It was a weekend filled with laughs, wonder and intrigue at Baycourt Community and Arts Centre, with over 800 people gathering to watch Indian Ink’s powerful play ‘Paradise or the Impermanence Ice Cream’.
As audiences settled into their seats and hushed darkness took over the theatre, Kutisar (Jacob Rajan) is lit up on stage as he wakes in purgatory. Baffled by his surroundings, he is soon confronted by a vulture looking for its next meal, and is transported back to his 20s to learn why he is stuck in limbo.
From a Mumbai disco he meets Meera, a Parsi who is grieving her grandfather. She takes him to a special place – the Tower of Silence – where Parsis leave the bodies of their dead for vultures to strip the flesh so their souls can fly up to heaven. But her grandfather’s body is still there, the vultures have vanished, and a journey of discovery is soon underway to bring the birds back.
Their adventure sees them visit many places and people, from the kulfi ice cream shop Meera has inherited to a museum where they meet a vulture expert. Meera’s aunty helps them on their mission, and a menacing moneylender almost sets them back.
It’s a play that explores the impermanence of life, Parsi culture, and the real-life mystery of India’s vanishing vultures. But what is unique about it is despite its broad scope and many characters, it is all performed by one actor.
Rajan’s dazzling solo performance sees him seamlessly morph into seven different characters throughout the play, accompanied by a vulture puppet – brought to life by puppeteer Jon Coddington.
Despite a stripped back set with only a rock on centre stage and no props, the kaleidoscope of colours projected onto a backdrop and inspired sound design add to the depth that is Kutisar’s world, and afterlife.
The play, written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, is on tour across the country until September, preceding a North America tour scheduled for 2022.
Indian Ink plays are known for their signature humour and breaking of the fourth wall. But with Paradise developed in a post-Covid world, Indian Ink General Manager Jude Froude says they tried to incorporate interactivity in different ways.
“We had kulfi, ice cream’s Indian ancestor, for sale during the interval so the audience could try something they heard all about in the play. At one point, the audience was like the dead in the Tower of Silence where the Parsi were laid out as Kutisar and Meera look out at them. We also had a Q&A after the play with Jacob, Jon, Adam Ogle (sound) and Andrew Potvin (lighting and tour manager), which saw some really interesting questions come through.
“As always, we still have that humour. We often talk about the serious laugh – opening mouths with laughter to slip something serious in. Paradise has some seriously funny bits, but you also get a sort of emotional shift happening for yourself.”
Feedback from the Tauranga shows was hugely positive.
“People seemed to genuinely appreciate that this play had both humour and a serious story to deliver. And how fantastic to see so many faithful audience members coming back to experience our latest work, including some attendees who have seen every one of Indian Ink’s Tauranga shows since Krishnan’s Dairy, our very first play!” says Jude.
Some of the feedback included:
“So original, so real, so good!!”
“Loved the humour mixed with subtle choreography and deep and meaningful themes”
“Keep bringing your plays to Tauranga!”
Jude says she feels lucky to be part of a company that is sharing South Asian stories.
“We are one of the only theatre companies I know of who tour nationally and internationally with New Zealand Indian work. For a lot of Indian communities, they’ll happily go to more traditional performance options such as sitar or Indian music concerts, but with theatre, they may not see it as something they would instinctively go to.
“So we ensure our work is made to be accessible for everybody and find that South Asian audiences feel a really strong connection to it. They enjoy seeing themselves and their culture reflected on stage, and it’s great for other cultures to see and perhaps experience something new too.
“I particularly enjoy seeing families leaving the theatre having an intense debate about what really happened – I love that, it’s such a building of community.”
Indian Ink received $3,500 in TECT funding to support the three shows in Tauranga, funding Jude says was incredibly important to bringing the production to the region.
“Tauranga has been our first real regional centre on the road. It costs a lot of money to tour a show, including venue costs, accommodation and allowances for the touring team of four.
“There’s something about that solid amount that you’re getting from a local funder – to have that backing shows you have support from the community as well. TECT’s funding has been absolutely crucial, and we couldn’t have done it without it.”
TECT Trustee Mark Arundel attended one of the shows and says it provided more than just an enjoyable night out.
“Indian Ink Theatre Company produced an amazingly thought-provoking and entertaining ‘virtually one-man show’ with Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream. While we have funded two of their Tauranga plays in the past, it was the first of their productions I have seen and left me certain I will be there for the next one.
“Plays like this add to the vibrancy of our region – they help us understand people from other cultures, learn something new, and they bring our community together to share an enriching experience. It’s something we fully support here at TECT, and we’re pleased we could contribute to not only a great night out for all the audiences, but to these broader outcomes for our region.”