Jacob Rajan


NameJacob Rajan
Country of BirthMalaysia
Place of ResidencePōneke Wellington
Decades Active1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s


Jacob Rajan is a playwright, actor, and one of the founders of the theatre company Indian Ink. He was born in Malaysia, and his parents were from Kerala, India. At the age of four, his family migrated to Porirua, where his father practised as a psychiatrist at Porirua Hospital.

Rajan gained a degree in microbiology in 1987 and a diploma in teaching in 1991. While studying teaching, Rajan gravitated towards the Drama Department, which prompted his tutor to suggest he attend a mask-making workshop in Tāmaki Makaurau taught by the actor and theatre-maker, John Bolton. Attending this workshop was a turning point for Rajan and sparked his love for mask as a performance practice, prompting him to think to himself, “that’s really my mission now. I want to do mask work.” Rajan then attended Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, where he graduated in 1994 as the first Indian student to graduate from the acting programme.

It was at drama school that Rajan conceived the first iteration of his most well-known play, Krishnan’s Dairy, in the form of a 20-minute solo show. It was then developed into a full-length play, touring intermittently for 25 years and being described as “a national – and global – phenomenon.” Rajan explained it was never his intention to represent the Indian community in Aotearoa by creating Krishnan’s Dairy. “My allegiance lies with telling a good story, and my cultural background is just who I am and that’s what happens.”

In 1996, Rajan met Justin Lewis, and they connected over their shared interest in the art of mask theatre. Together, they founded Indian Ink Theatre company. Rajan stated that he wanted to create work for himself since there were not many opportunities for him as an Indian actor in Aotearoa that weren’t typecast roles. Krishnan’s Dairy marked the company's first production, first performed in 1997 with Lewis as the Director. Since then, Lewis and Rajan have co-written all of Indian Ink's productions, including The Candlestick Maker (2000), The Pickle King (2002), Guru of Chai (2008), Kiss the Fish (2013), and Mrs Krishnan’s Party (2019), the sequel to Krishnan’s Dairy. In their book Indian Ink, which details the conception of the theatre company and its first three plays, Rajan and Lewis state a core tenet of their plays is to get audiences to “open their mouths with laughter then slip something serious in.”

Rajan has also been a screen actor, playing an Elvis-like “fishman” named Moses in Briar Grace-Smith's teleplay Fish Skin Suit, Dr Bruce Khan in Outrageous Fortune, and Dr Ashwin Bashar in Shortland Street.

Rajan has been part of Khestra Collective since the group’s founding in 2022 and has exhibited masks and ephemera from his plays as part of the collective’s exhibitions, which include A Place to Stand: Contemporary Indian Art in Aotearoa at Auckland Museum (2022) and Invisible Narratives: Contemporary Indian Creatives from Aotearoa (2023) at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery. At the latter exhibition, Rajan also held a mask-making workshop, many iterations of which he has hosted throughout his career.

In 2002, Rajan received an Arts Laureate Award, and in 2013, he was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to theatre. Former director of Toi Whakaari, Robin Payne, explained that Rajan “had the extraordinary nous to fuse the domestic with the mythic”, which has remained true throughout his storytelling, weaving Indian folklore with contemporary stories about humanity.


Key works / presentations

Key awards

2013 — Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to theatre
2002 — The Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi: Arts Laureate Award

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Last updated: 5 March 2024 Suggest an Edit