Rapid Fire 20Q with Cast and Creatives of ‘Mrs. Krishnan’s Party’

By: Jonathan (JHP Entertainment) 

From Wednesday, March 6 thru Friday, March 9, Nashville theatre audiences are invited to a party like no other when the National Tour of Mrs. Krishnan’s Party comes to TPAC, transforming the Johnson Theatre into the backroom of Zina Krishnan’s dairy/convenience store, where we find her tenant, James, planning a party even though his landlady isn’t too keen on the idea.

Directed by Justin Lewis, who also co-wrote the play alongside Jacob Rajan, founding members of New Zealand’s hugely popular Indian Ink Theatre Company, the show stars Kalyani Nagarajan and Justin Te Honihana Pokaihau Rogers. Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is an immersive night of theatre likely unlike anything audiences have experienced as the intimate setting of venues like the Johnson Theatre foster the illusion that you’re not just watching the action unfold, but you are a guest at Mrs. Krishnan’s Party yourself.

Just last week, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to the cast and creators for my latest Rapid Fire 20Q. What follow are those conversations:



JHPENTERTAINMENT: In researching to chat with you and other creatives from Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, I learned that this show is a sequel of sorts to your hugely successful 1997 production, Krishnan’s Dairy. What was it about that show and it’s huge following that sparked the idea of expanding the Krishnan Universe to Mrs. Krishnan’s Party?

JACOB RAJAN: When you live with a character for 25 years, as we have with Zina Krishnan, it seems such a shame to throw her away. And all it takes is a simple question to unlock infinite possibilities: “I wonder what Zina’s up to now?”

JHPENTERTAINMENT: I understand the ‘party’ in Mrs. Krishnan’s Party refers to Onam. What is it about this celebration that lends itself to the story you’re telling?

JACOB RAJAN: Onam is a harvest festival from Kerala in South India – where I’m originally from. Inherent to harvest is the idea of death and rebirth. In our story we have characters dealing with major life change. Any change in your life requires you to allow things to die in order for something new to emerge. It’s a hard thing to do – as Mrs. Krishnan will tell you.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: You created this show alongside your frequent collaborator, Justin Lewis, who also serves as the show’s director as well as your cofounder at India Ink Theatre Company. What’s the secret to your long partnership?

JACOB RAJAN: We have very complimentary skill sets. Justin is a very deep thinker, fantastic at structure (he could’ve been an architect) as well as a brilliant artistic director with a great head for business. I’m extremely shallow and will find humour in anything. As the son of Indian immigrants I was supposed to be a doctor so I bring a sort of childlike wonder to the fact that I’m even allowed to do this.

Dahl cooking in a pot on the stove

JHPENTERTAINMENT: Food is such an integral part of every culture, but some might argue, even more so for those of East Asian descent. To that end, during the course of the play, food is actually prepared and shared with the audience. How important to you was including that aspect of the show?

JACOB RAJAN: The food is a core aspect to both the story and the experience for the audience. There’s something so beautifully sensuous about onions frying and rice on the boil. A nightmare for the actors to deal with but beautiful nonetheless.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: I’m about to chat with you two cast members and your co-writer/director. Using only one word, describe each of them.

JACOB RAJAN: Kalyani Nagarajan: Mercurial, Justin Rogers: Joyous, Justin Lewis: Visionary


JHPENTERTAINMENT: What can you tell me about Mrs. Krishnan, the role you play in Mrs. Krishnan’s Party?

KALYANI NAGARAJAN: She is such a joy to play. Mrs K has been running her own convenience store for over 20 years; she is a really hard-working, loving South Indian Matriarch who is no-nonsense but is in a moment of flux where she is looking back at her life and releasing it may be time for a change. She is the perfect challenge against James, who we see as a free spirit and takes life much less seriously. The beauty of Mrs K, and playing her, is that she is a strong immigrant woman who is in charge in her domain; often, we see these characters in lower status or as side characters, but in this story, she is the boss and that is just so empowering. She is soft, and she loves love and ultimately, that is what this story is about.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: For those not familiar, how would you describe Mrs. Krishnan’s Party?

