At a living room near you; possibly yours, Auckland & Wellington

11/02/2010 - 30/05/2010

Shed 13 (MOJO HQ), Wellington Waterfront, Wellington

07/03/2010 - 08/03/2010

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

08/09/2010 - 11/09/2010

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

15/09/2010 - 03/10/2010

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

05/10/2010 - 09/10/2010

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

07/04/2011 - 09/04/2011

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

12/04/2011 - 12/04/2011

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

29/06/2011 - 16/07/2011

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

11/07/2012 - 21/07/2012

The Barrow Group, 312 W 36th St, 3rd Floor, NYC, USA

13/01/2013 - 14/01/2013

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

11/04/2013 - 24/04/2013

The Piano, 156 Armagh Street, Christchurch

01/09/2016 - 03/09/2016

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

12/06/2024 - 23/06/2024

Te Raukura ki Kāpiti Theatre, Coastlands, 32 Raumati Rd, Raumati

04/07/2024 - 06/07/2024

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

01/08/2024 - 11/08/2024

Southern Lakes Festival of Colour

Production Details

Co-written and performed by Jacob Rajan
Co-written and directed by Justin Lewis

Presented by Indian Ink

Are you looking for meaning in your life? Maybe you are looking for love … or a new love? A better cellphone, a faster, more reliable internet connection or even, like the hero of our story, you are searching for the magic you feel is missing from your life.

Guru of Chai is Indian Ink’s newest play by New Zealand’s celebrated storytellers bubbling with the magical flavours of previous sell-out seasons (Krishnan’s Dairy, The Candlestickmaker The Pickle King).

Theatrical magician and award-winning actor Jacob Rajan brings to life a delicious brew of colourful characters – from a poor young girl with a heavenly voice, a shady thug, an ambitious policeman to a desirable stuffed parrot and of course the guru with his dubious talents.

Guru of Chai is an adaptation of a traditional Indian folk tale, blended here with live music, puppetry and the effervescent charm of Indian Ink’s magical staging.

A young girl is abandoned at an Indian railway station and brings the place to a standstill with the beauty of her singing. An honest young policeman falls hopelessly in love with her but is rejected in favour of a disreputable poet.

Modern India is the backdrop to this piece about the power of story and the dangers of keeping your soul in a cage; be careful what you wish for it might just come true!

“Such is the power of Jacob Rajan’s ground-breaking work: it changes the way you see the world… such riveting theatre that you would have to have a heart of reinforced concrete not to be captivated.”  NZ Listener


Indian Ink Theatre Company was formed by Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan in 1996 and is recognised as one of New Zealand’s most successful theatre companies with a reputation for “total theatre which offers humanity and psychological insight in a package of good plain laughs, luminous performances and brilliant staging” (Dominion Post, NZ).

Beginning with its first play, Krishnan’s Dairy, followed by The Candlestickmaker and The Pickle King, Indian Ink has won three Production of the Year Awards and two Edinburgh Fringe First Awards. The three plays have broken box-office records on the way to a total audience of more that 170,000 people.

The company’s international reputation has also seen seasons sell out in Australia, Singapore, the UK and Germany.

Indian Ink marinates Western theatrical traditions in Indian flavours but above all seeks to tell good stories that touch people of all cultures.

At a living room near you: possibly your own
‘In Home’ performances available March – May 2010
For venue details and how to book a show at your place, go to

Wellington ‘previews’ at
Shed 13 (MOJO HQ), Wellington Waterfront
7 & 8 March 2010

Guru of Chai NZ/AUS tour 2010 Nelson – Theatre Royal
Sep 8 to 11 ( 4 performances)
Wed – Sat 7.30 pm
Bookings:  Everyman, Hardy Street, Nelson
Ph: 03-548 3083 or book online at: Wellington – Downstage Theatre
Sep 15 to Oct 2 (16 performances)
Mon, Tue 6.30 pm; Wed – Sat 8.00 pm
Bookings: Downstage, 12 Cambridge Tce, Wellington
Ph: 04 801 6946 or book online at:

Hamilton – Meteor Theatre
Oct 5 to 9 (5 performances)
Tue – Sat 7.30 pm
Bookings: Ticketek (various Hamilton agencies)
Ph: 0800 842 538 or book online at:

Napier – Century Theatre
Oct 13-16 (4 performances)
Wed – Sat 7.30 pm
Bookings: Ticket Direct, 119 Tennyson St, Napier
Ph: 06-8352702 or book online at:**131

Brisbane – Powerhouse Theatre (Visy Theatre)
Oct 20-24 (5 performances)
Wed – Sun 8pm
Bookings: Brisbane Powerhouse Box Office
Brisbane Powerhouse, 119 Lamington St, New FarmPh: Box Office on +617 3358 8600  or book online at:

Sydney – Raffertys Theatre at Riverside
Nov 4-7 (4 performances)
Thurs – Fri 7.30pm Sat – Sun 5pm
Bookings: Rafferty Theatre Box Office
Cnr Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Ph: Box  Office on +612 8839 3399 or book online at: Dates (on sale Nov/Dec 2010)

Auckland – Maidment Theatre June 28-July 16
New Plymouth – Theatre Royal April 6-9
Christchurch – Arts Centre July 20-30
Wanaka – Festival of Colours April 12-17FESTIVAL OF COLOUR 2011  

12 April,  7pm,  Lake Wanaka Centre  
13 April,  7pm,  Cromwell Memorial Hall – Door sales from 6pm  
15 April,  7pm,  Luggate Memorial Hall – SOLD OUT  

29 Jun – 16 Jul 2011
Maidment Theatre (Auckland University)
Mon & Tues at 6.30pm
Wed – Sat at 8pm
No show Sundays
Tickets: $24 – $49*
Bookings: (09) 308 2383 or

Auckland 2012 season: Q Rangatira 

10th – 21st July 2012
Mon and Tues 7pm. Wed-Sat 8pm. No Show Sunday
Rangatira at Q, 305 Queen Street, Auckland
Bookings – Q Theatre: 09 309 9771 or  


