginnings and she’ll tell you it dates back four years. Then a first-year student at Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School, Nagarajan was faced with the daunting task of creating a 20-minute solo performance.

She’d successfully auditioned by reading a monologue from another Indian Ink play, The Pickle King, and had studied the company’s works at Epsom Girls’ Grammar.

“They’d helped me see I could make a career of acting, that there were roles for Indian actresses,” Nagarajan says. “I’m honoured to be part of this process because Indian Ink and its plays have been a huge part of my life.”

Originally wanting to make a comedy, she looked for inspiration online and happened across a site called Punjabi Mothers — which pokes gentle fun at stereotypes of Indian mothers. So she crafted a production about an older Indian woman and invited one of her mentors, Jacob Rajan, to attend.

Some 16 years earlier, Rajan was a new Toi graduate — the first Indian New Zealander to graduate from the drama school — working with Justin Lewis to turn his own drama school solo into a full-length production, Krishnan’s Dairy, with Rajan using masks to portray all the characters.

The small play soon became a very big deal, winning multiple awards and signalling Indian Ink was a force to be reckoned with. Since then it has been seen by more than 50,000 people all over New Zealand, in the UK, Australia, Singapore and India in a couple of years.

Two plays followed but The Candlestick Maker and The Pickle King were never direct sequels. Now Mrs Krishnan’s Party returns us to the world of the corner shop once run by the recently married Gobi and Zina Krishnan.

In 1997, when Krishnan’s Dairy debuted, Zina was a wife and new mother homesick for India. As Gobi hurried around their shop trying to offer service superior to that of local supermarkets, she told their baby son Apu the story of how the Taj Mahal was built.

Now we find Zina Krishnan in her 50s, running the corner shop and contemplating the next big decision in her life: now Apu is grown up, should she stay or return to India? But is it still home? As she grapples with the dilemma, her boarder, James (Justin Rogers), is facing questions of his own.

“It’s the dairy, it’s 20 years on and it’s about, ‘what now?’” Lewis says. “But when the idea first came up, we had to think about, ‘what does this mean for Krishnan’s Dairy?’ because it’s a very loved piece with much-loved characters so how do we do it in a way that isn’t exploitative? It’s not the same premise and it allows us to look at generational change.”

Once again, he and Rajan took the script to associate professor Murray Edmond, who has taught drama and theatre at the University of Auckland for 25 years and helped make Krishnan’s Dairy a success.

The dramaturg on all eight of Indian Ink’s plays, Edmond was enthusiastic about a sequel.

“I loved the idea, I thought it was an exciting opportunity and a challenge. I don’t give them advice; I ask questions so I got them to talk about what it might involve, what’s happened with Mrs Krishnan, what’s new?”

Nagarajan, who starred in this year’s remake of The Pickle King, says she’s aware of not letting Zina become a stereotype and points to the facets of her life the play emphasises: she’s a business-owner, mother of a grown child, widow and she’s facing some tough decisions.

“These things stop her from being a two-dimensional funny Indian accent kind of character.”

Mrs Krishnan’s Party is set in the back room of the dairy where Zina is celebrating the harvest festival, Onam. We’re the invited guests and, if we’re lucky, Mrs Krishnan might even feed us.