Ahilan Karunaharan


NameAhilan Karunaharan (he/him)
Also known asAhi Karunaharan, அகிலன் கருணாகரன்
Country of BirthUnited Kingdom
Place of ResidenceTāmaki Makaurau Auckland
EthnicitiesSri Lankan (Tamil)
Decades Active2010s, 2020s


Ahilan ‘Ahi’ Karunaharan is an award-winning director, writer, dramaturg, actor and producer championing South Asian storytelling across stage and screen in Aotearoa. Born in the UK, raised in Sri Lanka and Pōneke, and based in Tāmaki Makaurau, his work centres around explorations of memory, nostalgia, dislocation, loss and grief.

After graduating from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School in 2007, Karunaharan moved to the UK, where he worked with South Asian theatre company Tara Theatre for a year before returning to Aotearoa in 2008.

In 2012, he founded Agaram Productions, a production house focused on the development of South Asian theatre works. The company presented the South Asian Writers Festival — the first of its kind in Aotearoa — and has been the driving force behind more recent initiatives like First World Problems (2018, 2019, 2021), an anthology show presenting emerging writing by South Asian theatre makers.

His large-scale sprawling epic, Tea, premiered at Auckland Arts Festival in 2018, weaving together multiple threads, including workers' rights on a tea plantation, the protests during the country’s violent uprising, and two brothers grappling with Sri Lanka under colonial rule. Writing in the show programme, Karunaharan says the show is "a plea to reclaim the forgotten history of the tea workers and of Sri Lanka. The erosion of their legacy and memory is a product of the violent rupture enforced by the presence of the coloniser, disabling the country’s capacity for regeneration." Tea was awarded Excellence for Overall Production at the Auckland Theatre Awards that year with critic Nathan Joe hailing it as a “game-changer for bigger and braver plays.”

Karunaharan’s other writing credits include My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak (2019), A Mixtape for Maladies (2020) and The Mourning After [Reimagined] (2021). The latter sees his 20-minute graduate solo show-turned-full-length work redeveloped following its debut season at Basement Theatre in 2015. Inspired by the idea that there is always a version of ‘home’ that lives only in our memories, the play follows a New Zealand-born Sri Lankan as he travels to his father’s village, only to discover that a tsunami has swept it away.

In 2019, Karunaharan was recognised for Excellence in Leadership at the Auckland Theatre Awards, and in 2020 was made an Arts Laureate by The Arts Foundation. He regularly works as a director and dramaturg with major institutions like Silo Theatre, Auckland Theatre Company and Tawata Productions. He has been part of South Asian theatre group Prayas Theatre since 2011, tutors at both Toi Whakaari and The Actors Programme and is a mentor for Proudly Asian Theatre’s Fresh off the Page scriptwriting series.


Key works / presentations

As a director

Boom Shankar
2023 — Q Loft, Tāmaki Makaurau

The Mourning After
2021 — Circa Theatre, Kia Mau Festival, Pōneke
2021 — Q Loft, Tāmaki Makaurau

A Fine Balance
2019 — Q Theatre, Auckland Theatre Company, Tāmaki Makaurau

My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak
2019 — Q Theatre, Silo Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau

Kollywood Extra
2019 — Sandringham Park, Satellites, Tāmaki Makaurau

2018 — Q Loft, Auckland Arts Festival, Tāmaki Makaurau

Swabhoomi: Borrowed Earth
2017 — TAPAC, Prayas Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau

As a writer

2021 — The Mourning After: Reimagined
2020 — A Mixtape for Maladies
2019 — My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak
2018 — Tea

As an actor

2019 — Counting and Cracking, Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney Arts Festival, Sydney
2017 — The Night Mechanics, BATS Theatre, Tawata Productions, Pōneke

For a full list of credits, refer here

Key awards

2020 — The Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi: Arts Laureate Award

2019 — Auckland Theatre Awards: Overall Excellence in Leadership

2018 — Bruce Mason Playwriting Award

2018 — Auckland Theatre Awards: Best Overall Production (Tea)

2017 — Auckland Theatre Awards: Best Overall Production (Swabhoomi: Borrowed Earth)

Related entries

Last updated: 6 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


A man with a shaved head and a beard smiling at the camera.

Ahi Karunaharan