GURU OF CHAI plays 10th – 21st July 2012
Mon and Tues 7pm. Wed-Sat 8pm. No Show Sunday.
Rangatira at Q, 305 Queen Street, Auckland
Bookings – Q Theatre: 09 309 9771 or



New York City
The Barrow Group
W 36th Street,
13-14 January 2013
Sunday 13 Jan – 11am and 7.30pm
Monday 14 Jan – 12midday and 7.30pm

University of Kansas
Lied Center of Kansas
7-9 February 2013

University of Florida
Squitieri Studio Theatre
14-16 February 2013


A delightful repertory style season marks Indian Ink’s return to Wellington in 2013, as the internationally acclaimed Guru of Chai takes to the stage at Downstage Theatre alongside the long awaited return of their much-loved classic, Krishnan’s Dairy from April 5-20 at Downstage Theatre.

Krishnan’s Dairy  Performances:  5 – 9 April and 16 – 19 April
No show Sunday.MON/TUES 7pm and WED – SAT 8pm

Guru of Chai Performances: 11 – 15 APR and 20 – 24 APR
No show Sunday.MON/TUES 7pm and WED – SAT 8pm

Book at


The Piano, Christchurch
1 – 3 Sept, 7:30pm.
There is also a matinee at 2pm on 3 September


Q Theatre, Auckland
12 – 23 June 2024
Wednesday – Saturday, 7pm
Sunday, 4pm

Te Raukura Ki Kāpiti, Paraparaumu
4 – 6 July 2024
Thursday – Saturday, 7pm

Hannah Playhouse, Wellington
1 – 11 August 2024
Tuesday – Saturday, 7pm
Sunday, 4pm

Booking Fees May Apply

Characters’ names:
Imran (and little Imran)

The Team
Jacob Rajan – Performer, writer
Justin Lewis – Director, writer
David Ward – Composer, Musician
John Verryt – Set and Costume Design
Jeremy Fern – Lighting Design
Murray Edmond – Dramaturge
Roger King – Producer

Adam Ogle – Musician
Sam Mence - Production & Tour Manager, Lighting & Sound Operator

Theatre , Solo ,

1hr 15mins

Indelible performance: balletic, orchestral, disciplined and captivating

Review by Steve La Hood 05th Jul 2024

Be assured: Guru of Chai will free you from your isolation, your loneliness, your painful urination.

The guru of chai knows a lot and he loves to talk. Kutisah is his name. He is only a poor chai-wallah plying his trade on the platform of Bangalore Railway Station and business is not so good… until seven girls appear on the platform – deserted by their father – and they sing!

The story is based on the old Indian fairy tale of Punchkin Fakir and the seventh sister, Balna. What a sad story. What an extraordinary tale of love and rejection, of corruption and deception. The Guru holds us with his glittering eye and like a three-years child, we listen… spellbound.

The house is full. All the young audience members are in the front rows, and the rest of the rows are a broad cross-section of Kāpiti’s community. They love this show. They laugh, gasp and ooh. They applaud throughout and whistle and stamp at the end.

With a mouthful of buck teeth, Rajan performs 17 separate characters, flitting from one to another with consummate ease, racking up the tension of the play with a few props, a stuffed parrot and Adam Ogle playing a guitar, singing beautifully but never saying a word.

What is it that Jacob Rajan does that makes his work so indelible – like Indian Ink?

For this reviewer, it’s his metronomic precision in voice and physique that makes these one-man shows so compelling. His face and body transform from one persona to the next so deftly, so quickly that you’re sure there are indeed seventeen separate people on the stage. The audience goes ooohhh when the chicken dies… but people… there is no chicken!  

This work, like all of Indian Ink’s offerings, is the product of laborious and detailed writing (Rajan and Justin Lewis), direction (Lewis), design (John Verryt, set and costume; Jeremy Fern, lighting)and those miraculous theatrical traditions of mime, commedia del’arte, farce and tragedy. Guru of Chai first appeared in 2008 after two years of writing and direction. This is no raw stand-up. This is balletic, orchestral, disciplined performance – and it’s captivating.

Go see this show. You won’t find anything this emotionally powerful on Netflix. You have to be there – in the theatre – because in the end it is a dialogue between the performance and your heart.  

I say bravo.


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Polished expertise, inimitable direction, 'a wonder in spades'.

Review by Sandi Hall 13th Jun 2024

Some years ago, a statuette of an Indian woman tea-picker lost me my job. The statuette, about 20cms tall, showed a smiling woman – baby on her back and a huge sack on her front – picking tea. “They even have her smiling,” I murmured as I picked up the statue, thinking I was alone and talking to myself. I thought of that woman’s strength and her daily reality, and that her baby clearly meant the company didn’t provide creche services for their mainly female workers.

But the managing director of the tea-import company whose Manurewa office I was in did hear me. He said nothing at the time, (no valour, then) but two weeks later he and my boss confronted me in that same office. Ten minutes later, I was out of a job, the tea-man saying that after such a remark, he ‘could not trust me to promote his tea advantageously.’

And my boss, keeping the account, by firing me in front of him.

Tea, that so-innocuous drink, has also played a searing role in various nation’s affairs. Its 6thC discovery in China, supposedly by a male emperor and a vagrant wind which just happened to be near boiling water, made tea sacrosanct to Chinese powerholders for a short time.

Gandhi asked his nation to slice at British colonialism and trade by boycotting the gentle drink. The so-named Boston Tea Party dumped tons of it into that city’s harbour for similar reasons.

As The Guru of Chai wordlessly points out, among so many other wonderful things, tea also was a lifesaver, a life-funder for so many near-desperate men who became street vendors in India in those nefarious days.

‘What god hears is also heard by the devil,’ mutters the tea-selling Guru, doubting the effectivity of appealing to an invisible Presence. ‘{A child may be} a gift from god, but not god’s gift,’ he adds. There are several themes in this rather wonderful one-man show – murder, magic parrots, reincarnation, missing children, but the dirty rags of poverty run through the whole narrative, typified by the seven sisters: ‘Uncle, we have nothing, but we can sing.’

