Since bringing his first play Krishnan’s Diary to the stage in 1997, Jacob Rajan has starred in and co-created some of the most successful Kiwi stage productions of the last decade.
Born in Malaysia to parents from southern India, Rajan moved down under with his family at the age of four. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and studied primary teaching, before graduating from Toi Whakaari in 1994.
Krishnan’s Diary was born before Rajan left acting school, when he was asked to devise a 20-minute solo monologue “based on a New Zealand icon and something from my cultural background." Merging the daily lives of a lovestruck Indian shopkeeper and his wife with the famed Taj Mahal, Krishnan’s Diary saw Rajan making extensive use of masks and legends; both common features of many productions to come. After its 1997 debut in Wellington, Krishnan’s Diary won rave reviews, sizable audiences across NZ, and successful seasons in Singapore, Australia, and in the artistic cauldron of the Edinburgh Festival (where it won a Fringe First Award). A movie version is expected to go into production in 2015.
Rajan had created Indian Ink Theatre Company before the play's debut, with director Justin Lewis. The duo went on to co-write successful theatrical follow-ups The Candlestickmaker (2000 - whose arts festival season sold out three months before opening), The Pickle King (2002 - another Chapman Tripp winner for production of the year), The Dentist's Chair (2007), The Guru of Chai (2010) and Kiss the Fish (2013).
In the book Performing Aotearoa, lecturer Lisa Warrington argues that Rajan and Lewis's plays have created a new level of awareness in New Zealand of an Asian migratory voice. Warrington writes that the first three plays "can lay claim to exploring the interface between two cultures from the outsider’s viewpoint.”
With dark comedy The Dentist’s Chair, Rajan argued that he “actually makes no reference to my ethnicity or the ethnicity of any of the other characters”. 2010's The Guru of Chai was innovatively performed in patrons' living rooms, in a theatrical twist on the Tupperware party concept.
In September 2010, after watching an excerpt of The Guru of Chai at the Australian Performing Arts Market, legendary American agent David Lieberman signed up Indian Ink. The exclusive client list of his company Artists' Representatives includes the Kronos Quartet and The Actors' Gang theatre company (led by actor Tim Robbins).
Rajan’s first screen appearance dates back to 1993, when he featured in youth education series Oi. Since then the versatile Rajan has found himself leveraging Asian-migrant stereotypes by carving out a solid line of medical roles. After a brief appearance as a doctor in the original 1995 TV incarnation of Harry Sinclair’s Topless Women Talk about their Lives, Rajan joined the cast of Shortland Street in 1996, playing doctor Ashwin Bhashir. Later he was a dentist in the seventh episode of the acclaimed Insiders Guide to Love, before debuting in season two of Outrageous Fortune. This time Rajan was playing Bruce Khan, the virginal GP who wins Pascalle West’s heart, after saving the day when a chair aerobics session at the Janet Frame Rest Home goes badly askew.
Rajan’s most distinctive screen appearance to date remains his role as the Elvis-channeling supernatural being who emerges from the sea in one-off TV tale Fish Skin Suit. Written by fellow Arts Foundation Laureate Briar Grace-Smith, it won best drama in the 2002 TV awards.
Rajan’s on-screen work also includes appearances on journalism drama Cover Story and Springbok Tour drama Rage, and voiceover work on a number of Natural History Unit documentaries, including Forgotten Rhino. In 2015 he played Kohli in mini-series Hillary, based on the life of Sir Edmund Hillary.
Indian Ink website. Accessed 23 August 2015
Tom Cardy, ‘Coup’ as top US agent signs Kiwi act’ - The Dominion Post, 8 September 2010, page A3
Carolyn Thomas, ‘Cultural delight is in store for audience’ - Western Leader, 28 August 2009
Lisa Warrington, 'A Place to Tell Our Stories: Asian Voices in the Theatre of Aotearoa', in Performing Aotearoa: New Zealand Theatre and Drama in an Age of Transition (Brussels: Peter Lang SA, 2007)