Aks: Passion play for Indian theatre

Amateur theatre group Aks may have been born out of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the redundancies and banking crisis of 2008, but in the last three years it has carved a niche for its limited edition theatre with an Indian accent.
The group still has original founders, Neha Jain, Nidhi Kumra and Ankur Chopra, juggling their passion for theatre with new jobs in banking, finance and IT and a host of new members interested in theatre.
Having debuted with Mahesh Dattani’s 30 Days in September in 2009, Aks has had a busy year in 2012 with a cocktail of plays in February; collaboration with Tower Theatre Company on Baba Shakespeare, a stage of version of Merchant Ivory film Shakespearewallah; and a look at friendship in Come As You Were, written by Nicholas Kharkongor, in November.
“We have a pool of scripts that we keep adding to whenever any of us hears of a good play and a playwright,” says Neha, who also acted in Come As You Were, explaining how the group chose to perform a play by the Indian playwright.
“The play alludes to a lot of dark and serious issues in the Indian society, but it doesn’t dwell on them as deeply as I would have liked them to. All these subjects deserve a play in their own right, where you can explore more facets of each aspect. As an audience I hope people will feel free to talk about the issues,” says actor Charan Singh, who directed the play, which alternates between past and present and unresolved issues in old friendships. “We have to show the society a true reflection if the things as they are, even if it doesn’t want to see it,” he adds.
The variety that the group has tackled in its subjects is amazing for a small amateur group, which tries to juggle members’ long hours at work with their love for performing theatre. From a humorous look at a polygamist’s dilemma in Caught in the Net and a dark psychological drama Call me Ishmael in 2010 to Neil Simon’s farce Rumors in 2011, Aks has tried to tackle a wide variety of subjects.
“We are currently a predominantly a South Asian group, so we do bring life and energy to an Indian subject. Even when we have picked up plays by non-Indian playwrights we have adapted them to an Indian context,” says Neha, who adds that she feels that the South Asian tilt of the group could be a restriction. However, she says that the group does not feel limited by stories or subjects. “Many stories are multicultural or can easily cross cultures. It is how you treat the subject and how you present it.”
The day jobs mean that Aks is restricted to holding two to three shows of each production instead of opting for a longer run in theatres. “Everybody involved is doing fulltime jobs, so only time we can actually do these shows is going to be a Friday and a Saturday. The current model only allows us to do maybe three to four shows, given time, monetary and resource commitments involved,” says Nidhi.
Aks, says Nidhi, is not looking to make money, but is more interested in doing good work and breaking even. “We have had sponsors and this time we managed to do that with ticket sales,” she says, explaining that the group had approached the Arts Council for funding, but they wanted to see the group’s track record before committing. “We plan to register in the next couple of months as a non-profit organisation so that it is easier to raise funds, get support or to get donations.”
Aks is also now looking at developing its own original scripts, having developed a radio play for a charity recently. Having had a successful collaboration on Baba Shakespeare already, Aks is ready to work with other theatre and performing arts groups in London. “We learnt a lot from that experience, working with a different company, with a different way of looking at things and a lot more experience,” says Neha, adding that the group’s latest collaboration was with a charity.
Aks is open to new ideas, in form of scripts, directors, actors and collaborations, says Charan. “We are an open house,” he says. “We are a very young group, everyone is welcome.”

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