The Guru of Chai (first performed in 2008) is based on an old Indian fairytale about Punchkin, a grasping, power-hungry quasi-immortal man. The story’s elements are to be found in most culture’s fairytales, describing human evils (cruel stepmothers, murderous kings) counterbalanced by human goodness: love, kindness, charitable action.

With lashings of magic to make stones become people again, and parrots holding the secret of Life, Mr Rajan has long been held in high esteem by this reviewer, ever since seeing his remarkable Krishnan’s Dairy in Wellington some twenty years ago. Since then, Mr Rajan and his Indian Ink company partners have become globally famous with Mr Rajan himself recognised by the Crown for his services to Theatre (MNZM). Nothing but deeply satisfying theatre could result from all that polished expertise, particularly given Justin Lewis’s inimitable direction.

However, in theatre, even the best stories and actors need the support of inventive sets and evocative music. On stage all the time, Adam Ogle’s expressive guitar invigorates David Ward’s compositions, speaking of love, fear, courage and joy in plangent notes. John Verryt’s intimate set includes a perch for the scarlet parrot, the parrot being as necessary to the plot as blood is to our hearts.

My Companion, who is a bit of a card-shark on lazy weekends, was made speechless (for a moment) by the play, never having seen any of Mr Rajan’s previous work. As we made our way through the patrons clustering around samosa-bedecked tables at the end of the evening, she said ‘thank you for bringing me. That was a wonder, my friend. A wonder. In spades’.


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A gripping experience

Review by Lindsay Clark 02nd Sep 2016

Anticipation in the theatre can be a killer and anticipation all the way from the first performance of this play in 2010 till now has been especially drawn out. All the more delight then, to find that the quirky magic of this team is as powerful as promised by earlier productions and the rave reviews which have followed performances of Guru of Chai around the world.

The audience on opening night is readily beguiled by the masterful Jacob Rajan who flawlessly plays multiple roles, seventeen of them apparently, but who’s in a mind to be counting. His Kalisar, the eponymous guru, has achieved this status through a tea stall set up in the hectic Bangalore Central Station. His fund of wisdom and advice is drawn from contact with the passing masses and with cheerful insistence he assures us that our own generally worrisome condition also will be cured by the end of the evening. Judging by the enthusiastic applause, he is right. 

Inspired by an Indian folk tale, the story Kalisar spins for us has threads of many colours. There is romance and tension, loyalty, betrayal and loss, but above all there is a clear perspective on the confusing nature of life, whether in Bangalore or New Delhi or central Christchurch.

Kalisar’s precarious living changes gear one day when he has a brief vision of Ganesa, the mighty elephant deity who can removes obstacles, though not guaranteeing a smooth path to success. With all eight arms, the god can manipulate human destiny in unimaginable ways. 

In the same eye blink the tea seller finds himself approached by seven sisters, abandoned by their father and gifted as singers of hauntingly beautiful music. When vicious thugs claim rights over their takings, Kalisar’s well-meaning but ineffectual intervention is backed up by a real strong man, the chubby policeman Punchkin, who in his turn is smitten by Balna, the most gifted of the girls. The guru is hard pressed to keep up with the developments that follow, but the thriller aspect of the story is never lost and surprises keep coming. 

All this is wonderfully amplified by Adam Ogle, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist supreme. He provides a brilliant soundscape as well as songs in which he is joined by the indefatigable Kalisar. Together with Cathy Knowlsey’s lighting design, his musicianship supports the driving energy of the busy and often dangerous world before us. 

All the hallmarks of Indian Ink’s eclectic creativity flourish in this production. The use of loose fabric such as a scarf to define character freely, even draped so as to become one, is splendidly inventive. This time, the accustomed mask for Kalisar’s central role is a set of long and misshapen teeth. The effect of his wide grin is riveting, but more than that, the poignancy of the little man juggling the complications of existence, including these teeth is touchingly enhanced. 

In both scope and detail then, the play provides a gripping experience from this well-loved company. The finesse of Jacob Rajan and the whole creative enterprise is right on target to realise the indelible theatre they so clearly stand for. 


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Love and loss, greed and selflessness, devotion and betrayal

Review by Phoebe Smith 12th Apr 2013

For a decade and a half, Indian Ink has been creating magical theatre that is very popular, well-received and tightly woven. The Guru of Chai is no exception. Here Rajan and director/co-writer Justin Lewis have incorporated elements of the traditional Indian Folktale of Punchkin into a contemporary tale of crime and intrigue on the streets of Bangalore. 

Rajan and Lewis are master storytellers. The detail of character and location, the conjuring of the sensory experience of Bangalore Central Station, and the anticipation and suspense of the plot are all inherent to the script. 

In the spirit of Krishnan’s Dairy, Indian Ink’s debut play, The Guru of Chai treats us to a cast of characters all performed by the energetic and mercurial Rajan. This time Rajan eschews masks and plays the entire ensemble wearing a set of buck-teeth and occasionally a transformative scarf. 

Central to the story is Kutisar, a Chai wallah, who opens the play with a direct address to the audience explaining that our lives lack fulfilment, are hollow, but that we are not to fear as all this is being taken in hand.

Kutisar goes on to meet seven orphaned sisters whose singing is so beautiful that their busking earns them more in a day than he makes in a week. While six of the seven are quickly married, one – Balna – makes a choice that sees a chain reaction of events unfold, opening the story up to love and loss, greed and selflessness, devotion and betrayal.  Rajan’s embodiment of the seven women has room to be more three-dimensional, particularly in the case of his portrayal of Balna, who unfortunately sounds almost exactly like Zena who many in the audience will have witnessed in Krishnan’s Dairy last week. 