KALYANI NAGARAJAN: An extravaganza of the senses! It’s a story about change between the generations; when we ask ourselves, do we stick with the life we live, or do we go into the discomfort and change for the better? It is a totally immersive piece of theatre, where your sense of touch, smell, and taste are all inspired. I’m biased but I think this show is absolute magic on stage. It’s raw, and it truly is the definition of live theatre.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: Aside from the audience, that becomes characters in the show through the show’s unique immersive staging, you share the stage with Justin Rogers. What do you enjoy most about Justin as a scene partner?

KALYANI NAGARAJAN: Nothing. Ha! No, of course not – it is an honour to act alongside someone I have known for so long! I went to drama school with Justin but we weren’t friends back then ha! I think Justin brings such a sense of joy and play and freedom to how he acts, and there is a real connection when we play together; he is one of my favourite people to act with because there is no sense of upstaging one another, we work in a beautiful harmony and want to see the other one win!

JHPENTERTAINMENT: In addition to your stage career, you’re also known for your role in the tv series Raised by Refugees where you played the Mom of a young South Asian boy whose parents immigrated to New Zealand. You yourself share a bit of a similar backstory, in that your parents immigrated to New Zealand, right?

KALYANI NAGARAJAN: Ha Yes! My parents immigrated, and those characters had to seek refuge, which is a totally different scenario, but I guess in terms of wanting to find belonging and a place to call home, there are similarities. My parents have been in New Zealand for 40 years now, and I was born and raised here, and it comes with it’s trials and tribulations. Recently, I think my parents have been feeling moments of regret for taking us out of our home country because there a things you lose culturally. that first-generation verses immigrant storyline is so tumultuous but also beautiful – I’m actually writing a film and a TV show about it because these stories need to be told!

Balloons are being thrown around a room with fairy lights on in the backgroundJHPENTERTAINMENT: On the subject of your acting career, you studied at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School. Were you there by chance during Dame Miranda Harcourt’s time as Head of the Acting Department?

KALYANI NAGARAJAN: We were lucky enough to have her for maybe about two weeks! I think her acting methodology is one of the greats, and I still use her technique to this day. I may have even stolen a few things when I teach my students, hehe! Sorry! But I always give Miranda credit! A lesson I carry with me from Toi is that this career is not a solo career, you need people, you need your artistic family to keep you going, to keep you inspired, to work along side.


JHPENTERTAINMENT: I just chatted with your Mrs. Krishnan’s Party costar, Kalyani Nagarajan, so I’ll start by asking…what’s your favorite aspect of sharing the stage with her?

JUSTIN ROGERS: Kal and I trained together at the same drama school- I still remember meeting her for the first time during our audition weekend. That was 12 years ago now and at the time I couldn’t have imagined we’d be travelling the world together with such a fun show! I just love how life is like that, you never know the magnitude of such little moments. Kal is exceptionally talented and I’m constantly learning from her, it’s a treat to work with someone you once studied with because you keep that student mind set and helps us constantly grow.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: Now, on to your role in the show…who is James to you?

JUSTIN ROGERS: James is a connector. He loves people, he loves fun, he wants everyone to have a great time. He’s easily distracted because he’s always looking for the spark out there! That also means he can miss some important things… He’s afraid of failure and struggles with self esteem, but these are things he faces during the course of the show and for that reason I think James is a hero.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: From what I understand, you’ve been with the show since its 2019 New Zealand premiere. How did you hear of the show and what made you want to audition?

JUSTIN ROGERS: Kal got me the audition! It was developed from a solo show she created at drama school, they put a casting call out and I was grateful that Kal put me forward.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: In preparing to chat with you, I discovered that just prior to Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, you starred in Shortland Street: The Musical a stage parody of the beloved long-lasting primetime sudser, Shortland Street. My dear friend Susannah Devereux was one of the stars of the series back in the 90s. You two share an agent in Karen Kay from what I understand. That said, what’s something from your time in the musical that you’ve taken to heart and you think of often?

