“Big head, think more; small eyes, better concentration; big ears, listen more; small mouth, talk less; big stomach, digest all that is good and bad” — this is just some of the wisdom sprinkled throughout the Guru of Chai, co-presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre and the acclaimed Indian Ink Theatre Company of New Zealand. The Guru of Chai is a humourous yet bittersweet journey through some of life’s biggest lessons from the perspective of a humble chai vendor — Kutisar, the Guru of Chai.
Malaysian-born New Zealand stage actor Jacob Rajan plays the Guru, as well as every other spoken role in the script. Voicing an entire cast on one’s own is no easy feat, but Rajan manages to pull it off with the dexterity of a multi-armed Hindu deity on the back of a mouse (Ganesha is referenced frequently throughout the play). The character transitions were also seamless and sufficiently convincing, ensuring the spotlight remained exclusively on each character at the moment of their portrayal.
The presence of the fourth wall also lent itself to many of the play’s humourous moments. Rajan’s candid interaction with a delighted audience elicited bouts of appreciative laughter, in response to Kutisar’s coaxing of a prized parrot from the back row of the theatre and his grandiose attempt at housebreaking. In another mesmerizing scene, Kutisar’s recounting of the troubles faced by the sisters’ failure to conceive was artfully illustrated by the subtleness of his sleight of hand.
After a whirlwind journey through the streets of Bangalore and cosmopolitan New Delhi with its Starbucks outlets, in the end we are toldthat the answer to life’s questions may perhaps lie in a little detachment: our attachment to things and people being beautiful in its fleetingness but cruel in its repercussion. The Guru reveals that each of our lives is an empty cup, and it is up to us to fill it as we wish. Who we are and become is simply what we make of ourselves.
Nevertheless, the complexities of this philosophical circuitry should not detract from what is undoubtedly a highly enjoyable performance. And while the more pensive in the audience are free to indulge in some soul-searching, the humour in Rajan’s multifaceted portrayal of the Guru is there to be appreciated by all.
Guru of Chai is currently playing at DBS Arts Centre – Home of SRT till the 17th of March. Tickets available from SISTIC.