While Rajan is certainly hard at work (though he mops his brow in character as Kutisar, it is without doubt that the rivulets of sweat are authentic) he is not alone on stage. Musician David Ward sits in a chair throughout the play. A ‘mute who sings’, his presence is commented upon without being overplayed and it is refreshing to be able to consistently see a live musician whose impeccable timing and talent are intrinsic to the success of the piece.   

John Verryt’s set is simple and unobtrusive. The basic flats and fabrics allow the action to move location without any lengthy changes and without seeming out of place. The use of shadow toward the end of the play is particularly effective and affecting.  

Opening night at Downstage sees an audience who are utterly charmed by Rajan. They delight in his patter with them and in his fluidity as he performs multiple characters in a detailed and complex story. The lengthy applause and the mutterings of, ‘isn’t he good’ at the close of the play are testament to this.   

To go and see two shows in two weeks by this esteemed and talented company is a privilege. It is also impossible not to compare them. While the storyline of The Guru of Chai is more complex and riveting than its predecessor, the production is not so slick or perfectly crafted. The delicate technical perfection of Krishnan’s Dairy is clumsier here. Both are well worth watching, as, I believe, any Indian Ink show will be. Neither, however, quite live up to the heightened set-up that they endow themselves with. No – I do not suddenly feel a fulfilment that was previously lacking in my life. However, yes – I am glad that I saw this show.  


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Perfect Theatrical Blend

Review by James Wenley 16th Jul 2012

The Guru of Chai brews his tea to perfection, carefully measuring the exact combination of herbs and spices. It is an art that simmers through this play. He’s unappreciated at his stall, plagued by Starbucks. We don’t get to sample his tea, but I’ll wager this: He’s an even better storyteller.

And really, that credit is to Indian Ink’s Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan, who distil their storytelling to an exact perfection. I was first transported by the Guru’s tale in 2010 at the University of Auckland Drama Studio, home base of dramaturge Murray Edmond, when they were first previewing their new work (following Krishnan’s Dairy, The Candlestick Maker, The Pickle King, and The Dentist’s Chair) to small and appreciative audiences; they also took the play into people’s private homes. After a NZ tour and bigger season at the Maidment Theatre last year, they have recently gone overseas with the show to places such as Singapore, LA, Tennesse and Sydney. With many theatre productions flash of the pan stuff, it is remarkably rewarding to revisit the show for its Q Theatre season (a proud achievement for Lewis, who helped shepherd Q’s existence). Chai has had time to breathe and to grow richer. [More


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Small triumphs, unlikely alliances and unfortunate choices

Review by Nik Smythe 12th Jul 2012

India Ink’s celebrated, internationally travelled and, I note, extensively reviewed work can already be confidently dubbed a classic since its inaugural living-room touring season only 2 years back. 

Prolific set (and costume) designer John Verryt supplies an authentically cozy, antiquitous earth-toned and distressed set onto which titular tooth-heavy master of ceremony ‘Kusitar’ (Jacob Rajan) enters with quiet, affable musician/composer ‘Dave’ (David Ward). 

Warming up the capacity crowd with introductions and obligatory phone/camera rules, Kusitar explains how he was invited by the esteemed Q Theatre to come and talk to their audience in the hope that he may provide some light and purpose in our otherwise meaningless lives … Can’t wait!  

Inspired by an eccentric puppeteer and mask-dancer Rajan and co-writer/director Justin Lewis had met in the thriving arts scene of Bali, Indonesia, Rajan’s Kusitar is a fully formed character; gregarious and flawed, cowardly yet compassionate.  Barely scraping a living in the hectic bustle of Bangalore’s main railway station, his legendary beverage plays a very minor, essentially ornamental role in the ensuing saga whereby he reluctantly befriends a septet of sisters whose mother has died and father disappeared, and who take to singing by his chai stand for their own daily crust. 

Beyond the comprehension of my own first-world middle class bubble, this is clearly a society where basic survival is a daily issue and death threats are more than merely metaphoric.  Kusitar’s wry native wit belies the heartbreaking tragedy all too commonplace in the overpopulated slums of India, as he casually remarks of the girls’ father: “Seven daughters, seven dowries… he’s gone.  You won’t see him again.” 

The heroic mentor figure in the tale is the burly, warm-hearted Punchkin, portly officer of the law and virtually the only one not under the thumb of local ruthless crime-boss The Fakir.  He takes a paternal liking to the girls, supervising their performances every day over a period of years during which they each in turn marry eligible suitors employed around the station until just Valda remains, the youngest with the most angelic voice.

This is just the opening chapter in a deceptively complex tale that spans over a decade, peppered throughout with small triumphs, unlikely alliances and unfortunate choices.  Like so many horrifying events along the way, the shocking betrayal that marks the climactic twist is softened to almost worrying acceptability by the playful humour of Kusitar’s frankly uncompromising honesty. 

Supernatural elements such as a soul-bearing parrot give a nod to the fairytale origin of Indian Ink’s modern parable, drawn from the classical Indian folk tale ‘Punchkin’, renowned for their “rich cast of characters and complex morality”. 

Rajan’s superb character-driven performance is judiciously seasoned with the deftly subtle application of mime, puppetry and vocal FX, plus a few charming instances of audience participation.  Jeremy Fern’s exemplary lighting design concept and Dave’s wonderfully authentic musical accompaniment complete a wholly gratifying, original theatrical experience.  


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A spice-layered chai worth savouring

Review by Stephen Austin 30th Jun 2011

It’s pretty powerful to think that over fifteen years ago Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, then freshly graduated, changed the face of the New Zealand theatre culture with Krishnan’s Dairy; Rajan’s personal journey into the heart of his own culture. Today their company, Indian Ink, are still bringing their familiar storytelling techniques and character studies to audiences, but it all feels fresher than ever despite the inevitable maturity of the pervading years. 

Unlike their recent more high-concept productions The Candlestickmaker and The Pickle King, The Guru of Chai moves back to the single-performer/multiple-character approach pioneered in Krishnan’s. 

