Done with a rehearsal of their latest play, A Small Family Business, brothers Akarsh and Adhaar Khurana nod at the cast in approval. “The best thing about theatre is that we can constantly improvise. We staged this play at the Tata Theatre last year, and based on feedback and our observations, we made a few changes for the re-run at Experimental held recently,” says Akarsh, the elder son of theatre and film veteran Akash Khurana.
A Small Family Business has been adapted from British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s play of the same name. Says Akarsh, who has written the fresh script, “Alan’s play was first staged in 1987. It was set in the Margaret Thatcher era. We have made it more relatable to Indian audiences and added more gags, as we talk of a Goan Christian son-in-law of a Punjabi businessman from Delhi. The common points were the joint family system, business families and corruption, which all exist here. Since it involved many characters, Adhaar was the best choice for director. He can manage people well.”
The Khuranas have been producing plays under the banner of Akvarious Productions. Launched in 2000, the theatre company has been associated with 80 plays, including popular productions like Dekh Behen, The Interview, The Verdict and The F Word. While Akarsh took to theatre from the very beginning, following in his father’s footsteps, Adhaar went to Glasgow to study forensic science. “I wanted to do something different, but by the time I finished my course, recession had hit us. It was difficult to find a job and so I became involved with Akvarious. Though my theatre stint started much later, the exposure was always there. We are constantly discussing ideas with our father, and seeking his opinion about our plays,” he says.
Still from the play |
Both of them look up to their father as a hero. Says Akarsh, “He is the best example of someone wearing multiple hats. Besides theatre and films, he has done an MBA and a PhD, had a corporate career and been involved in teaching. Our mother is into direction too, and at home, we discuss a lot about the performing arts.” Adds Adhaar, “My uncle Vikash Khurana has been involved with theatre too, and plays the father-in-law in A Small Family Business.”
Studying at Arya Vidya Mandir in Bandra, the brothers were exposed to different forms of books. Says Akarsh, “Our father always encouraged us, and beginning with the classics, we read whatever we can. These days, I’m into books by Fredrik Backman of Sweden and Matt Haig of England, besides many feel-good books, which I read to get inspired to bring out positivity in my theatre projects.” Adhaar admits he isn’t as voracious as Akarsh, but says his fondness for detective novels made him get interested in forensic science. “Of late, it’s been more of fantasy, stuff like Tolkien,” he says.
According to Akarsh, reading is important in the adaptation of plays, as one has to get into detail about each character. For instance, last year he adapted Barry Reed’s book The Verdict, which was made into a film in 1982 by Sidney Lumet, with Paul Newman playing an alcoholic lawyer. “We had to consider various things while adapting, like the difference in the legal systems. Our characters had to be typically Indian. Likewise with A Small Family Business. For instance, the church in the play is replaced by a godman figure selling pharmaceuticals. I also had to consider the change in venue.”
Akarsh has also adapted William Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew for the teleplay Yeh Shaadi Nahin Ho Sakti, which he has directed himself, and which features Adhaar in a leading role. Akarsh has directed the films Rashmi Rocket and Karwaan, and the series Jugaadistan. How does he balance theatre and films? He replies, “The truth is that theatre remains my anchor. Films and OTT are good diversions, but they can be erratic.”
Agreeing that there is less infrastructure in theatre, and sustenance can get difficult, Akarsh says, “There is a need for more dedicated venues. But the great thing is that theatre gives us a lot of satisfaction. Many of us work know that out of 10 plays, only two will work commercially. Dekh Behan has been a huge success, and sort of settles the balance.” Adds Aadhaar, “The response we get at festivals is tremendous. That’s where the dedicated audience comes.” The passion surely keeps the brothers going in their ‘small family business’.