Unmasking the actor

Jacob Rajan shares inspiration behind The Guru

By Clara Lock, photos courtesy of SRT

When Mr Jacob Rajan met Nyoman Suketra, a master mask dancer and a shadow puppeteer, in Bali, he knew he had struck theatrical gold.

“The man literally danced into our lives, and onto the pages of our play as a fully formed character,” said the 46-year-old, who plays titular character The Guru of Chai in the production of the same name.

Mr Rajan, one of the co-founders of New Zealand based theatre company Indian Ink, described his muse as such: “A squat little man who can move with astonishing grace and fluidity; always smiling, always laughing, a weakness for beer and cockfighting, steeped in the traditions and nuances of shadow puppetry and mask dance yet desperate to have a Facebook page.”

All Mr Rajan had to change were his name, ethnicity and his teeth. As with many past Indian Ink productions, the protagonist is of Indian background – a deliberate decision, says the actor, whose family originates from Kerala, India.

He jested: “I’m Indian. If I write a play for myself I’m going to make sure I get the best parts – often all the parts!”

But he is quick to add that the themes of Indian Ink productions, which he crafts with New Zealander Mr Justin Lewis, are universal. Mr Lewis is the director and co-writer of the company, which the two men started 16 years ago.

Mr Rajan is the lead actor in the one-man show, which sees him play multiple characters using a variety of masks. The thespian, who trained at the Toi Whakaari Drama School in New Zealand, says the biggest challenge is to be absolutely truthful to the mask, while being aware of the light. Only then can it enhance the voice, range and presence of the actor, he said.

And while the father of a seven-year-old daughter may have both a microbiology degree and a teaching background, it was his work with masks that really defined his career.

“I think it was when I first put a mask on that I realized that this was what I wanted to do. It was a calling really and I haven’t looked back,” said Mr Rajan.


Campus has two pairs of opening night tickets to Guru of Chai to give away! Simply answer the following question: Who is the actor starring in Guru of Chai? Email interns@campus.com.sg with your name, ic number, contact number and the answer to the question. 

Catch The Guru of Chai at the DBS Arts Centre from the 6th to the 17th of March! Tickets are $40-55 with a 15% student concession on selected shows. Visit www.sistic.com.sg for tickets and more information.