A semi-comedic political thriller, with colourful characters, a bold intimacy and a truly dark streak of pathos in its tail (the company refer to this as ‘the serious laugh’ in the programme notes, which is very apt), the story revolves around, and evolves from, a down-on-his-luck chaiwallah who encounters a young girl and her sisters when they sing beside his stall at a railway station. This starts events down an inevitable path that will carry them through their lives, into unrequited loves, political intrigue and, ultimately, great tragedy. 

Rajan in full flight is an incredible solo performer his character work is richly detailed, with beautiful broad range and rich textures in every moment. Not even a minor character (there are many) is allowed to slip by with any degree of vagueness and they all get the story-arc necessary within the lean 80 minute run time. His timing is absolutely perfect, imbuing tragic situations with immensely comic observations and hilarious moments with lashings of rich depth of emotion. 

David Ward, as the on-stage musician, is fills his mostly practical technical role with a sense of wide-eyed naive wonder – betrayed, wonderfully, by his incredible playing, finely placed cueing of sound effects and worldly cultured vocals. 

John Verryt’s set and costume design are excellently rustic and detailed. The set could fit into the smallest of spaces [it has played in people’s homes] and still carry its epic purpose easily. 

Despite the company’s stated problems of not being able to contextualize this story to specific era – the telling is timeless and universal – the contemporary aesthetic helps to bring the audience closer to the work and the performers more in touch with their characters.

This production, like much of Indian Ink’s earlier repertoire, has the power to move across cultures, classes and eras to create something truly great and utterly entertaining. The show has already toured New Zealand extensively and leaves for an international tour shortly. If you can catch it before it leaves, this is one spice-layered chai that is definitely worth savouring. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Intriguing blend makes for very fine theatre

Review by Caroline Harker 13th Apr 2011

The Guru of Chai, performed by that guru of performance Jacob Rajan, is remarkable. It’s impossible to imagine it being performed by anyone else. Rajan has shown audiences time and again that he can play all the characters in a piece of theatre with such charm and skill they are completely seduced. 

In his first show – Krishnan’s Dairy – we saw him playing multiple characters by cleverly changing masks. In Guru we see him unmasked and the result is even more powerful.

He opens with a hilarious monologue about how he has been invited to perform in Wanaka because the people there think their lives have no meaning, and then launches into an extraordinary story which holds the audience as spellbound as children listening to a favourite fairy tale. 

Set in India it begins with a chaiwallah (tea seller) in a railway station who is interrupted by seven abandoned sisters who manage to bring the whole place to a standstill with a song. The story develops with an intriguing blend of bribes and brutality, love and lust, birth and death, lies and deceit, the epic and the intimate. Not forgetting shadow puppetry, lighting by torchlight, flirting with a pretty girl in the audience and a stuffed parrot with a soul.

The lines are both hilarious and profound ranging from “These poets, they have dirty filthy thoughts and out of their mouths come pomegranates and figs,” to “ Talking stops me thinking I am alone in the universe.”

Rajan writes his plays with long time collaborator and partner in Indian Ink Theatre Company Justin Lewis. Rajan always acts, Lewis always directs and together they produce very fine theatre. Don’t miss it. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Theatre that intrigues, enthrals and enriches

Review by Ngaire Riley 10th Apr 2011

Within moments of opening his seductive chat with us, the guru of chai – Kutisar – assures us that “tonight your problems will be gone.” And then we are whirled into a physically tiny world which rolls us through the challenges and choices that come with the universality of being human: of the need for love; “how empty is the house without a girl”; the corruption that comes with power; the flaws we all have – which for Kutisar is his passion for cock fighting. 

Jacob Rajan enchants and entertains, magics and mesmerises us through a superbly crafted and skilfully performed modern version of the story of police officer Punchkin that seamlessly links the ancient with today: Kutisar talks to the moon and complains about KFC setting up next to his tea stall. 

The set is worn Indian: flaking paint, onion-bulb shapes on the top of hexagon holed screens, with modern touches – a gas bottle, key-tar and an M.P.C, used by hip hop artists. It suggests a city, a room, a place of transience and yet it feels homely – there are rugs, a cloth image of Ganesh and a small shrine. The often Dylan Thomas-like words tumble from the characters and through them we build a reality within our own imaginations.

It is an Indian story and the problems are extreme – seven daughters are abandoned on the Bangalore railway station, there is an extortionist called Fakir and the girl with the most beautiful voice marries the useless poet. Yet, as in Shakespeare, we are then able to see how pride and power eventually kill what is held more precious; how single choices in life can reverberate through a lifetime, a country, a century.

I suspect that, like Krishnan’s Dairy, this production will last for years to come, but perhaps the consummate skill of Rajan and the soundscape and music of David Ward are needed for its telling.

It’s hard to reconcile how I laugh so much yet see such sorrow and suffering. One poignant moment is when the desperately unhappy Balna turns to Punchkin. Yet what I know I am seeing is a piece of cloth wound on Jacob’s arm. Such is the skill of Jacob. The struggles of these small people against the forces of culture, rules and religion remind me of the Hardy’s characters like Tess, drowning in an impossibility of corruption and deceit.

I’ve taken 50 secondary drama students to this performance. They need a ‘good’ production to write about in their NCEA exams. This production suits perfectly. A simple story told with layers of metaphor. A single actor playing a multiplicity of characters. A simple set suggesting many realities. But most of all they have an unforgettable experience of the power and connection of live theatre. They love it.

At an after show chat Rajan and Ward respond to the students’ questions with charm and integrity. From “What’s with the teeth?” to “Do you see Punchkin as a tragic hero in the Aristotelian sense?” they are answered with courtesy and respect: the same qualities that we see in all of Indian Ink’s work; a team who are creating theatre that intrigues, enthrals and enriches. 

I’ll go again.  
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You’ll laugh, you’ll wonder, you might cry

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 07th Oct 2010

What do we go to the theatre for? Ease? Entertainment? Enlightenment? Well on a Wednesday night in Hamilton, The Guru of Chai delivered on all fronts to a full house.

