Krishnan’s Dairy

Glen Eden Playhouse, Auckland

26/08/2009 - 29/08/2009

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

25/07/2012 - 04/08/2012

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

05/04/2013 - 19/04/2013

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

30/06/2022 - 02/07/2022

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

17/09/2022 - 21/09/2022

Going West Books and Writers Festival 2009

Production Details


Written & performed by Jacob Rajan
Directed by Justin Lewis

Indian Ink Theatre Company


Indian Ink Theatre Company presents Krishnan’s Dairy at the Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden for five performances only from Wednesday 26 to Saturday 29 August as a part of the 2009 Going West Books and Writers Festival.

Krishnan’s Dairy takes two of the most universal Indian clichés – the Taj Mahal and the corner store – and fuses them into a funny and touching love story. Gobi and Zina Krishnan have moved to New Zealand in search of a better life for themselves and their child. They work hard and keep their dreams stacked on the shelves of their struggling business – Krishnan’s Dairy.

Woven into the story of Gobi and Zina is the epic tale of the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world and an enduring testament to the love of one man for his wife. A love story unfolds behind the counter with hilarious and deeply moving consequences for the hopeful, vulnerable lives of this immigrant shopkeeper and his wife.

The play, starring Jacob Rajan, debuted in 1997 and since then has played to more than 47,000 people, selling out around New Zealand, in Australia, in Singapore and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.

cost:
Adult $28, Concession $25, Group 8+ $20, Student $17.50

dates:

Wed 26 Aug 09 – Sat 29 Aug 09, every day, 8:00pm – 9:15pm
Sat 29 Aug 09, 2:00pm – 3:15pm

venue:
Glen Eden Playhouse Theatre, 15 Glendale Rd, Glen Eden, Auckland

ticket outlets: Book Tickets Online

Auckland 2012 season: Q Rangatira 

KRISHNAN’S DAIRY
25th July – 4 August 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 http://www.indianink.co.nz

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 alongsidethe long awaited return of their much-loved classic, Krishnan’s Dairy from April 5-20 at Downstage Theatre.

Krishnans 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 www.downstage.co.nz


Jacob Rajan


Theatre , Mask ,


In repertory with The Guru of Chai

As fresh, remarkable and astonishing as ever

Review by John Smythe 18th Sep 2022

My memory of witnessing the wondrous alchemy of Jacob Rajan’s performance in Krishnan’s Dairy 25 years ago at BATS is vivid. That premiere won the Chapman Ttripp Theatre Award for Production of the Year 1977, and the following year it played across the road at Downstage Theatre to more full houses.

It’s touring seasons included 2001, 2009, 2012 and 2013 plus international tours that included Australia, Singapore and Scotland where it won an Edinburgh Fringe First Award. It also won another Production of the Year Award in NZ and probably holds the New Zealand record for the fastest show to be booked out, often before opening night, whenever it is revived.

It was with Krishnan’s Dairy that Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis launched their Indian Ink Theatre Company, with its founding principle of the serious laugh; of “opening mouths with laughter in order to slip something serious in.”

I first reviewed it (for the National Business Review) in November 2001 when it played at Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre, and now it graces that stage again at the end of what may be its farewell tour – but never say never. Given the National Library’s Papers Past site doesn’t include the NBR, I will unashamedly plunder what I wrote back then for this review.

Krishnan’s Dairy weaves pure theatrical magic that is simultaneously exotic and very close to home. The day-to-day tribulations and small joys in the Kiwi corner-dairy lives of Gobi and Zina Krishnan are contrasted at every level with the tale Zina tells baby Abu about the Taj Mahal.

Zina takes the romantic line (proffered in almost every website I found on the topic) that it is a story of undying passion and enduring love. A grieving husband, Shah Jahan, commissions a magnificent memorial to his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died at 39 after bearing him 14 children. It took 20,000 skilled workers 22 years to build.

