Akarsh khurana Interview with Parul Rana
Akarsh Khurana is a writer, actor, producer, and director all rolled up in one and has been the proprietor of renowned theatre company Akvarious since 1997. Having started his career as a child actor, he then started directing his own plays in college for inter-college festivals and Thespo. He is now associated with over 50 plays. In this interview, Khurana speaks about Akvarious Productions having successfully completed a run of 34 performances in the past two weeks.

 By Parul Rana

Akvarious Productions has completed around 34 shows in a row. What was the experience like getting back on stage after a long gap due to the pandemic?
I would say we were lucky and fortunate enough to have performed in between the lockdown as well when things got slightly better between the first and second wave. At that time, Akvarious had completed 20 years so we managed to get one show performed at Prithvi. Then we performed in January as well, so in that sense, this wasn't our first performance after the pandemic. But I think one good thing that happened while we were performing this time was that for the first time ever, the 100% capacity happened for the audiences. So that was wonderful. We were in the middle of our first week, performing and we knew that from tomorrow there'll be 100% capacity. The thought of whether the audience will show up or not did make us nervous because everything was still very new after the closure due to the pandemic. I think the show we were doing at that time was DEKH BEHEN and to our surprise, both our shows were full house at 100% capacity. It was really wonderful to see that so many people were willing to come.

WHAT PLANET ARE YOU ON, INTERNAL AFFAIRS, DEKH BEHEN were recently performed again. These plays have been running for quite some years now, have there been any changes made to the script or other elements of the shows currently running?
We have been performing INTERNAL AFFAIRS for nine years now. Actors are now completely involved in it. So, every time we do it, whether it's this year or last year, they make additions and improvisation to it which are relevant to the topic and with today's time. So whatever punch lines can be updated and improvised, the cast definitely does that because they have the scope to do that.

Whereas with DEKH BEHEN they have a very set play, the only time there are changes is when a new actor comes in, otherwise it is more or less the same as it is a set play and we have completed around 75 shows. So, there are minor changes but not as much as there is a scope of changes in INTERNAL AFFAIRS due to the difference in the concept of both plays.

Then there are shows like RTPCR, THERE'S SOMETHING IN WATER which are new. Around what time were the scripts for these shows drafted, was it during the lockdown?
During the lockdown, we did a lot of short plays and monologues through our Instagram page. So, our regular actors did a lot of new and different pieces, every week we had a different piece. After the lockdown out of all the pieces, we chose 10 pieces and performed them on stage in person. Out of the three pieces which were well received by the audience, we combined them and made RTPCR out of it. These were written during the first lockdown, all three actors wrote their own pieces, and all three are related to Covid. So, with these three we made RTPCR and performed it in Prithvi.

THERE'S SOMETHING IN WATER was written this year itself when we got to know that we can get dates in March. So, we started working on this one in January.

What is your process of deciding which play to go on with next? How do you select your themes and concepts?

There is no fixed formula as such. There aren't many performance venues left in Mumbai, you only get dates once in a while. So, when you know you are getting the dates, you have two options, either you revive your existing play or create something new. So accordingly, we plan. Like I knew we are getting dates in March so we wanted to do a new play. Now what will be this new play, that wasn't decided. Since last year, I have been reading a few plays and trying to get the rights of those plays, but because of the Covid situation, it was taking a lot of time to get the licensing. So, the few options we thought of didn't work out. Then I thought, this play is based on Ibsen's ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, and I have been wanting to do this play for the last 11 years. Eleven years ago, there was this Ibsen Festival that was held and at that time it just didn't work out. Since then, this play has been somewhere on my mind, so I thought now that we have the time and the opportunity, let's try out this play. Or the other way is that someone else comes to you with their script and direction and they propose it to us for production. So that's another scenario. There is no such fixed formula.

What were the creative challenges you faced during the pandemic? Did you indulge in creating theatre online, if yes, then how was the experience?

I was about to start a film shoot when the first lockdown was announced. So, I think, yes, there was a push back when suddenly from being super busy one was left with nothing to do and sitting idle at home. So, the first few months went by like that. Eventually, we decided that we need to create something to maintain our sanity. So, we planned 2-3 things. We started our channel on social media. We thought whether people would want to watch it or not, at least the actors and crew will get to practice instead of sitting idle at home. Slowly and steadily, our audience increased online, a few artistes also got positive reviews. Then we tried online theatre and we produced three plays online. I feel the success of online theatre is limited. It can never replace the experience of doing theatre in person but during this period whatever work we created, with each play done online, our work got better. So finally, we produced a play called TIME LOSS, and it turned out really well in the sense that it was very well shot and produced. So, the experimentation was on throughout the period when we couldn't step out and meet each other in person.

As for the writers, they could work during the lockdown. I, too, went back to my writings which were pending, and I completed it eventually. You have to tell yourself to constructively use the time and it is not always possible or accessible during such a difficult time but we tried.

Have there been any changes in the current theatre dynamics in MumbaI post the pandemic?
See, for now, I feel people are happy that the theatre has resumed and they are happy to visit and watch it. So, the theatre has definitely resumed with a very positive and happy vibe. I think, what I can see happening, in the long run, is that our stories and our content will start changing. We can already see it happening. It has been a very difficult time for everyone, and everyone got the time to think. Whatever new concepts and themes are coming up are now even more different and meaningful and I like that change in content. People are trying to say something, there's more maturity in writing now.

What next?
We are opening a new play in May at the NCPA. This was supposed to happen two years back, but then Covid happened. We tried to restart it in between then again, the lockdown restrictions were imposed. Finally, now in May, we are opening this play. My brother, Adhaar Khurana is directing it. The play is called A SMALL FAMILY BUSINESS. For now, we have this one play coming up and then there are other shows which will be showcased during the children's festival and so. This year, we are not sure if we will be opening more plays because the dates are limited and we would like to first do more runs of the shows which we have already opened.

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.

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