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Guru of Chai – Remarkable: Dom Post

By: Dominion Post

It is now nearly 20 years since Jacob Rajan’s Krishnan’s Dairy first saw the light of day.

In that time it has grown from a 20-minute drama school solo piece to a fully fledged, but still solo, play, which has had numerous performances around the country and overseas.

After the initial success of Krishnan’s Dairy Rajan and director/producer Justin Lewis formed the Indian Ink Theatre Company.

Together they developed four more solo pieces for Rajan, all with an Indian theme and all critically acclaimed, the last being The Guru of Chai in 2010.

It is fitting therefore that these two are playing in repertory at Downstage Theatre; they chart the development of Rajan’s work during the past two decades.

Totally different in concept and presentation, they nevertheless each reveal Rajan’s remarkable versatility and show just what a consummate performer he is.

In Krishnan’s Dairy, Gobi and his wife, Zina, are Indian immigrants trying to make a go of running a corner dairy.

Although theirs is an arranged marriage there is genuine love between the two, seen among all the trials and tribulations of assimilating into New Zealand culture combined with trying to make a success of their business.

But juxtaposed with their simple love story is a much bigger one: that of the great Shah Jahan, who was so devastated by the death of his wife that he built the Taj Mahal, one of the most famous and beautiful buildings in the world.

The stories lack depth but they are nevertheless touching and poignant, laced with lots of humour. They show how effectively Rajan can use his voice and posture, aided by face masks, to convey ever so convincingly a variety of different characters.

Ever more so is this seen in The Guru of Chai, which is a much more complex, dense story with many more characters.

So versatile and confident is Rajan in his storytelling that once the scenarios are understood it becomes as engrossing and intriguing as any large-scale play with lots of actors.

On an Indian railway station is Kutisar, a chaiwalli (teamaker) who relates the story of a young girl, Balna, and how she loses her husband and son and ends up living with a policeman called Punchkin.

Through the story, set against modern-day India, run themes of power and corruption, good versus evil and trust and friendship.

Accompanying Rajan on stage is musician David Ward, who adds much to the atmosphere of both pieces, especially in The Guru of Chai, making both plays well worth seeing even if seen before.

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