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Profile image for Jacob Rajan

Jacob Rajan

Actor, Writer

Since bringing his first play Krishnan’s Diary to the stage in 1997, Jacob Rajan has starred in and co-created a run of hit theatre productions.

Born in Malaysia to parents from southern India, Rajan moved down under with his family at the age of four. While doing a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology at Otago University, he began ducking lectures to join the film club, and watched many plays. Unsure what to do after graduating, he studied teaching in Wellington and began acting, both on-stage, and as a film extra. He graduated from drama school Toi Whakaari in 1994. 

Krishnan’s Diary was born before Rajan left acting school, when he was asked to create a 20-minute 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 Taj Mahal, Krishnan’s Diary saw Rajan making extensive use of masks and legends. Both would be common features of a number of future productions. After its 1997 debut, Krishnan’s Diary won rave reviews, sizeable audiences across New Zealand, and successful seasons in Singapore and Australia — plus a Fringe First Award at the highly competitive Edinburgh Festival. Rajan talks about the play at the start of this arts show.

Rajan created Indian Ink Theatre Company before the play's debut, with his longtime director Justin Lewis. The duo went on to co-write plays 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), Kiss the Fish (2013), The Elephant Thief (2016) and Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream (2021).

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 Asian migrants. Warrington writes that the first three plays "can lay claim to exploring the interface between two cultures from the outsider’s viewpoint". In 2013 Rajanwas named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to theatre. 

With dark comedy The Dentist’s Chair, Rajan argued made "no reference to my ethnicity or the ethnicity of any of the other characters". Meanwhile The Guru of Chai was performed in patrons' living rooms, in a theatrical twist on the Tupperware party concept. In late 2010, after seeing an excerpt at the Australian Performing Arts Market, legendary American agent David Lieberman signed up Indian Ink. The exclusive client list of his company Artist's Representatives includes musical ensemble Kronos Quartet.

Rajan’s first screen appearance dates back to 1993, when he was one of those enlisted to add entertainment value to youth education series Oi. Rajan went on to leverage Asian migrant stereotypes via a long 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 acclaimed Insiders Guide to Love, before joining season two of Outrageous Fortune. This time Rajan played 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 askew.

Rajan’s most distinctive screen appearance to date is probably his role as the Elvis-channeling being who emerges from the sea in offbeat teleplay Fish Skin Suit  (2000). Rajan enjoyed the chance to be "larger than life on film rather than doing some gritty, realistic kind of thing ... there was a real soul to the comedy of it." 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, Springbok Tour drama Rage and detective drama The Gulf. In 2015 he played mountaineer Mohan Kohli in miniseries Hillary, based on the life of Sir Edmund Hillary. He has also narrated a number of documentaries, including this one

In 2022, Rajan guested on two episodes of funeral comedy Good Grief.

Profile updated on 30 November 2022

Sources include
Indian Ink website. Accessed 30 November 2022
Tom Cardy, ''Coup' as top US agent signs Kiwi act' - The Dominion Post, 8 September 2010, page A3
Louisa Cleave, 'TV: Spirit takes form of Indian Elvis' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 10 January 2001
Carolyn Thomas, 'Cultural delight is in store for audience' (Interview) - 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)