Krishnan's Dairy - 25 years and going strong

Marking 25 years since it debuted at Bats Theatre in Wellington, one of New Zealand's most beloved and iconic plays is again touring. In this article we chat with Krishnan's Dairy creator and sole actor Jacob Rajan about the play and what it is about it that keeps selling out theatres. The Foundation supported Krishnan's Dairy in its first season and provided funding to theatre company Indian Ink towards this year's tour.
A portrait of Jacob

Jacob: "There’s mythology, folklore and legend swirling through the piece but it’s really the recognition of how similar we all are that resonates at the end."

Has the play changed at all since you debuted it at Bats 25 years ago?

The bones of the play have stayed the same since that first outing but if you came to see the play again 25 years later I think you’d feel a shift.

With 400 performances under my belt the technical juggling of masks and music and sound effects is now second nature. I can focus on playing the relationships and I think that’s where this play really works it’s magic and has allowed me to become a better actor as a result.

 Why did you write the play? What inspired it?

Krishnan’s Dairy started as a drama school exercise. I was fascinated with mask and wanted to use that form.

I researched a number of dairies in Wellington and found my core story and then fused the story of Sha Jahan and the building of the Taj Mahal into it. The work of the play is to turn a corner dairy into a monument to love as great as the Taj Mahal.

Jacob wearing a blue mask and orange headdress with a peacock's feather in it

Jacob performing the role in earlier years

What do you think it is about the play that has made it such a success both in New Zealand and overseas?

 It’s a universal story. The struggle to find a better life for your children, the struggle to find the love that may be right in front of you – these themes are timeless and enduring. But there’s also a lightness of touch with the way these themes are dealt with that makes it both funny and moving. Of course, if you look at the plight of dairy owners today the play is really more relevant than ever.

Have audience reactions to the play changed over time?

Not really. There’s always a childlike delight at seeing the masks in the beginning. The rapid transformations take a moment to get used to but once that happens the characters take a hold on the imagination and by the end there’s  a genuine feeling of love in the room that has never changed .

What do you hope an audience will take away / reflect on on watching Krishnan’s dairy?

I hesitate to label what I want the audience to feel or think. Once the play is written it doesn’t really belong to me. Its meaning will be filtered through the life experience of the individual who sees it. There will be as many meanings and feelings as there are people in the theatre. But my hope, always, is that the play is a catalyst to having their imaginations awakened and their souls nourished.

Jacob crouching in front of a thatched building with a group of people wearing masks

Jacob with students of his mask workshop in Fiji

What’s your favourite part of the show? Is it a line, a scene, a gesture, an audience reaction?

There’s a moment when Gobi the dairy owner is struggling to tell his wife that he loves her. What he finally says is: “Zina…..don’t forget to turn the pie warmer off, ah?”  I love that line.

What can audiences learn about Indian culture from experiencing the show?

There’s mythology, folklore and legend swirling through the piece but it’s really the recognition of how similar we all are that resonates at the end.

I’m not sure that we tell “Indian stories.” Certainly there are eastern flavours but the core ingredients are from humanity’s pantry – finding love, facing your fears, accepting you mortality etc.

The dish we serve it all on, more or less, is the western theatrical tradition. To continue the metaphor, it’s successful because it satisfies a universal craving: nourishment of the soul. 

The Foundation provided funding to support Jacob develop Krishnan's Dairy and supported Indian Ink theatre company put on this year's tour.