Research – The Heart Of Playwriting

Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis stand in front of the water on a boardwalkWith Indian Ink’s new play flying in from the horizon I sat down face to face (well, face to laptop to laptop to face) with Jacob Rajan as he discussed the inspiration and background for Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream.

What was the inspiration behind the play?

Well, Justin and I went to Mumbai around the beginning of 2019, and we were there on a completely different project with a different kind of focus. But of course, as often happens when you’re away from home, you have a fresh perspective on the world, it’s very stimulating and Mumbai itself is incredibly stimulating. So, we had some time to kill before we could check into our accommodation and we were with our driver when we came across the Towers of Silence. They were these things that were pointed out to us in the distance and you can’t get close to them. Justin and I both became fascinated with this idea of a sky burial where you put the bodies out, you don’t burn them, you don’t bury them, you leave them out for the vultures. And that then took us into the Parsi faith, and all of this caught up with us when we came home. It gave us this curiosity, you know, there’s a little compass in there that’s asking questions.

How long is the research process for a play and how does the process work?

I can say for some reason (and this is the Indian Ink template – if there is one) that it takes us two years to put a show together, and three-quarters of that will just be us getting down to a simple storyline. People have this romantic notion of a playwright being stuck in their attic, behind the keyboard, pouring out their genius on the page, where really, we’re researching. We have imaginative research where we’ve come up with a world and characters and we put them in different situations to see what happens. And then we’re doing physical research or talking to people who are experts in the field. We’re googling a lot of things and reading books when we’re not that familiar with the topics. We’re trying to get some kind of grounding, to give us some sort of authenticity. And then once you accumulate all of that, hopefully, the spark of your initial curiosity will lead to a story

Was this the first time you were introduced to Parsi culture?Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis pose next to their meal

I mean, funnily enough, because we did another play called Kiss the Fish, which had this weird kind of tangent to the life of Freddie Mercury as a sort of sideways tribute to him, we found out that his birth name was actually Farrokh Bulsara and he was actually a Parsi. So yeah, I kind of knew about the Parsi faith but I didn’t know that much about it. My family is from the south and Parsis are predominantly in Mumbai and there’s pockets in other places, but I just didn’t come across them. I didn’t really know much about the rituals and finding out about them was our inspiration, it was just a little hook that got us excited that there was a story there.

Why did you choose to bring back Kutisar?

I guess maybe it’s laziness? (Laughter)

As we started developing the show, we came up with the idea of bringing back one of our favourite character from a previous show, that show being Guru of Chai, and the character being Kutisar. The beautiful thing is that you put so much work into a character and you invest so many years of your life into performing this character and we thought ‘he could be the vehicle for the show’. I mean, in life people don’t just stop, or you’ll wonder “what happened to him?”.

It’s a strange thing as a playwright that I can have that relationship with these people who are sort of real to me now. And that was the way it was with Mrs. Krishnan, where you think ‘hmm, I wonder what she’s up to’. And then you dig into it and you think well, that’s really interesting. Now she’s a lot older and she’s facing a different time in her life with selling the dairy. So, similarly with Kutisar we meet him at a different part of his life, looking back to his early days as a glorious young man, where everything was possible.

Actor Jacob Rajan as Kutisar from Guru of Chai on a roof, holding a lantern and a tea potHow do your ideas for plays normally come about? Was this kind of process normal?

It was kind of normal because it’s about curiosity. And I guess being a tourist makes you naturally more curious, because you’re coming across things that you haven’t seen before. And that’s the cheat, I guess. Within your daily life finding those things that you’re curious about is a little bit harder, it’s not impossible, but it’s harder. And for us, it was the feeling of being in Mumbai, this incredible city where anything seems possible, and then finding out about the different mysteries, that was the feeling. And that’s the thing that you want to pass on to the audience in some way. So, to answer your question it can come from anywhere, but there has to be some sort of question, or even just sense of ‘huh, that’s funny, I wonder why’.

So that was it. I guess I’m fully qualified to start the process of writing a play.

Introducing ‘Lockdown with Abhi – a tale of one man’s struggle against procrastination and his evil university lecturers.‘

Picking Jake’s brain proved to be an interesting insight into the inner workings of one of the minds behind Indian Ink. Having worked on the front end of Indian Ink’s shows, seeing how the magic comes to life all the way from its inception was a true ‘behind the scenes’ experience. I look forward to delving deeper into character creation and the writing process in future blog series.