It is Gobi who tries, in vain, to point out that the Shah, a massively rich Mughal (or Mongol) descended directly from Genghis Khan, was also a vainglorious monster who, among other things, had all the surviving workers blinded and the architect’s hands cut off so no-one else could supersede his monument. (Perhaps that’s why the fabled black marble version, which was supposed to mirror it and become Shah Jahan’s tomb, never made it past the foundation stage.)

The beautiful/ugly, gentle/violent dichotomies inherent in New Zealand life are also traversed in the more modern story. It would be easy to simply bask in the pleasure of Rajan’s sheer artistry in manifesting both Gobi and Zina with lightening-quick changes of masks, physicality and voice, abetted by the impeccably timed live sound effects and evocative music – initially created by Conrad Wedde, later taken on by David Ward and now, in this four-stop 2022 tour, by musician Adam Ogle. The synchronicity of sound and mime is truly astonishing.

The universality and timelessness of the couple’s domestic and working relationships are a constant delight, wondrously counter-pointed in rhythm, style and content by Rajan’s blue-masked Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

For many, the prosaic lyricism and exquisite comic timing might be enough. But the play simultaneously undercuts our complacency and increases the value of the work, and our experience of it, by confronting us with a part of our society we cannot deny. The shocking impact of Gobi’s fate forms a riveting bond between the two stories – and between the illusion of theatre and our real lives – as it resonates on domestic and global planes, perhaps even more so now than when it was first written.

The newspaper billboards Gobi initially displays are from The Dominion and Evening Post, taking us back to a time when cash transactions were still the standard and before ram raids superseded armed robbery. The epilogue is about 15 years later and the play’s sequel, Mrs Krishnan’s Party is set two decades or so later.

Krishnan’s Dairy stands as a modern classic of New Zealand theatre. Every generation needs to see it. Although I have seen it at least four times already, this performance feels as fresh, remarkable and astonishing as ever.

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An enduring, honest and mesmerising milestone in New Zealand theatre

Review by Steve La Hood 01st Jul 2022

After 25 years I haven’t forgotten about the mask…

Tonight, at Te Raukura ki Kāpiti, a full house – especially including a schoolgroup in the front row just below me, their faces lit by the stage, craning forward, succumbed to the mask.

The schoolgroup goes from wtf to omg at the very first, very fast, mask-change from Gobi to Zena. Once that disbelief has been dispatched, the whole audience ‘rings the bell above the door’, enters Krishnan’s Dairy and relaxes into this finely-tuned masterpiece from writer-performer Jacob Rajan and director Justin Lewis.

Surely everyone knows the story of Krishnan’s Dairy? You know, the newly-settled corner-dairy owner, Gobi, who sees a future in this ‘New World’, and his truculent wife, Zena, who pines for life with her doubtfully famous cousins and uncles in India. “It’s cold and there’s nobody here!”

Jacob Rajan plays both characters, snap-changing masks from Gobi to Zena, physically becoming the two separate personalities, between lines, between words, between looks. It’s technically precise work – a mistake would be disastrous.

It’s also hilarious. In the mask, Gobi is a puff-cheek Charlie Chaplin, Zena a deadpan Lucille Ball. The slapstick timing with the cash-register, updating to eft-pos (“It takes a while to connect…”), the bell above the door of the shop, the moon… it’s all so engrossing.

The dialogue has distilled over the years. Sometimes it’s Arkwright versus Nurse Gladys, or Desi chastising Lucy, or Martha baiting George. The audience around me bubbles and cackles, oohs and awws and guffaws at the word-play and the antics. It could’ve been written yesterday.

There’s another story too. It starts in the middle of one of Gobi and Zena’s interminable arguments. Shah Jahan and his legendary love for Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz is represented by a mask on the back of Jacob’s head, while Jahan is the forward-facing mask. The schoolgroup giggles a bit at the idea of a mask on the back of Jacob’s head… even more so when he makes that character dance – backwards.

But at that shocking moment in the performance just before the epilogue, there are shrieks – unchecked, terrified shrieks from the kids and a heaving gasp from the whole theatre!

Underneath the funniest comedies there’s always a vein of sadness, or a barb of truth that gets right into you. Krishnan’s Dairy is a sad story. Yes, the ending is redemptive and we leave uplifted through the tragedy – but Krishnan’s Dairy still packs a punch after all these years. We, the audience, are the unseen, dismissive, racist customers. It’s still a compelling theatrical event performed by a truly masterful performer.

In every beat, every sound cue, the way the lighting makes the characters’ eyes glitter behind the masks, the soulful guitar of Adam Ogle, the passing of time by that old Shakespearian trick of using clever placards…  Krishnan’s Dairy is brilliant.

This tour will be the last time Jacob performs Krishnan’s Dairy.

It’s on for 2 more nights here in Paraparaumu, then in September it will play in Christchurch, Hamilton and Wellington. This is your last chance then. Others might/should study and perform the play in the future, because it is an enduring and honest milestone in New Zealand theatre. Until September though, if you’re quick enough, you can still be mesmerised, swept-away by the magical performance of Jacob Rajan.

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Phenomenal craftsmanship

Review by Phoebe Smith 06th Apr 2013

Krishnan’s Dairy is the drama-school-exercise turned full-length play that launched the Indian Ink theatre company in 1997. It has since played to full houses nationally and internationally, won a Fringe First award in Edinburgh, been published by VUP, become a text that is studied at both high school and tertiary level, and is now in the process of being translated into a feature film.

So 15 years on from its debut (closer to 19 years from its original 20 minute outing), does Krishnan’s Dairy still have the impact and the ability to please a crowd? Judging by the laughter and applause from the full house at Downstage on opening night, the answer would seem to be yes. 

According to the programme notes this is ‘a love story set in a corner shop.’ Gobi and Zena, as the opening song/prologue tells us, are Indian and have a corner dairy in New Zealand, met on their wedding day (but please withhold your judgment) and have, reading between the lines of the chorus, an enviable love. I am not certain that this is what I see so much as what I am told in the prologue and (almost) epilogue songs. 

This production is certainly slick. Directed by Justin Lewis, Jacob Rajan plays every character with a mastery of physicality and voice. While caricature at times overshadows subtleties of character, the masks that are employed are beautifully crafted and beautifully handled. As each mask is applied, so Rajan’s physique shifts to match the character that his body is now medium to. 

So it is that we can suspend our disbelief and watch a sharp-shooting dialogue between a husband and wife or a husband mourning over the body of his wife played by one man and his masks.

This is enhanced by David Ward’s live music and the extraordinarily – let me use the word again – slick sound effects. Never in live theatre have I seen mime backed up so perfectly by the timing of its partner sound.

John Verryt’s set is effective in its simplicity. The dairy’s static flower-display shelving and the lift-top service counter are all that is required, while Rajan’s mime defines the topography of the space. Several colourful saris hang as drop curtains and wings, allowing some lovely light effects that create Gobi and Zena’s barely seen bedroom upstage. 

While all of the performances – the actor’s, the designer’s, the musician’s et al – are honed, crafted and highly impressive, the story itself leaves me wanting more. The programme notes and the prologue song insist that we are to see an unexpected love, a love that perhaps doesn’t have the passion or turbulence of the back-story of the Taj Mahal, but nevertheless is real: a love to make a person a lucky one.

Instead I see a day-in-the-life of two normal people and their son, immigrants to New Zealand, trying to make a ‘better life’, bickering, friendly, sad, angry, laughing occasionally. Then, finally, a tragedy befalls them. The audience gasps. The lights go down. Again we are told in song (this time the almost epilogue) of how deeply the feelings run. But again we aren’t shown this; we are being told it exists, narrated to at the beginning and at the end. 

Krishnan’s Dairy is an extremely impressive show. It had the audience laughing consistently and its craftsmanship is phenomenal. I held my breath for a poignancy that never quite appeared.  

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Indian ‘Ink’redible

Review by Sharu Delilkan 28th Jul 2012

When my husband Tim and I moved here almost 10 years ago Krishnan’s Dairy was the first live theatre show we saw. It not only left an indelible memory of theatre at its best but it was one of the key motivations why we decided to stay in New Zealand. Having come from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong we did not know whether there would be enough around to satisfy us as culture vultures. Indian Ink Theatre Company’s original ingenious production allayed those fears and made us feel we could live here and make a go of it. 

So going to see the show this time around was an experience that was approached with much excitement but tinged with trepidation. ‘What if I don’t like it as much as I did the first time?’ I thought to myself. Also I was a little dubious about spoiling the sweet memory in case my taste had changed a decade later. [More]  

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The power of love in the corner shop and the old world

Review by Nik Smythe 26th Jul 2012

Fifteen years on since the 1997 premiere of Krishnan’s Dairy, the story and its message are as fresh as the day’s NZ Herald shop-front headline (‘Coroner Points Finger at Kahui’), which graces the middle of the stage for most of the play. 

A dozen or so five metre-tall, soft, richly-coloured saris form the backdrop and the wings around (John Verryt’s) simply constructed two-piece set.  The stylised counter and display stand are papered with magazine covers and coated with a blue wash.

Solo performer Jacob Rajan enters with his guitar, accompanied by outstanding and most aptly appointed musician, arranger and Foley sound-effecter David Ward.  Together they blat out the prologue in the form of a simple, matter-of-fact indo-folk ballad, explaining the arranged marriage of Gobi Krishnan to his wife Zina and their subsequent migration to our comparatively quiet, spacious and chilly island nation. 

Multi-faceted director/producer Justin Lewis’ skilfully crafted Commedia-dell’arte style-half masks distinguish Rajan’s various roles. The contemporary day-in-the-life account of the Krishnans, Gobi and Zina (caramel-coloured; his with a moustache and a more prominent honker), is interwoven with the lovers at the heart of the brutal, bitter-sweet tale of the Taj Mahal (the Shah’s azure mask crowned by an orange turban; his wife in veiled in the traditional purdah).

Here to forge a better life for themselves, and offer greater opportunities for their newborn son Apu (played with some conviction by a lifelike doll and offstage sound effects), the Krishnans struggle and bicker through what we hope must be a below-average day of business.  Most of Gobi’s hopes seem pinned on the construction of a nearby funeral parlour which will surely bring a boom in the trade of his cut flower arrangements.

Oddly, while Zina yearns for the more westernised ideal of personal sovereignty, she’s the one who is fed up with the climate and the isolation, and wants to return to their home country.  Gobi’s cultural view that love is stronger when ‘grown’ as opposed to ‘fallen’ into is more traditional, and with the strength of that conviction he wants to expand the choices available to him and his little brood.

The use of material props is judicious, with such central articles as the cash register mimed in masterful synchronicity, again with appropriate sound effects, at times providing quite comical interludes that echo the notoriously capricious register from the classic BBC sitcom Open All Hours.  Some of the physical items that are employed in turn become characters and props in the fanciful tale-spinning that appears to appease Zina’s own quiet desperation as much as that of her more audible child.

Besides being set in New Zealand, not India, there’s also a stylistic contrast between Krishnan’s Dairy and its more recently created counterpart The Guru of Chai, with its combination of layers organically blended.  This is a more distilled, private story about the life of a small immigrant family struggling to make a better life in the new world, in the face of the undercutting powers of supermarkets such as, ironically, the local New World.

Unfortunately, commercial rivalry is not the worst of the challenges they face.  The opportunism of local delinquents, either scamming them on change or outright ripping them off, can be crippling to a business that already struggles to pay for itself.  And the ignorance of xenophobic reprobates carrying out their self-appointed parochial duty carries the threat of a wholly more devastating nature.

The inclusion of the historical legend of the Taj Mahal, presented as it is told to regale a melancholic baby Apu, doesn’t really bear a strong parallel to the lives of these simple grocers.  It does however give Zina pause as she narrates, to consider her position as a dutiful, ambitionless wife, inspired by the example of the Shah Jahan’s devoted jewel Mumtaz Mahal.  So when tragedy renders the decision to remain or go back home her own, will she take the selfless road of devotion, or make good on the threats of her discontent?  

On the surface it’s a small story about simple folk seeking quiet and comfort, yet – like the dimensions and versatility of the set and props – there’s a deeper connection to the universal human condition; the desire for identity and security.  The gift of Krishnan’s Dairy is the opportunity to look more closely at the familiar hopes and dreams of people we meet everyday, in small family-owned corner shops all over the western world, yet may never have given a second thought. 

Ultimately, though the scale and technology of retail continues to grow and prosper, it seems the classic corner dairy is here to stay, for the foreseeable future at least.  As is the ideological notion that love is the greatest power of them all.

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Humorous, poignant, magical, innovative and very human

Review by Sian Robertson 29th Aug 2009

Jacob Rajan – writer, actor and co-founder of Indian Ink Theatre Company with director Justin Lewis – is a skilled storyteller and multi-talented actor. He plays all the characters in Krishnan’s Dairy, with swift mask changes.

Krishnan’s Dairy debuted in 1997 at Bats Theatre in Wellington and has since played sell-out shows around the world to over 47,000 people. And it’s no wonder, this is a little beauty, a gem of Indian and New Zealand culture with universal appeal. After all, though ‘dairy’ is a uniquely New Zealand term, every place has its equivalent corner shop /drugstore /milk bar, run by enterprising and hardworking immigrants who have uprooted themselves and travelled half way around the world to forge a better life for themselves and their children.

Krishnan’s Dairy is also a touching love story that is humorous and poignant, magical, innovative, but most of all very human.

The story centres around two couples, centuries apart: Gobi and Zina who run the dairy, and Shah Jahan, the Indian emperor who spared no expense to build the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.

It’s not easy for Zina, who is homesick for India and half-hearted about the life they have set up in New Zealand. The hard-working Gobi tries his best to be pleasant to his customers and provide a service that you don’t get at the supermarket. He is awkward about expressing affection for his stubborn wife Zina. The story is about their ‘growing in love’ within an arranged marriage, in contrast to the Western expectation of ‘falling in love’.

Zina tells the towering love story of the Taj Mahal to their baby, Apu, while Gobi scurries around pricing the tomatoes and arranging the cut flowers and scolding his wife for not smiling at the customers. 

The masks, beautifully made by Justin Lewis, are surprisingly effective and expressive. When Rajan slips into a mask, there’s no sense of adjustment between one character and next. The switch is instant, like a magician’s sleight-of-hand tricks.

The stylised forms that arise from the use of masks are a visual delight – the emperor and his wife are played with two masks simultaneously, front and back, so that Rajan only has to turn around to change characters. In writing the story, he’s picked out the juiciest bits of the exploits of the emperor who built his monument to love, contrasting the profound love with merciless tyranny.

There are few props, instead Rajan mimes in great detail things like opening the door, opening the till, counting out the change and putting things in plastics bags for the customers, with the sound effects produced backstage with astonishing precision by musician David Ward, who also accompanies Rajan on guitar in a couple of charming songs that punctuate the story.

A main feature of the set is the beautiful sari screen that is used effectively both as a backdrop and, in one scene, backlit with a reading lamp, to give a secret hint of the home life at the back of the shop – a nice touch.

A sad ending nevertheless brings about a heart-warming conclusion and a sort of parallel between the two love stories.

Krishnan’s Dairy is probably the best little play I’ve seen all year. It made me laugh a lot, cry a little and frequently gape in childish wonderment. I hope to see more from Indian Ink. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to see the second and third plays in the thematically linked ‘trilogy’ of which Krishnan’s Dairy was the first instalment. Apparently these shows are unlikely to grace New Zealand theatres again any time soon, but I hope they bring them back!

Meanwhile, to add to their repertoire of enduring theatre pieces, Indian Ink are creating an interesting idea for a new show to be brought to life in smaller spaces, such as your own living room or small community venues. Check www.indianink.co.nz for details, which will be announced later in the year.
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