This Guru will delight and unsettle you
By Clara Lock, photos courtesy of SRT
A challenge for any thespian is becoming a character, stepping into a new identity like a second skin. Jacob Rajan, lead of the one-man play Guru of Chai, does this multiple times during the 75-minute show.
Rajan, one half of New Zealand-based theatre company Indian Ink, sheds his usual trusty masks in Guru, playing a host of characters that span three generations.
We first see Rajan as the buck-toothed, middle-aged Kutisar. He addresses the audience in his opening monologue that calls them out on their first world pains – work that is meaningless, hopes and dreams that turn into dust, and ‘painful urination’, a symptom of gout and a nod to the excesses of modern day.
Animated and infectious, Kutisar promises laughter, enlightenment, and the answers to all of life’s burning questions. With this declaration, he plunges the audience into his world – a humble tea stand amidst a busy train station in Bangalore.
It is here that Rajan introduces the myriad of characters into the story, slipping in and out of each one with subtle shifts in his vocal modulations and body language.
From the seven singing sisters abandoned by their father trying to eke out a living in song, to the villain Thumbi who is after their takings, to the pot-bellied police officer Punchkin and the hapless Kutisar who just wants to man his chai stand – Rajan adroitly recreates them all, fleshing out a visage and personality for each one.
Composer Dave Ward, seated onstage for the entire duration of the play, creates the musical backdrop and sound effects. Kutisar introduces Ward as being unable to speak, except in song, but his mellow presence is a welcome foil to Kutisar’s unrelenting zest.
Kutisar lives up to his promise as The Guru, dropping words of wisdom infused with comic gems. “It is true in life that as soon as your cup is full, someone pisses in it,” he deadpans.
In another scene, he gently pokes fun at the women in the audience: “You are a gift from God, but you are not God’s gift.”
But amidst all the ‘chitty chatter’, Rajan turns the quieter moments of the play contemplative. Musing, as an older, more melancholy Punchskin, that ‘empty is the house without a girl’, he illuminates the fear of loneliness so central to man.
Even the gregarious Kutisar is not above this longing for companionship as he admits, in a Beckettian moment, that his constant chatter is to avoid silence. The hush that follows his admission is as much for the audience as it is for The Guru to contemplate their own lives.
In the end Kutisar has none of the promised answers. “Truthfully, I lied,” he says without remorse.
Perhaps these answers were never meant to lie with Kutisar all along. Perhaps they lie in the spaces of dark and quiet, lurking in between the easy laughter, surfacing only when we are ready to dredge them up.
And perhaps that is the most poignant lesson in this Guru’s book of tall tales and wistful melodies.
If you liked Guru of Chai, you’ll love Krishnan’s Dairy! 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.
Campus has two pairs of tickets to Krishnan’s Dairy to give away! Simply answer this question: What is one of the two companies that are co-producing Krishnan’s Dairy? (Hint: The answer is in the poster below.) Email your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, contact number and ic number. Contest ends 19th March 2012. Good luck!