The Guru of Chai (22nd September 2010)

Jono and I are off to see another play tonight, this time at Downstage Theatre for show The Guru of Chai, a production by Indian Ink Theatre Company founded by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis. I’ve been hassling Jono about the show for a few weeks – I really wanted to see the show because this theatre company had done several other shows and all received favourable reviews. Plus it would be nice to relive our trip in India watching a show with a similar cultural theme :) Cost us $39 each for the ticket with seats at the last row downstairs. Pretty good seats, I must say, because we got to see the whole stage and Jono sat in the aisle seat which gives him more legroom and with no one blocking his view!

The show started at 8pm with Kutisar (played by Jacob), a chaiwallah (tea seller), tasked to enlighten the audience because he was informed that the audience felt their lives were meaningless, only knowing ‘emptiness, loneliness and painful urination’. Bucktoothed and walking bare feet on his bowed legs, the Guru of Chai continues on telling us about the story of his life as a tea seller, reminding the audience how lucky we are. Kutisar brought us back to the days when he had a chai stall at Bangalore Central Station, introducing us to his red parrot that performed tricks when instructed (it was a stuff toy parrot and Kutisar put the parrot on his head and then twirl it around as if the parrot was really performing tricks), his flashes of seeing elephant god Ganesh, and the 7 girls whose father had abandoned them at the station, helpless and somehow adopted Kutisar as their uncle/father. “Seven dowries to pay?? Of course he’s left!” said Kutisar. The girls earned their living by singing in the station, earning more in a day than the Guru in a week but the fakir who owns the territory heard of them and sent Thumby (Thumby has no thumbs, another character played by Jacob) to collect the ‘fee’. Kind police officer Punchkin (also played by Jacob) stepped in to protect the girls and the Guru (since the Guru was ‘the uncle’), keeping them safe from the fakir.

Life goes on and all’s well, the sisters married and stopped singing, leaving Balna, the remaining unmarried sister to continue singing. Balna (yes, it’s also Jacob) is quite a character, bold and does as she pleases, unlike the rest of the sisters. Punchkin plucked up the courage to ask her hand in marriage only to be rejected, and subsequently Balna fell for Muslim poet Imran who went missing just days before she gave birth to little Imran. Seeking Punchkin for help to search for her husband, she was informed that Imran was killed by the fakir and her life is in danger. She had no choice but to leave her baby with her sisters and fled with Punchkin so as not to cause more harm to her child. Kutisar, fearful that he too might be one the fakir’s hit list now he no longer has Punchkin’s protection moved to New Delhi, setting up stall next to his rival Starbucks.

One day years later, a young boy turns up at his chai stall – it’s little Imran! Imran had came all the way in search of his missing mother, but Minister Punchkin (oh yeah, he jumped quite a few ranks over the years) didn’t know her whereabouts. Little Imran, inquisitive and stubborn like his mother, later found out that Balna was hidden in the Punchkin residence and with Kutisar, broke into the house in search of Balna. Oh, but what a twist to the plot – it turned out that there was no fakir but it was all made up by Punchkin (he was the one who killed Imran) in order to keep Balna close, thinking that using gratitude and protection will evenly win her heart over time. Sadly that is not the case and innocent lives were lost as a result.

Jacob played all the characters flawlessly, changing his voice and behaviours to suit with smooth transition. There were Matrix-like moments where he dodged bullets in slow motion, dancing, singing, shadow-puppetry and even magic tricks (pouring a jug of milk into a small pot that then poured out tea leaves into the kettle). The show was brilliant! So funny (I was laughing so much!) and cleverly done :) Oh, and we must not forget Dave, a mute except when he sings, surrounded by instruments, playing and singing Indian music and sound effects throughout the show sitting quietly in his corner on the right side of the stage. There were some audience participation in the show like when the Guru got everyone to close our eyes and count to ten so he can hide and tasked a man in the front row to shine the torch at him in the dark. He wasn’t very good a hiding and the man in the audience found him easily hehe…

I was just thinking to myself ‘thank god we aren’t seated in the front’ and managed to escape participating only to find myself staring at the Guru running towards me and making me hold on to his parrot! Jono and I each held one side of the parrot’s wooden stand (were we a tree or electricity cable, babe?), laughing hysterically, unsure what to do next with the bird but Kutisar managed to lure the bird away with biscuits and slowly the bird got passed down towards the stage. That was hilarious!

The show was 75 minutes long with no interval and runs from the 15th of September till the 2nd of October. Make sure you get a ticket for the show – I highly recommend it!


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