In the world of drama, Arthur Miller is a formidable name. A playwright and author whose career spanned almost seven decades, Miller’s best work came in the ’50s and the ’60s, and was known for its scathing social commentary and representation of the American working class. The Price, his most successful play after Death of a Salesman, is set in 1960s America and is based on family dynamics. It is about the “price” you pay for your decisions.
When Vikram Phukan, playwright and the man behind theatre appreciation website Stageimpressions (.com), decided to adapt The Price for the Mumbai audience, he wanted to make a “seamless adaptation”. “We wanted to work on something classic that had vintage qualities but also resonated with contemporary times,” Phukan says.
Director Shubhrajyoti Barat, who had watched the Bengali adaptation of the play, thought it translated very well into the Indian milieu, and decided to ask Phukan to adapt it. “The challenge lay in holding on to the subtleties of the script while rearranging the bare bones,” Phukan says. So he changed the original ’60s New York setting to modern-day Bandra. The language remained English, but he peppered it with Hindi and Urdu.
The Jewish antique-furniture dealer became a Muslim from Dongri with a furniture shop at Chor Bazaar. A lot of political and historical references were rearranged according to Indian sensibilities, but the essence of the play remained the same. The Price is now the story of two estranged brothers, Victor and Walter D’Souza, who meet after 15 years to sell commonly owned pieces of antique furniture. Victor is played by Harsh Khurana, a theatre and TV artiste who has worked with stalwarts such as Swanand Kirkire and Piyush Mishra, back in the day.
Apart from Khurana, The Price has notable names like Satyajit Sharma, who plays Walter, Sheikh Sami Usman, who plays Suleiman Bhai, the furniture dealer, and Preeti Gupta, who plays Esther D’Souza, Victor’s cantankerous wife. According to Phukan, Khurana’s performance is the highlight of the play.
“Harsh has unflinchingly sat through two hours of performance,” Phukan says. “He has had to hold on to his focus and his gravitas, while other actors finish their performance and leave the stage.” For Khurana, the biggest challenge was English, as this was his first tryst with the language on stage. “I speak spoken English, but ultimately, this is an Arthur Miller play,” he says.
To increase the cast’s familiarity with the language, Barat made them spend about 20 days just reading the play, and the next 20 on the floor, rehearsing. In total, the play took 40 days of practise, with six hours of daily rehearsals, discouraging the cast from committing to any other project. “I had to say no to a couple of good projects!” