Writer, actor, director Akarsh Khurana has recently turned talk show host with Aadyam Theatre’s podcast, ‘Unscripted with AK’. Many may not know that the man who has received acclaim for films like Karwaan, Rashmi Rocket and web shows like Jugaadistaan and Mismatched has helmed a theatre company for over 20 years and has a substantial and growing body of work in the field.
In this new podcast, AK’s guests talk about their journeys in theatre, share anecdotes and memories and insights on the craft over a casual conversation, that true to the name of the show, don’t feel like they’re chasing an end, which is unscripted. Each conversation takes on the energy of the guest, and it is perhaps Akarsh’s genuine interest in his guests that brings out fascinating stories in every episode. Seven episodes are out on social media platforms with at least another seven to come. In an interview, Akarsh spoke about the podcast, his new play with Aadyam and his aspirations for the theatre.
What did you set out to do with this podcast? What are your personal takeaways?
AK: I am always happy to work with Aadyam. It was meant to be a deep dive into theatre. I knew that I didn’t want regimented conversations and I didn’t want to interview only the stalwarts. I wanted to seek out interesting theatre people with substantial experience, people who I’ve worked with, and also those who I do not know well but with whom the conversation could be easy flowing. For me, the most fascinating bits are the stories of how people got to where they are today.
Your new play ‘F-word’ has received good reviews. How did you arrive at the idea for this play that you have written and directed?
AK: The ‘F-word’ is a study of a dysfunctional family and all the awkward humour that comes from not knowing how to communicate with each other. How horrible we can be to the people we love, and yet there is something beautiful that ties us together — a microcosm of the politics of the nation. One is always influenced by what one is thinking at any point. With this play, it was me grappling with mortality, the realisation that parents age and the health issues and mental health concerns that came up during the pandemic.
What does Aadyam (a theatre initiative by the Aditya Birla group) bring to the theatre?
AK: I always tell people about how I once met a bunch of people I knew, who usually never come to watch my plays, but came to a play that I was doing with Aadyam because they had seen hoardings in the city. Aadyam puts money and mind behind making theatre visible. It also gives creative people like me the freedom to mount my vision and supports it with the kind of infrastructure that I could never afford on my own.
If you were a guest on your show, what would be the one thing that you would like to be asked?
AK: I would like to be asked the secret to running a theatre company, the secret to maintaining a conducive atmosphere, keeping all those actors and crew happy year after year. And my answer to that is good food. There is little money in theatre, people come to it for the love of it. It is hard work. But the feeling of being looked after with something as simple as good food goes a long way in keeping them going.
What are the things you would like to see happen in the world of theatre?
AK: Three things. It would be great to have more theatre-friendly venues not just in the metros but also in the smaller cities, a culture of theatre-going (like the Marathi or Gujarati theatre) and therefore, longer runs for plays. I know that if we can get people in those seats, most will love what they see. There are so many reviews of films but hardly any for plays, if anyone was looking for recommendations. Before the pandemic, Mumbai had a growing culture of the neighbourhood theatre — small intimate spaces like The Cuckoo Club in Bandra, for instance, where I curated plays for a while. I hope that can be revived. I hope you can have a theatre within walking distance of wherever you live.