Four teenagers in college, Kenny, Anand, Neeraj and Wasim, think that friendship — like life — is forever. Then, Anand dies. His greatest dream to visit Anand in Gujarat and be “Anand in Anand” is unfulfilled. After a grinding funeral process in Anand’s house, the boys decide to give their friend a proper send-off. Grabbing his ashes, they make a run for Anand, the Milk Capital of India.
The play Anand Express, to be presented as part of Aadyam on July 8 and 9 in Delhi, revels in the boys’ (mis)adventures and personal transformations. It celebrates friendship but, individually, each boy will have to take his head out of the sand and confront an uncomfortable truth.
The play, which opened in Mumbai, is based on The Ostrich Boys, a book by Keith Gray, which was adapted by Carl Miller for the stage. Akarsh Khurana scripts the play for the Indian landscape and Nadir Khan directs it. Khan’s previous outings with Aadyam have been stories that unfolded in one room, Gods of Carnage and 12 Angry Jurors. This time he travels with Anand Express. An interview with Khan:
Did you read the book first or the script?
I started reading the book and then decided not to. A book is of 300 pages and a lot is left out in an hour-and-a-half-long play. I did not want to be influenced by the book. While deciding our new production, we read a lot of plays but kept coming back to Anand Express for its crisp writing and freshness. I have not seen any play recently that deals with boys in a period of transition from children to adults.
How is adolescence an important element in the play?
Up to that time, everything is black and white. You are very immersed. You wear your heart on your sleeve but there is a point when the outside world starts to interfere with your life. Many pivotal moments of my life took place when I was 17 or 18.
How do you present the journey of the boys on stage?
The set and projections have a lot to do with this. We used devices that would allow for quick and seamless transitions of locations as the story moves at a fast pace. Anand Express is different from anything I have done before. It needed more experiments.
The characters come from different socio-economic backgrounds and religions. Is there a political comment?
There are undertones of different social strata but the script celebrates friendship. They have been in school for 10 years, with the same people and influences. In college, the sphere opens up. It is a completely different world. You don’t make friends based on socio-economic status in college, you just make friends.
How did you select the lead actors?
We auditioned a lot and chose the four best combinations that worked well off each other. Sukant Goel plays Anand while Vivaan Shah is Neeraj, the sensible one in the group. I have not worked with him before. Siddharth Kumar plays Kenny and I had directed him when he was in college. Chaitanya Sharma, who is also a rapper known as Slow Cheetah, plays Wasim. Anand Express is not a children’s or young adults’ play. It is a story of young people that will resonate with young people and those who have been young people.