The funeral tradition of the Parsi community in India is quite specific. Once the body is returned to nature, stripped of its flesh by vultures, the soul is free to be guided to the spirit world, for judgement. If you have lived a good life you will have a good place in the after-life. Obviously the opposite applies should you have led a bad life.
This tenent of the Zoroastrian faith is the basis for a play starring Jacob Rajan and a life-sized vulture. Over time in the play, Jacob, as Kutisar becomes a number of people, namely Meera, a young a very smart girl who runs the ice cream shop, Farooq, a leader of the Parsi community, Dr Rao, Meera’s aunt, Vibhu, a scientist who is studying vultures and finally a standover mobster harassing Kutisar for repayment of a debt.
Then there is the vulture, evil-eyed, bald neck, threatening claws; skilfully manipulated by puppeteer Jon Coddington. Because the vultures have disappeared, except for this one, kept in captivity, the funerals cannot be completed. This is a source of consternation and distress, especially for Meera.
The vulture, initially menacing, comes to endear himself to the audience with a rare talent for disco dancing,
This may not seem to be the basis for a play, but it works. Jason Rajan, who wrote it, as well as starring in it, brings each character to life. He is the master of mime, accents, facial expressions, rearrangement of his body, and wonderful comic timing.
The play explores far more than the lack of vultures. It touches on love, life. death, environment degradation, unfulfilled dreams and the sheer struggle that life can be. In addition it is very funny.
Rajan as Kutisar, is a young man, a chai seller in the streets of Mumbai as well as a fifty-year old Kutisar looking back on his life, as he is judged. He slips into the other characters so cleverly that it is easy to follow and accept the twists and turns in the story.
This is very skilful theatre, directed by Justin Lewis and with the sound effects by David Ward and Adam Ogle at the controls. One should not overlook the importance of lighting and sound effects.
The secret of why the vultures no longer fly is eventually revealed, but you will have to go and see the play to find out.
OzAsia Festival at the Space Theatre until 21 October