Jan Graveson’s first visit to India was in 2001 and she immediately fell in love with the country. The actor and singer from north-east England continued to frequent India before finally shifting in the country two and a half years ago.
“My whole life changed during that first trip to Goa, in 2001. I returned with a rucksack and traveled across the country for the next six months,” Graveson, who now lives in Mumbai, tells Little India.
Graveson began performing at the age of six, with a desire and determination to excel on the stage. She rose to fame with the popular TV series EastEnders. Her work earned her a host of prestigious nominations, including the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), and a Tony Award nomination for the Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She has also performed on Broadway in New York.
Graveson now wishes to collaborate with like-minded artistes in India and share her knowledge and skills with those passionate about performing on stage.
“When people from different walks of life collaborate, things happen,” says the 42-year-old artiste, who is affectionately known as ‘Jaani’ in India.
A 17-Year Love Affair
I traveled to India for the first time in 2001 for a holiday after completing a long stint in a show in London. I was in Goa for a week and fell in love with the place and that altered my life.
I visited a Saturday-night market and met an ace guitarist called Elvis Lobo. I was watching him perform when he invited me on stage. I sang with him and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The experience that I had in Goa had such a massive influence on me that I shifted here and, thus, began my love story with India.
Passion for Musical Theater
In India, there’s a huge musical scene but it’s more cinematic than theater. The infrastructure for musical theater is not very satisfactory. The genre is getting noticed slowly, and has a long way to go. In a country where people burst into songs and dances quite often, the genre should be given an opportunity.
I am in the process of collaborating with some notable people from India to initiate a curriculum to encourage musical theater. I have hosted workshops and masterclasses at the True School of Music, and Bollywood director Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods film school in Mumbai.
I am setting up my own theater group in Bandra that will serve as a powerhouse of creative ventures. I cannot set up an infrastructure in India as I feel it is an arduous task, but I can, at least, get the ball rolling and share my skills with people who are willing to learn.
When I was in Goa, I set up a school called the Wow Performing Arts, which was predominantly for children and teenagers to learn skills related to performing arts. My theater group in Mumbai will be called Stageworks.
Similar, Yet Different
Mumbai is a chaotic city but the energy is amazing. It’s diverse, vibrant and teeming with opportunities for everyone, whereas England is governed by rules and regulations. However, both places are quite similar in their own ways.
For instance, if you’re occupied with work, both locations can be fabulous places to reside. However, if you don’t have work, it can get lonely and depressing, since people are mostly busy and keep to themselves. But Mumbai, I feel, has an edge over London as people here are ever willing to help those in need. People in Mumbai are also very accepting of foreigners, unlike those in London who live in their own shells.
Freedom in India
I love the freedom that India has given me. I like mundane things, like you can park your vehicle without having to pay for it. I can eat anything from anywhere and say anything I want to. There’s freedom of speech here, as opposed to England where voicing opinions can be difficult.
However, things in India don’t get done as smoothly as they should. Many things here work by placing one’s trust in the system and by praying that it will be okay.
This notion can be difficult to believe for any foreigner living here, as we are brought up being taught that everything has a system and that we have to plan for the future. In India, life is led on a day-to-day basis. It’s beautiful and remarkable how things fall into place despite the lack of a proper system.
Caring for Animals
A lot of people visit Goa and adopt animals. However, once their vacation is over, they desert the animals on the streets and return to their respective countries. It’s very cruel and I feel that there is a need to rehabilitate these animals. I have rescued and rehabilitated over 100 dogs, and have two dogs and two cats in my house in Goa.
Life Without Worries
While travelling across the country, I visited Varkala, a coastal town in Kerala, with the intention of staying there only for two days. But I ended up staying there for a month. I was sitting inside a temple thinking whether I should leave or stay, when this man came over and put his hand on my shoulder and said: “If you are in control of it, why worry? If you are not in control of it, why worry?” I did not know who the man was, all I know is that his words touched my soul. Those words have stayed with me and helped me tide through difficult times.
British Rule in India
In school, all we were told about India was that it is very far and that it rained a lot during the monsoon. I knew that women wore hand-woven saris because my uncle had gifted one to my mother from one of his trips to the country.
We were taught nothing about the British rule in India and the atrocities they committed. We were taught utter lies in school. Sometimes, I come across people here who tell me about the terrible things that the British did. Although I tell them that I was not one of those who committed these atrocities, I still feel responsible. One of the reasons for my stay in Mumbai is that I want to do something for the people here.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at email@example.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.