Actor Rajan Velu, recently returned from almost 10 years of film, television and theatre work in the US, on Counting and Cracking and the huge changes to the entertainment industry in the past decade, and the importance of representation.
What did you expect when you were first cast in counting and cracking?
I expected an epic story; and that I was going to meet a variety of actors from all over the world and that it was going to be a fun process putting everything together but also it was going to be a big challenge because there were sixteen actors in the one production. And it has definitely met my expectations. The story is amazing and we have a wonderful bunch of actors with whom we’re going to be forging relationships moving forward. In that sense it’s exceeded my expectations.
How has working on the show differed from your expectations?
The challenge is just getting my head around the language. I speak Tamil but I speak Indian Tamil which is very different from Sri Lankan Tamil. Sri Lankan Tamil is a very pure form of the language and more traditional, and so in terms of getting my tongue to move the way it needs to move to articulate the Tamil in a Sri Lankan way, that was my biggest challenge. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it, but hearing it over and over again I’m getting closer to what’s needed. All my characters speak a different language, I have maybe five English lines in the whole play! I’m speaking Tamil, and I’m speaking Sinhala, predominantly. And working hand in hand with the translations as well, as an actor being able to stay in the moment as they translation comes through and then picking it up straight away without there being any dead air between was very difficult.
Did you have any exposure to Sinhala before the project?
I do have friends who are Singhalese so I’ve heard it before; a really close family friend of mine is Singhalese, he’s like an uncle to me and I’ve heard him speak, so I knew what it sounded like but I’ve never spoken it.
What helps me I guess is that I speak Hindi as well, and Hindi is derived from Sanskrit and so is Singhalese, whereas Tamil is a language on its own. It has a musicality and it’s not derived from Sanskrit, it’s a pure language so to speak. The fact that I know three languages helped me learn this other one in terms of pronunciation. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I’m getting there.
What are you enjoying most so far?
I’m enjoying the cast members; it’s such a lovely people, not just the actors, the cast and the crew. Everyone is so open and friendly, it feels like a big family and I love that about theatre productions; being part of a family, doing things together, and that’s for me the best thing about this play. I’m excited to come to work every day to see this family.
You’ve only recently come back from the United States. What has it been like coming back to Sydney?
Well I’ve been away for nine and a half years, and the landscape in terms of film and television, and theatre has changed a lot since I was here last working as an actor. In 2008 I did my last play a few months before I left for the states and then coming back what I’ve noticed is there’s just more parts for me that weren’t there 10 years ago. There are so many projects where they’re casting people of all ethnicities and that’s the biggest change I’ve noticed with all areas of performing arts in Australia. And now with this play, I can’t remember it ever happening where you’ve got an almost all South Asian cast on the main stage, that’s a big thing; and I love the story. I have a tough time rehearsing sometimes because I get emotional; just knowing the gravity of these scenes like the love story and the politics, and I think to myself, you’ve got to keep it together, you’re one of the actors!
What does being a part of Counting and Cracking mean to you?
It feels like I’m part of a ground breaking piece of work that’s going to set up a precedent going forward in Australian theatre. I’m really proud to be a part of this production because I really believe in the story. It’s a story that needs to be told because I think there could be a lot of healing from this story given the civil war in Sri Lanka and the differing thoughts and feelings regarding what went on. And it lets people know that it’s okay to talk about what happened and maybe they can move forward from that.
Why should people come and see the show?
Because the show is a universal story of family, love, loss and reunion. I kind of feel that it has everything, and no matter where you come from you can connect with the story because the characters are universal. If you want to feel a range of emotions, come and see Counting and Cracking.