This well-honed sophisticated work both surprises its audience and delivers exactly what they need or discover they might want. Jacob Rajan is like a theatrical soothsayer, connecting us all to our shared humanity with his unembarrassed, unabated warmth, joy and honesty; warts and all.

The Guru of the title is a flawed central character, Kutisar, a chai seller who’s been roughed up by life yet has not lost touch with his essential goodness. He’s a glowing reminder of what matters most in life: values, legacy, allegiance to the ones you love. The buck teeth, the overactive hands, the big heart are hallmarks of a master actor crafting a character with the recognised empathy so often sought in rich theatre.

Rajan is an actor who is deeply embedded in the art of storytelling and it’s a joy to watch such a solid, beautifully directed, sensitively held piece of work. His Kutisar is our guide through one ‘ordinary’ man’s extraordinary story.

At the heart of this play is a great yarn. Kutisar’s journey encompasses a feature film-length tale with at least 16 characters deftly played by Rajan. It has to be seen live to understand the connections and sheer genius involved in doing this. It’s a character-driven narrative that is ambitious, yet works because it’s rooted in touchstones of simple truths and wonderful humour.

You really feel at home with Rajan and his cast of many. There are moments of magic (literally), little tricks to spark the narrative. And resonance; 7 homeless daughters who find a home. Like the 7 great stories in the world, Indian Ink has found a home for this heroic tale. The play holds some shiny pearls of wisdom: “You [daughters] are a gift from God, but you are not God’s gift.”

The insights come in a moment, but like a fleeting vision of Ganesh, they vanish as the story unfolds and life once again takes over. A kind of Ravi-Shankar-meets-Antony-Robbins-meets-sidestreet-gambler seems like an unlikely character to elicit illumination, yet that’s what happens. We’re promised that a tricky parrot can solve our problems, although a tricky chai peddler actually does something more towards that end. 

Rajan and musician David Ward are a great duo, perfectly in time, able to rest inside the fullness of the moment. Their performance together is beautifully timed. The sound and musical landscapes furnish the play with feelings that transcend language or culture. The performance gives us great music sensitively played.

It’s beautifully directed, wittily crafted, deeply embedded in an inherent wisdom. Justin Lewis is to be credited for his hand in creating and directing the work with the performers, and for working inside a process that requires enormous trust. That feeling of trust is palpable in the performance.

Devising work and touring it at this level is no mean feat, yet Indian Ink are committed to their craft. I applaud the sophistication of this performance and its cogent simplicity. At times I saw images of a Peter Brook performance, at other times I could see an intrinsically NZ tale involving talent, wit and ingenuity. The venues are obviously a challenge that the cast and crew have embraced; this work is probably most at home in a small intimate space, but the necessities of touring demand bigger economies of scale. It’s great to see the play has not lost its beating heart in a fairly large space like the Meteor. 

This play is a living example of the maxim that, “In life you don’t have to do great things, just do small things with greatness”. For an hour and a half it is a pleasure to see Rajan working hard, sharing his gift, making great theatre and connecting with our shared humanity. You’ll laugh, you’ll wonder, you might cry.

Get thee to the Guru of Chai; you won’t regret it. Go drink chai from this cup of life.  
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Persuasive and powerful play of life

Review by Lynn Freeman 23rd Sep 2010

The Guru of Indian Ink’s play is the kind of incorrigible salesman that you would expect to come across in an Indian railway station. In fact he would probably end up selling, as well as a cup of sweet chai, a car and insurance policies, such is the power of his persuasion. Instead here in the theatre, he promises to take away the many burdens we all carry with us in our busy daily lives.

This is a complex story to be told in a relatively short time, with one person playing a variety of roles. As with the company’s previous work, the humour is counterpointed with the numerous sadnesses of characters you quickly come to care about.

From the moment Jacob Rajan comes onto the stage, his Guru, with his outrageous set of teeth, has us in the palm of his hands. By the time he retells the story of meeting 7 sisters who’d just been abandoned by their father, you are right there in the noisy and dangerous station with him – and them.

The sisters survive by singing in the railway station under the protection of a local policeman from the henchmen of the all-powerful and extremely dangers Fakir, is the last to find true love. Unlike her sisters, whose husbands all work at the station, her husband is a poet. Love, though, is no protection against the reality of the Fakir who rule through fear. Our Guru finds himself enmeshed is an unfolding tragedy and at times, through simple greed and foolishness, compounding an already dangerous situation.

There are no flash special effects needed in this kind of storytelling, just the music of David Ward, the world of John Verryt’s set, the ingenious direction of Rajan’s long time collaborator Justin Lewis, and the sheer brilliance of Rajan’s performance.

The many theatre goers who will count Krishnan’s Dairy among their top 10 plays will enjoy Indian Ink’s return to this simple and simply magical kind of play. 
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Many parts played by one gifted actor

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Sep 2010

Storytelling is as old as mankind and its art and techniques are on display in three very different theatrical productions at the moment. At Circa there are short anecdotal stories in My First Time and a very tall story told with bravura in Shipwrecked!, and now at Downstage we have The Guru of Chai, an updated version ofa traditional Indian folk/fairy story, Punchkin, that now starts at a busy railway station.

With an atmospheric and raggle-taggle Indian setting by John Verryt of tatty, paint-spattered screens, a platform and a table bearing a primus and a large kettle the story is told by Kutisar, the tea-seller or chaiwallah, of six abandoned young girls whom he takes under his wing. They survive by singing and when they are robbed of their earnings they catch the ear and eye of a police officer, a fat “thin blue line” of protection.

The girls grow up and get married except for Balna, the one with the most beautiful voice. She eventually falls in love with a young, handsome Muslim poet. They have a son. The poet falls foul of the evil master criminal, Fakir. The son is cared for by his aunts and when he grows up he goes in search of his long lost mother.

There’s a happy ending of sorts but not before many twists and turns have occurred including episodes of comedy mixed with pathos, the chaiwallah’s business problems with Starbucks, audience participation in avian flight and lighting the performer, and moments of unexpected magical tricks.

