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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Theatre First

As Mumbai-based theatre group Akvarious stages its 40th production,a look at how it has worked around financial hiccups and learnt from its mistakes

Written by Alaka Sahani |
February 27, 2013 2:28:14 am

Till some time ago,The Ugly One was not on Akvarious’s agenda. When Akarsh Khurana — the main force behind the group — was offered dates at Bangalore’s Jagriti Theatre as well as the “luxury” of three days of stage rehearsal,he had to come up with a new production. Reason: the offer came with the rider that they should hold a Bangalore premiere for one of their plays. “Since all my plays had travelled to Bangalore,we put together The Ugly One — which has a small cast and is relatively low-cost,” says Khurana. With this,Akvarious got its 40th production. After opening in Bangalore earlier this month,The Ugly One has also been staged in Mumbai.

The group’s 40th production encompasses a story of dedication to theatre and pragmatism. These are some of the qualities that have seen the group through many ups and downs. They have also been instrumental in making Akvarious prolific and a draw for a number of young theatre artistes and enthusiasts.

The story,however,was vastly different when it became operational in 2000. That year,its first play Brothers fetched Khurana the Best Director trophy at the Thespo festival. The following year it became ambitious and staged They Shoot Horses,Don’t They? at Thespo with 28 actors in the cast. “We were young and did not realise our limitations,” says Khurana. They learnt from their mistakes quickly and were back at the festival in 2002 with Pigs on the Wing,written by Apoorva Kale. “This play was minimalistic — set in one house with five characters in it. It bagged five awards at Thespo,” he says. They did Once There is a Way in 2004 and The Edge in 2007 but largely remained a five-show-a-year group which did theatre as a “hobby”.

The turning point came with A Special Bond. In 2007,seeing a long line of parents accompanying children for a play during Summertime at Prithvi Theatre,one of his actors suggested that Akvarious do a production for the young audience. After getting Ruskin Bond’s approval,they staged A Special Bond. “We did 20 shows of it in six months. The success opened doors for us,” he says.

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What happened in 2008 was even more incredible — they opened eight plays including Namak Mirch,Afsaneh: Bai Se Bioscope Tak,All About Women,The Shape of Things,Jake’s Women and Proof. “That year,we had 100 shows of our plays,” he says. The following years became more demanding with the number of shows increasing. They did four plays each in 2009 and 2012,and seven each in 2010 and 2011. “The choice of venues in Mumbai is limited. In the recent years,we have done around 50 shows in Mumbai annually. The rest has been outside,” he confides.

After bursting into the theatre scene in 2008 and dabbling with various genres,Akvarious felt the need to streamline. What ensued was a careful process of selecting plays,building their infrastructure and an attempt to make the group self-sufficient. “We pick up stories that appeal to us. I read on an average three plays a month and we are also offered a good number of original plays,” he says.

The journey of Akvarious has coincided with Mumbai theatre scene looking up. Theatre has become more self-sufficient than it used to be five years ago,even though it’s not enough. “Actors are still not paid well and compelled to take up other assignments. However,the number of full-time actors has gone up in the recent years,” he says. He is currently working on a musical,Saraswati’s Way,which will make its debut in Summertime. Though he has not decided on a play yet,he wants to direct another for National Centre for Performing Arts’s Centrestage festival. His brother Adhaar will direct one for NCPA’s comedy festival. Writing for Krissh 3 and MTV Rush,apart from acting in the movie David,may have taken up his time last year,but Khurana is clear that theatre comes first. “We took some good decisions and many bad ones. But they were our mistakes.”

A look at their current portfolio would reflect that they have grown wiser.

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