An early morning conversation and coffee with the three Khurana men begins at Bandra’s Cuckoo Club, a space that’s dear to them, with Akarsh, the older son, actually curating the theatre content at the club. The Khuranas, ever the efficient planners, were about to hold auditions for an upcoming project, following our conversation. Akash Khurana, the patriarch, has segued between theatre, film, television, academia and corporate life for nearly four decades. As an actor, screenwriter, director and entrepreneur, he has been a consummate multitasker, a habit he’s passed on to his sons.
Akarsh is founder of, and producer and director at, Akvarious Productions, a production company that’s staged over 50 plays; Akash’s other son, Adhaar, is also an actor, writer and director. “We grew up watching dad working and wearing multiple hats,” says Akarsh, “so it felt like the norm. It did not feel impossible. Dad has always been hungry for more. He is just wired that way. I think we (my brother and I) eventually gravitated towards the same kind of field, but we all come from different spaces. In fact, I remember dad once saying, ‘It is a son’s responsibility to be more educated than his father.’ [Today], he has a PhD.” Akash says, “I don’t consciously remember stating it as a mission objective. I think I was quoting my father. But, it gets nullified by the fact that I was okay with whatever they did. It is not about setting up yardsticks; it’s about the intention.”
Adhaar discovered his passion for performing arts a little later than the rest of the family. He first studied forensic science in Glasgow. He says, “There was a conscious effort not to go into performing arts, having seen a fair amount of it around me while growing up. I wanted to do something different, and maybe create my own identity. As it turned out, I graduated bang in the middle of the recession. I had to come back, ended up working with a private forensics company, which was not really what I was inclined towards. So, when I left, Akarsh
suggested I try Thespo (a platform for youth theatre).”
In terms of the plays that Akvarious Productions create, in which the trio participates in all capacities, Akarsh says, “For us, the lines are blurred. [In] the past five years, the plays we have put up, we have gotten film offers for them, which, in a way, implies [that] the face of cinema is changing a little bit. There are more platforms for films now.” Adhaar says, “By the time I got into the scene, it was already in a more contemporary place, which has become our voice per se. In fact, one of the plays I directed, Bombed, intrigued Vikas Bahl from Phantom Films, and he thought it had an interesting potential to maybe turn into a sitcom or a progressive comedy space.”
The three men are currently adding the finishing touches to two films that Akarsh has directed: High Jack, a stoner comedy set in a plane, and Karwaan, a road trip drama, starring Irrfan Khan and Dulquer Salmaan. On working with Adhaar, Akarsh says, “In the beginning, it did take [us] about six months to adjust, but the dynamic seems to change depending on the capacity we are interacting in. And, I think, that is perhaps the best thing about it. For instance, Adhaar wrote a web series called Boygiri, which he then hired me as a director for, so he had the upper hand. But, then, I cast him as an actor in it, which then again gave me the upper hand. So, there’s a little bit of game-play involved. In theatre, we have directed each other; we have acted together onstage. Both films that I have made, Adhaar has assisted me on, and he has acted in one (High Jack). It has been very gratifying to watch him evolve as an AD (assistant director), and that has helped him as an actor and perhaps as a writer. In some situations, Adhaar is a bit more social than me, so there is a sense of being a tag- team, which is representing the same unit.” Akarsh has also directed his father in a production of Blackbird, along with actor Shernaz Patel. “I was a little nervous because they are both senior actors. But the first day of rehearsal, both of them showed up as actors, wanting to be directed, and that, for me, was a big moment of revelation.”
On the sets of Karwaan, Akarsh says, “There were many unfamiliar faces; it felt a lot more professional. But, then again, the first few days of the shoot involved filming with dad and that kind of created a buffer and made me feel more comfortable. It was a nice way to break in and that set a rhythm for the rest of the production.” On the sets of High Jack, he says, “In a film like High Jack, where you have 25-30 people stuck in a plane for three weeks, you have to make sure that people get along. High Jack is very much set in the kind of humour that we have used onstage. Even the casting is from a pool of theatre actors — there were too many familiar faces to not feel like a rehearsal.” Adhaar adds,
“It is a bit of an extension of the theatre family into film. There is a mini revolution of sorts because it’s not just the theatre actors who are being noticed; it is the writers, directors and the entire story beyond the drama. And that is being translated into interest in theatre.” It is fairly obvious that Akarsh and Adhaar are alwastage — they’re their father’s sons, after all.