However, the real magic is in the performance of Jacob Rajan who plays all the parts. At one point the chaiwallah says ‘Truthfully, I lie.’ All good acting and storytelling is lying truthfully and Jacob Rajan does so beautifully, delicately delineating each character with a quick change of his body, face, and voice to create real, compelling characters. He is supported with great discretion by David Ward who plays the music, sings the songs and provides the sound effects.

The Guru of Chai has all the ingredients of marvelous theatre: first rate acting and an imaginative production, an entertaining story that contains eternal truths wrapped up in a cloak of comedy and pathos and presented with a confidence and an appeal that makes an audience one.

You would be foolish to miss this and take any 10 year-olds and up as well, I’m sure they’d love it too.
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Warm and engaging with simple moments of theatre magic

Review by Hannah Smith 16th Sep 2010

Hilary Beaton is concerned. Her audiences’ lives are hollow and meaningless. Permanently connected to the internet, they feel disconnected from each other. They are terribly unhappy. Something must be done. And so Hilary has called in an expert to solve the problem. 

The Guru of Chai proffers spiritual enlightenment in a cup of sweet and spicy deliciousness. The story weaves the Indian folktale of Punchkin into a contemporary fable that follows Kutisar, a chai seller from the streets of Bangalore, who meets seven orphaned sisters singing for their supper at a train station and embarks on a tale that covers all the traditional bases: love, loss, longing for children, heroism, deception and betrayal – and some less classic but no less enjoyable touches, including a couple of vicious cock fights and a very tricksy parrot. 

Jacob Rajan embodies Kutisar and the raft of other individuals the story involves with a cheerful vigour. His characterisations, his comic timing, and his charisma and energy have the audience in the palm of his hand from the first to the last. The effort leaves him sweating and one can’t help but be impressed – he is a theatrical athlete.

The enigmatic musician David Ward is sitting on stage throughout, allowing opportunities for comedic interplay between him and the guru. He supports the action by providing sound effects and original composition, as well as through his intense presence; seriously, this man has the most astonishing profile and his skin actually seems to glow.

John Verryt’s set design uses rusty coloured fabrics and cut out flats to evoke India with a simplicity that allows us to be transported everywhere and anywhere the story takes us. The lighting design (Jeremy Fern and Cathy Knowsley) is a mish-mash of torches, desk lamps and standing lamps which add to the homely aesthetic and are incorporated as a supporting part of the action.

Directed by Justin Lewis, the production gets back to the roots of storytelling in the simple style with which Indian Ink are so successful, using basic items to create a lively and bustling world. The whole is heart-warming and homely. 

This is a real feat in a huge concrete venue like Downstage, and it definitely succeeds, though I think a more intimate venue would be ideal for the piece. In his program note Lewis states that the play was developed with the idea of touring community venues and homes, and if you had the opportunity to experience the play that way I think it would be phenomenal. 

I do not think my life is any less hollow and meaningless than it was this time yesterday, but I am certainly pleased that I experienced the guru. This warm and engaging production is full of simple moments of theatre magic – the flight of the parrot, the sleight of hand – that will make you gasp and smile like a child.

You can relax, Hilary, the guru has everything under control.
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Pure magic

Review by Moreen Eason & John Jefferies 08th Sep 2010

The Indian Ink Theatre Company’s productions remind one somewhat of Dr Who’s Tardis – apparently small on the outside, but inside, an entire world awaits.

The Guru of Chai takes as its basis an old Indian folk tale, Punchkin. It weaves a magical story of good and evil, love and hate, happiness and tragedy – all this on a tiny, minimal (in an Indian sense) set, and with one actor, the multi talented and award-winning Jacob Rajan, and musician David Ward providing not only music, but an enormous array of sound effects.

A poor tea seller (chaiwallah) discovers a young girl abandoned at a busy railway station – the beauty of her singing captivates everyone who hears it, and the chaiwallah’s life is changed forever. The story develops with the girl being joined by her five sisters, all given protection by a young, honest police officer, Punchkin from the sinister, evil ‘villain’.

Jacob Rajan fills the stage with a bewildering number of characters, with the use of very few props and even fewer costume adjustments. Rajan’s posture changes with each of his characters; each is different and identifiable. His storytelling is like a series of doors opening into ever more fascinating spaces.

The Guru of Chai is pure magic, created by Rajan, his writing partner/ director Justin Lewis, and composer/ music performer Ward. Their style and sheer genius draw one into their story, ensuring that one’s eyes never leave the stage. There is much laughter, balanced by the throat-catching pathos that is an essential part of any good comedy.

Make no mistake, this is a production that must be seen by all lovers of theatre at its best. Don’t miss it.

The production continues at the Theatre Royal, Nelson, until Saturday 11th September – all performances at 7.30pm


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Bitter-sweet tale draws universal truths from its very particular blend

Review by John Smythe 09th Mar 2010

It seems fitting, somehow, that in a city known for its excellent coffee, we should turn to tea for an extra shot of wisdom. We gather, therefore, at Mojo’s roasting and packaging HQ to see a very recently scheduled preview of Indian Ink’s The Guru of Chai.

According to Kutisar – Jacob Rajan’s latest wondrous creation – the Festival called him in because it realised its audiences felt their lives were meaningless. Apparently we know only “emptiness, loneliness and painful urination” and we need enlightenment.  

After 75 minutes with ‘the guru’ we come to understand life is a cup. You’ll have to go to find out why, and what to do with it.

Bucktoothed and soaked in the sorrows of the world, Kutistar has a story to tell that, if nothing else, reminds us how lucky we are. We also come away realising nothing much has changed in centuries of human existence; that sometimes those who wish to win our trust and love will attempt to secure it by ensuring we have something to fear so they can protect us from it. (Governments do it all the time; always have and always will.)

Abetted by musician and composer Dave (Ward), who is mute except when he sings, Kutistar takes is back to his chai stall at Bangalore Central Station, evoking the hustle and bustle, and introducing us to his parrot, the mysteries-to-be-feared of the elephant god and the seven girls who fear their widower father has abandoned them (“Seven dowries to pay? Of course he has!”).

