Kalyani Nagarajan, a South Asian-Kiwi talent is making her way through the New Zealand theatre scene. She was featured in Auckland Arts Festival hit Tea earlier this year, and last year, she toured the country in Indian Ink’s revival of The Pickle King. And now she has taken on a new challenge. There is a lot going on behind the scenes in her new play. The Indian Weekender takes a sneak peek.

Indian Ink Theatre Company is throwing a party, and this time, it’s not only for the cast and crew after a show wrap-up but for the audience as well. And the party is the show.

Mrs Krishnan’s Party, Indian Ink’s latest, written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, starts with its 2018 New Zealand tour in Whangarei and goes all the way down to Christchurch. The 75-minute-long comedy will have the audience around a dining table and the kitchen bench.  

It is time to celebrate Onam, and Kalyani Nagarajan along with former drama school classmate Justin Rogers will be the hosts for the evening. There are promises of laughter and tears, dance, food, and drama unfolding between a careworn, widowed shopkeeper and a naïve party-mad boarder. It sounds like a theatrical mayhem.

The Indian Weekender spoke to 23-year-old Kalyani, a first-generation Indian living in New Zealand, for whom the dance form of Bharatanatyam paved the way into the world of theatre. She leads the cast as Zina Krishnan. Excerpts from the interview below.

The play started as a follow-up to Krishnan's Dairy. What elements from the play can the audience expect in Mrs Krishnan's Party?

“It is a completely different form we are playing with. It is fresh and alive and no one is let off the hook in this show, including the audience. Zina and the dairy are still very prominent, but instead of half masks, we use teeth and glasses to make the characters a bit more real and close to home.

What was the biggest challenge about taking this role?

It is extremely intimidating playing a role that one of my biggest idols (Jacob Rajan) created 20 years ago. I want to honour Zina Krishnan in my portrayal of her and the incredible legacy of Krishnan’s Dairy, but getting into the character of a 50-year-old widow who has a child and runs a business is not easy. I am lucky because I know this character in my daily life and I think many people will know someone who is like Zina, so it makes the jump to get into character a bit easier.

What can the audience expect from the play?

It is a party! All the senses are engaged: smell from the incense and the cooking of onion and dhal, hearing with music and laughter, and taste but I won't give that away. There is no stage. All the action happens in the stockroom and the audience is placed all around. So expect the unexpected, but do expect to walk out full.

How has the experience been working alongside Justin Rogers?

It has been incredible. I have a lot of respect for him as a performer. He is talented and funny, and I can't wait to go on tour with him.

What are some of the most memorable roles you have played?

Honestly, it has to be Zina. I know and love her so much. She brings me to tears and also so much happiness. I cannot wait to introduce her to the rest of New Zealand and then the world.

If there were something you could change about the theatre industry in New Zealand, what would it be?

As South Asians, we make up such a huge part of New Zealand but we are not represented in the arts. I have been lucky but we are still used as comedic relief or we tell the same silly stories about Indian parents being too strict and the kids breaking free. I think theatre companies need to cast based on talent and suitability for the role and not the way we look. We need the bigwigs to change their perspective. We all have stories to tell, and we have some really good South Asian actors, directors, and writers out there.