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Review: The Guru of Chai

It is 6am at Bangalore Train Station in the present day. A poor chai wallah comes on stage and tells the audience he is about to take us on a magical journey that will rid us of all our troubles. He is the charming and funny eponymous Guru Kutisah (Jacob Rajan), and boy does he have a tale to tell. 

The Guru of Chai is a glorious account of the Kutisah’s encounter with a young girl Balna and her six orphaned sisters at the train station. What follows is a compelling odyssey through time as he shares his connection to Balna and how she falls in love and marries, but also faces tragedy and heartache. 

It is a story dripping with drama and humour, epic in scale and yet incredibly intimate.

Kutisah is a wonderful narrator and complements his story telling with sleight of hand magic tricks and conjuring. His humour extends to hilariously mangled idioms such as ‘slippery soap’ and ‘from the nipple to the grave’. He even manages to mix up two Hollywood stars when saying of another character ‘he’s no Brad Clooney’.

It is these moments that provide a counterbalance to darker and more tragic aspects of the play.

Jacob Rajan as Kutisah is a master storyteller able to evoke complex and compelling characters and swap between them with immaculate ease.  Each and every incarnation is fully rounded with their own personality, voice, and expression.

It is a surreal and incredibly satisfying experience to watch him create multiple personas on stage who all interact seamlessly. Rajan delivers rapid fire conversations between them all in a manner that is mesmerising and flawless. 

The talent of Rajan is that he seems to literally transform physically into the person he is portraying – short, tall, plain, handsome, old, male, female, adult, child, one after the other. 

I don’t mean to gush, but honestly this man is easily one of the most talented practitioners on the Auckland theatre scene. 

Accompanying Rajan on stage is another talented performer, Adam Ogle, who provides the live music and many of the sound effects. His sublime voice and artistry adds a lovely soulful dimension to The Guru of Chai

There is an underlying simplicity to this production in terms of its basic story and themes of love, betrayal, courage, corruption and redemption. It feels somehow innocent despite its adult themes. I think that is down to the artless performances which are genuine and touching. One gets a sense that Rajan and Ogle deeply feel the story and emotions they are portraying.

The entire Indian Ink company should be very proud of yet another production that sets such a high bar of excellence. They seem to understand that good story telling doesn’t need to wrap everything up neatly at the end, but offers us a slice of life which leaves us with a sense of satisfaction, yet leaves us curious about what might come next. 

The Guru of Chai is beautiful, charming, thought provoking and whimsical, be sure not to miss it.


12-23 June 2024

Q Theatre – Auckland 

Tickets and information


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