Directing movies is a far more technical process as compared to theatre. There are several departments working on a movie. Apart from more time spent on its making and many processes, there are too many things to keep in mind. That can get complicated. Doing theatre is easier,” says Akarsh Khurana, a prolific producer-director of Mumbai theatre, ahead of his sophomore outing as a movie director with Karwaan. However, he knows, choosing the right crew members is key to tackle this “complicated” process. For instance, with experts such as Avinash Arun handling cinematography and Anish John taking care of sound, Khurana could focus on what he is good at — “working with actors”. He adds, “That’s one thing that never changes — be it movies or plays.”
For over a decade, Khurana has been straddling the worlds of cinema, theatre and, of late, web-series in various capacities. Karwaan, which features Irrfan Khan and marks the Hindi film debut of Malayalam actor Dulquer Salmaan, releases on August 3. On the same day, a dance drama titled One Night Only, produced by Khurana and directed by Amey Mehta, opens at Prithvi Theatre. Earlier this month, a web-series Yeh Meri Family that was released by TVF had him essay the role of a “cool” patriarch of a middle-class family in the drama set in the late ’90s.
By his own description, Khurana’s has been “an unplanned journey”. Being the son of actor-writer Akash Khurana, he was more inclined towards writing during the early years of his career. “I started as an apprentice with screenwriter Robin Bhatt. I never wanted to be an actor. However, I was drawn to theatre, right from my school days,” says Akarsh, who runs Akvarious Productions, a Mumbai-based theatre group founded by his father. As the screenplay writer of Krrish (2006), he started his career in films and eventually wrote a host of other movies such as U Me Aur Hum (2008) and Humshakals (2014) as well as the web-series Tripling. He directed the web-series Boygiri last year and he made his debut as a movie director earlier this year with a stoner comic caper, High Jack. Yet during all these years, theatre has occupied most of his time and he has achieved an enviable feat of directing close to 30 plays, so far.
It was important for Akarsh to create his identity before turning film director. “I took up film direction at the right time. Today, I have gotten better even with putting up plays. In 2014, I directed a film for MTV after being prodded by Anurag Basu. I love this film. However, in terms of craft, I realise I have improved a lot,” says Akarsh. While High Jack didn’t have a favourable box-office run, Akarsh sounds more confident of Karwan. “Karwaan has been handled better. I’m nervous ahead of its release but it has nothing to do with High Jack’s box-office performance,” says the 39-year-old, who is relieved that Khan has watched this light-hearted road movie and is quite happy with it.
The ecosystem that Akarsh has created through his long engagement with theatre and artistes has come handy while making movies. “It’s partly a conscious decision to grow together. If you look at High Jack, Karwaan or Boygiri, it always features several theatre actors that I have been working with on a regular basis. The co-writer of Karwaan, Adhir Bhat, works with me on plays too. So does my brother Adhaar who has assisted me. Stage actors Nipun Dharmadhikari and Sarang Sathaye are acting in Karwaan,” says Akarsh.
What helps him is the fact that there are around 40 actors with whom his group works regularly. “I can pick and choose. Within them, you will find actors who will fit into any kind of role. Especially, when someone is playing a smaller role, if you cast a good actor, you can be assured of getting what you want. For example, Sarang has only two scenes in Karwaan. But I knew he would deliver what’s in my mind,” he says.
While he had an amazing time with the three lead actors, Khan, Salmaan and Mithila Palkar, Akarsh was excited to work with Amala Akkineni, known for movies such as Puspak (1987) and Shiva (1990). “Amala hates it when I tell her that she is my childhood crush. Interestingly, when I said it out loud on the sets, half of my crew said she was their crush too. When we approached Amala, she agreed to do the role but had one request: her son was getting married and she wanted us to adjust her dates by a day,” recalls Akarsh.
Over the years, Akvarious has created a brand of theatre that’s youthful and laced with contemporary humour. Akarsh is sure this keeps seeping into a lot of their other projects. “It is hard to keep it aside even though we can take more risks in theatre. High Jack had several bizarre characters. In Karwaan, Irrfan’s character has a lot of quirky dialogues,” says Akarsh, who is going on a five-week break to Australia following Karwaan’s release. Once back, he will plan his next projects, including directing a stage production next year. “This is the 18th year of Akvarious. We are not going to slow down our theatre activities at all,” he adds.