BITTER-SWEET TALE DRAWS UNIVERSAL TRUTHS FROM ITS VERY PARTICULAR BLEND
The Guru of Chai
Jacob Rajan – Performer, writer
Justin Lewis – Director, writer
at Shed 13 (MOJO HQ), Wellington Waterfront, Wellington
From 7 Mar 2010 to 8 Mar 2010
Reviewed by John Smythe, 9 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.
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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