Vikash Khurana is a well-known name in the theatre circuit of Nagpur. The veteran heads the theatre group Stagecraft and has himself acted in and directed many plays over the years. In a tete-a-tete with Nation Next, Vikash Khurana speaks about his family, Stagecraft and the problems and scope pertaining to theatre in Nagpur.
Where does your family come from? How did theatre happen to you?
My paternal grandfather shifted to Nagpur from Pakistan in the 1940’s and started a bricks manufacturing unit. My father Abnash Khurana took care of the family business after my grandfather passed away. I have been born and brought up in Nagpur and after I finished my education from Sydenham College, Mumbai, I too joined the family business. I have had passion for theatre since school. I did my first stage performance in class three when I played Cinderella! Thereafter, I performed consistently at various school functions and would represent the school in inter-school drama competitions. When I was in Mumbai, I was part of Satyadev Dubey’s theatre group wherein Amrish Puri, Sunil Shanbag, Harish Patel, Veena Joshi, Veena Kulkarni and Mohan Bhandari were my contemporaries. My first major role in Mumbai was in the play Aadhe Adhure. The play had Amrish Puri, Sunila Pradhan and Mohan Bhandari playing the lead roles. After doing 10-12 shows, Mohan had to go somewhere and there were 6-7 shows which were already lined up, so I filled in his shoes.
Who do you owe your interest in theatre to?
My mother, Indira Khurana’s family was from Mumbai. During his college days in Lahore, my maternal grandfather, Dewan Sharar started a theatre group called ‘Landmark’. He toured the country taking his plays and mushairas to different places. After that he got involved in films and started working with Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani who are considered as the pioneers of Indian cinema. My grandfather wrote the Indian talkie ‘Karma’ in 1933. He then started working with V Shantaram and they made films like Shakuntala, Geet Gaya Pathare ne and Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani. My mother also use to do theatre in college. When she got married and moved to Nagpur, she use to do plays on All India Radio. So the theatre genes can be attributed to my maternal side.
You brother Akash Khurana is quite an established actor and has appeared in films like Sarfarosh, Company, Koi… Mil Gaya and others. Did you not have ambitions for films like your brother?
When my brother finished his mechanical engineering and MBA, it was pretty obvious that he would come back and look after the family business or probably start a separate manufacturing unit. But he didn’t want to come back as he had interest in theatre and films. After I finished my education from Sydenham College, I made my mind to return to Nagpur. A week before I was to leave, Dubeyji called all of us and told us that Shashi Kapoor was auditioning for the film Utsav. Dubeyji, selected 10-12 people from the theatre group including me for the audition. The audition date was the same date my tickets for Nagpur were booked. I asked my father and he told me to audition. I thought that if I change my mind now, I will always remain very fickle. So on the date of Utsav auditions, I left Mumbai for Nagpur. I don’t regret it; I made a decision and stuck to it.
What made you start ‘Stagecraft’?
After I came back to Nagpur, I joined the family business. While in business, I along with some friends use to do one play in a year. The production use to be very ordinary and only the friends and family of the actors would come to see the play. If an orphanage needed to raise money or a school needed to raise funds for the new building, we would do a play for them. It was our hobby coupled with charitable cause. In 2003, I was not very happy doing business. Nagpur was developing and I thought of giving a professional feel to theatre in Nagpur and I started Stagecraft in 2003. It took 2-3 years to wind up the family businesses completely and finally by 2006, I got fully into theatre.
How would you describe ‘Stagecraft?’
Stagecraft is an amateur theatre group where like minded people come together on a common platform to exhibit their talents. In the beginning, I was perhaps the only person who had both formal and informal training. I had worked under theatre veteran Satyadev Dubey in Mumbai. Then, over the years I attended workshops at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company. I’m also a merit holder of the Trinity College, London in the speech and drama exam. Apart from me, none of the people who joined Stagecraft had any kind of exposure in theatre. I tried to teach them whatever I learnt. It was difficult but fortunately I had a group of young people willing to learn. At Stagecraft, there has never been a restriction on who can join. If somebody couldn’t act, he/she was welcome to handle production. In the last fourteen years, more than 300 people have been associated with Stagecraft and we have done more than 60 productions.
How would you say theatre scenario has changed in Nagpur in all these years?
Long time back, Dhanwate Rang Mandir, the auditorium at Jhansi Rani Square, was the theatre hub of Nagpur. There was an amateur artists association headed by Narayan Gwalani which use to organise one-act play competitions at least two-three times a year at the auditorium. Even Rajkumar Hirani performed there and there were quite a few other theatre groups as well. Theatre scene in Nagpur was pretty happening back then. After the pulling down of Dhanwate Rang Mandir, it was as if everybody lost interest in theatre all of a sudden. There was a major spell in between, when there were close to no activities concerning theatre in the city. Now, there are theatre groups from outside Nagpur, who perform in Nagpur once in a while, and there are groups in Nagpur which perform just for competitions. To be honest, we are the only theatre group who have been consistently doing plays in English and Hindi over all these years. We don’t participate in any competitions at all; we do theatre to entertain as well as to educate.
Is theatre commercially viable in Nagpur?
Not at all! People have become more aware of theatre as compared to the past, but it’s definitely not commercially viable. If we get a sponsor, we break even. If we don’t get a sponsor, we occur losses. Ticket sales alone cannot cover the production cost. The production cost in Nagpur is extremely high. The rent of a venue will cost anywhere between 35K and 50K. Plus, add to that the sound and light cost. We have been going to Mumbai and performing for a couple of years now. Prithvi theatre in Mumbai charges you on the basis of how much ticket rates you have. For instance, for a play I did, the ticket rate we kept was 150 Rs per ticket, so the rental was 4.5K which included the hall, the air-conditioning, the sound, the light and the service. If only 30 people come to watch the play, I’ll break even!
The rental of auditorium is pretty high in Nagpur and many of them are in poor state. Do you think that inspite of the resources available in Nagpur, people in governance underutilize the resources?
We have absolutely no infrastructure and no one is bothered about even improving the existing infrastructure. More than governance, the focus is always on commerce. People in governance think that they should make something which will bring in a lot of money. Nobody is thinking in the larger interest. Plus there are other problems as well. For instance, in January 2015, I was to do a play at Deshpande to raise funds for a trust. The show was on weekend. Three days before the show, we were told that our booking had to be cancelled because Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari were scheduled to visit the hall for a function on the day of the show. With this sword hanging over the head always, who would want to go and perform there? I come from a business family fortunately, so I can bear the loss at times, but what about other groups? At the end of the day everybody wants to break even. People in Nagpur need to think beyond their needs. Glass and concrete does not make a city, culture does.
In the recent past, Marathi theatre has picked up a lot of pace in Nagpur. Prominent Marathi theatre actors have come and performed in Nagpur. Does Stagecraft plan to get into Marathi theatre?
If somebody from the group wants to direct a Marathi play with a good script, I would be very happy to help them. I can’t do it because I understand the language but I’m not fluent with it. As a director I should be able to understand the language first before I direct a play.
Theatre was always been in your genes. Do your kids have a knack for theatre too?
My daughter, Sonakshi is a trained chef, so she’s an artist in a way. My son, Vardan is more of a performer and he’s into music and has a band and has a job in Pune. But, while he was Nagpur, his band composed music for a couple of our plays.