On World Theatre Day, 101India gets up close and personal with the founder of Akvarious Productions on his love for the art form, how the pandemic has affected livelihoods, and his preferred dinner guest.
Akarsh Khurana was born to be under the spotlight, quite literally. The son of stalwart actor, screenwriter, and director Akash Khurana, he grew up watching his father’s plays when he was just a little boy.
Being exposed to the art form since such a young age, it came as no surprise when he took to acting in plays at six years old. He had found his calling.
Akarsh has been running his own theatre company, Akvarious Productions, for the last 22 years. In that time, he has not only written and directed plays and films, but has also tried his hand at acting. More recently, he has also written for web series such as Tripling, for TVF.
As someone who has dabbled in all mediums, he is quite clear about where his heart truly lies. “Theatre is my happy place,” he says. “It’s something that I’ve now been doing for most of my life. It’s a refuge, a safe space for me. It’s where I evolved as a human being.”
He also loves the instant gratification that comes with theatre, as compared to other formats. “I love the fact that one moment you’re rehearsing in a room, and the next moment, you’re putting your work out there and immediately finding out how it’s being received. Other formats have their own gestation period and processes, but theatre is almost like a living, breathing thing.”
Changing with the times
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the theatre space dramatically (no pun intended), with productions being halted and performances coming to a complete standstill. During this time, many theatre companies took to making a foray into a hybrid version of the craft.
“We started an Instagram page during the pandemic, called Akvarious Live, where we would get all our regular cast and crew members to perform pieces on Instagram Live. And even though only 10 or 12 people were watching, we looked upon it as practise. It helped us keep the creative juices flowing and stopped us from going into a slump,” he says. It was a great way to keep everyone engaged, and it also helped them build a community outside of the circle they had been exposed to thus far.
Akarsh adds, “We also tried showing our plays on Zoom, we recorded plays, and we made stuff online. It was all a learning experience, with the alternative forms, but I think everyone's just breathing a huge sigh of relief now.”
Some of those pieces created for an online audience ended up doing really well. Since then, Akvarious members have performed the best of the pieces on stage, for a live audience.
Speaking about the learning curve associated with adapting theatre to digital format, Akarsh states that even before the pandemic, the team realised it was doing a poor job of documenting its plays.
“We didn’t invest time and money into archiving our plays digitally, and we realised this when people were asking for recordings on platforms like BookMyShow and Insider. Either the video quality was bad, or the audio was, or both, and it wasn’t going to be a pleasurable experience at all.”
During the pandemic, they really grew in terms of not just the craft, but also in terms of finding ways to improve how they were digitally showcasing pieces, Akarsh explains. “The fact of the matter is that theatre is a niche art form in our country. And then, digital theatre is even more niche,” he adds. “And with so many options for entertainment at that point in time, we didn’t stand a chance if we didn’t adapt.”
As a reaction, they were forced to start putting more effort and skill into making their work not just more palatable, but also presentable.
Akarsh says, “At the time, everybody was doing monologues and things like that on Instagram, basic stuff with which, over time, visual boredom sets in. It was important for us to find more substance that would work given our limited resources. And I think that we also started experimenting with the form a little bit by, for instance, using our phone cameras as our friends rather than just, you know, a viewer’s perspective, to tell stories in a slightly more engaging manner. When you know there’s so much content out there for your consumption, there has got to be something attractive about the way you present even a theatrical piece online. So, yes, that effort became very necessary.”
Dining with an icon
Akarsh says that his wife Dilshad has been a huge support through it all. It is no wonder, then, that they met through theatre. Though they have been married 11 years, they had known each other for a while before deciding to tie the knot.
“At one point, she was part of a workshop that we were conducting. She mentioned to me then that she had done a fair amount of theatre, so I cast her in one of our plays. After that, we continued working together quite regularly. We were actually good friends for seven years before we got married.”
We ask Akarsh if there is any one person, living or dead, that he would like to sit down for a meal with. There is a pause, because he is worried about coming across as clichéd. “It would have to be Shakespeare, because I’m so enamoured by his storytelling,” he says. “I mean, when we were studying things like Julius Caesar in school, it was the bane of our existence. But I think as we matured and started reading more plays, his command over the language, and his prowess, started becoming clear.”
“I think that would be such a great brain to pick,” he gushes. “I want to know where this abundance of stories came from. Stories that have now become a part of our legacy and our culture, across the world.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com.
Written By: Shraddha Uchil
Photos by Ashish Das