They sing, beautifully, for their suppers, earning more in a day than Kutistar does in a week. But an unseen fakir is running a protection racket, using the mutilated Thumby to collect his ‘fee’. Even though they have adopted Kutistar as their uncle-cum-father, he is no hero figure. But the kindly local police officer, Punchkin, has taken a shine to these girls and he makes it his personal crusade to keep them safe, in spite of the danger to himself …

While six of the sisters marry ‘well’, the seventh, Balna, chooses romantic love over gratitude for the care the lovelorn Punchkin – who is a Captain now – has shown. As she pays the price for following her heart, he rises through Inspector in charge of the Major Crime Unit to become the Minister of Police. Yet he never forgets her and continues to honour his promise to keep her safe, even extending his protection to little Imran, the son she had by the man she loved …

Kutistar’s tale deftly covers many years as it explores loyalty, compassion and the quest for love in a ruthlessly dispassionate world, where enlightenment comes a poor second to the daily struggle for survival and self-interest warps most principles of humanity. The cock-fighting, for which Kutistar has a weakness, encapsulates how bad it can get for the dispossessed and unprotected.

Rajan plays all the roles without the aid of masks this time; just using changes in voice and posture to delineate them. In the intimacy of a 50-seat space (they will bring it to your home too; click title above for details), he quickly establishes a strong rapport with his audience and maintains a rippling vein of humour that superbly offsets the ever-darkening plot. Music, songs, magic and shadow-puppetry enhance his brilliant performing skills.

In the tradition of Krishnan’s Dairy, The Candlestick Maker, The Pickle King and The Dentist’s Chair, but in the simplest presentation yet, The Guru of Chai offers a bitter-sweet insight into all shades of humanity, drawing universal truths from this very particular blend as it serves to remind us who has the ultimate power over what we make of our lives.  

The works Jacob Rajan makes with co-writer and director Justin Lewis and dramaturge Murray Edmond – including this one with musician Dave Ward, set and costume designer John Verryt and lighting designer Jeremy Fern – are to be treasured and any opportunity you get to see an Indian Ink show is to be taken.
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Captivating and moving

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 13th Feb 2010

I felt privileged to see a unique preview performance of Indian Ink Company’s The Guru of Chai last Thursday night; their 5th work since they formed in 1996.

Approximately 40 people were invited to company co-founder Justin Lewis’ house for drinks and nibbles, during which (in lieu of a programme, which is still being written), he gave us a brief history of the play’s embryonic process, before we descended the stairs to his makeshift home-theatre for an intimate debut version of Guru.

After an 18-month gestation period (including a trip to Bali), in an unusual step The Guru Of Chai will spend the next 6 weeks touring NZ, playing in a variety of venues from community and school halls to domestic homes, before the company expands the play’s run into their established international circuit.

The story leans heavily on Indian folklore with customary hero, villain, and trickster, but Guru is also a universal tale of unrequited love.  

Of course Indian Ink have integrated all the hallmarks that their audiences have come to expect: mask, employed here in its broadest sense; puppetry, in the form of a cute stuffed parrot; live music, from a sensitive player introduced only as “Dave” [David Ward]; traditional theatrical devices; simple magic; and the indisputable draw of talented actor Jacob Rajan’s honest story telling, through charming physicality and engaging characterisations.

Guru showcases Jacob at his very best and reinforces him as one of NZ’s most hard working, deserving, disciplined and gifted theatre artists. While the script and flow need a small amount of tightening here and there, Guru’s magical elements all add up to a very captivating, moving piece of theatre.

The evening starts with guru Kutisar addressing us as our spiritual leader. He is a delightfully flawed, entertaining yet hopeless motivational speaker who, after asking us what we want from life and how can he assist, begins by confessing his own every day frustrations rather than imparting divine enlightenment.

Our dear guru shifts gear, introduces his very fine parrot and begins again – this time he tells us a story about a young girl called Balna who, along with her 6 sisters, is abandoned at an Indian railway station by their widower father. Far from perishing, the sisters take up residence at the station next to Kutisar’s tea stall, and busk. Their singing, especially Balna’s, brings great joy, as well as prosperity and many admirers. A young ambitious policeman called Punchkin falls in love with Balna but is rejected in favour of a disreputable poet called Imran.

All Guru’s characters are played by Jacob, yet this is not a one-man-show. While Dave the musician doesn’t speak, he provides ideal support, pitching the tone and texture of musical segues, to provide the perfect coda to a speech or scene. His clear singing, exquisite banjo playing, inspired sound effects, such as a plastic bag rustling next to his mic to depict rain, plus the judicious use of a sample machine, are reoccurring motifs throughout the story. And when he’s joined by Jacob on key-tar for a fabulous upbeat opening song in Indian, yet reminiscent of the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, it is a thing to behold.

I very much enjoyed The Guru of Chai’s story-telling style of gate-crashing serious moments with amusing jokes, witty remarks or light-hearted insight. Yet when I reflect on Guru, it is its solemn theme of corruption and the potential for any (seemingly) good soul in a position of power to become corrupt that leaves the lasting impression. While contemporary India is the background for the play, it’s key questions – whom can you trust? can you even trust yourself? – apply no matter where you live. Perhaps this is how a trip to Bali helped to inspire the final shape of play. No doubt the company notes in the soon to be released programme will shed more light.

Thankfully, Justin and Jacob avoid giving Guru a down-beat end, choosing instead to let our delightful yet dubious guru Kutisar finish with his simple version of enlightenment; his answer to the question pondered earlier.

I would highly recommend seeing the play at someone’s house if you are able, as seeing Jacob’s craft this close up is a rare personal theatrical experience. Stripped of a theatre’s conventional layout, ambience,technical support and staging traditions; and relying instead on domestic lamps, light-switches, wall hangings, rugs, tea, a torch, and little audience participation…  The Guru of Chai connects in an immediate and wonderful way.
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