JUSTIN ROGERS: That show was based on the 90’s cast, so your friend’s character may have featured! Also shout out to my agent, Karen Kay Management, incredible team and I love them. Yes! That show was so silly and it lovingly poked fun at the soap opera- but my biggest learning in that was that we can’t just make fun of a thing or comment on a story or character. All our work has to be rooted in truth. It can be funny, sure, but at its core we must take all our work seriously. So in the show I had to deliver a toy baby during a musical number and it was VERY silly- but you can’t perform it that way. You really have to deliver that baby! That lesson has stuck with me in all my work since. Don’t play at being a funny actor pretending to deliver a baby to get a laugh. You really have to deliver the baby! And it might get a laugh, but that’s none of my business!

Actor Justin Rogers as DJ Jimmy J acting as a DJJHPENTERTAINMENT: As mentioned earlier, Mrs. Krishnan’s Party premiered in New Zealand, and is now enjoying a North American Tour. What’s been your favorite aspect of life on the road thus far?

JUSTIN ROGERS: People! Meeting people on the road is the best. There’s a great line in one of my favourite films Before Sunrise where the character says the meaning of life lies in the little interactions. The space between two strangers when they smile at each other or chat briefly. Most of the people we meet on the road we’ll never see again in our lives. Yet we still whole heartedly connect. Or just buy coffee from them. But being with that person, smiling or laughing together for a second suddenly becomes deeply profound when you reflect on the fact that you won’t see them again. That tiny interaction suddenly becomes the most important moment in the universe. And I get to have those interactions over and over again and that is awesome.

RAPID FIRE WITH MRS. KRISHNAN’s PARTY’s CO-WRITER/DIRECTOR, JUSTIN LEWISJustin Lewis wears a collared shirt and looks at the camera with a slight smile.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: Earlier, I chatted with your co-writer and frequent collaborator, Jacob Rajan. So, let’s start our conversation with me asking you your take on the first question I asked him…What was it about that show and it’s huge following that sparked the idea of expanding the Krishnan Universe to Mrs. Krishnan’s Party?

JUSTIN LEWIS: It was such an exciting and beautiful idea to pick up the life of one of the heroes of that show 20 years later. Zina Krishnan was a character we knew well as a young woman, to now imagine her as middle aged felt rich. It was probably no accident that this was the same journey we’d gone through ourselves.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: While there’s a basic through-line in the plot and set dialogue to get us there, I’d imagine incorporating the live audience in such an immersive way might lead to potential derailment from time to time. As the show’s director, how do you guide your actors to stay on task?

JUSTIN LEWIS: There’s an improvisation/storytelling exercise where someone prompts the improvisor to advance the story or extend the moment – go forward or go wider. A great story needs a balance of both, I ask the performers to tune into this balance when engaging directly with the audience. And there is always a strong structure to rely on – there’s a very tight script and even the improvs with the audience have a structure to them.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: Speaking of, what’s the funniest unscripted moment you recall?

JUSTIN LEWIS: There’s a section in the play where Mrs Krishnan gets audiences members to help her open she cans. It’s hilarious and slightly incredible how many young men don’t know how to use a can opener!

JHPENTERTAINMENT: Alright now! I feel attacked, but in my defense, I’m a leftie and most can openers are created for right-handed people…but I digress. Back to the show…While your New Zealand audiences now have a quarter-century relationship in the Krishnan world, we stateside audience members are being introduced by way of Mrs. Krishnan’s Party. Are there subtle nods to the original work, Krishnan’s Dairy that we might be missing?

Actor Justin Rogers as DJ Jimmy J acting as a DJJUSTIN LEWIS: There’s nothing that you will be missing. We’ve worked carefully to structure things so no prior knowledge is required. The earlier show gives us as writers a rich backstory to mine but as with any good drama the only backstory that makes it in is that which is relevant to the current action.

JHPENTERTAINMENT: What do you hope audiences remember of their time at Mrs. Krishnan’s Party?

JUSTIN LEWIS: That they’ll have had fun, experienced joy, connection and community – and some really tasty food!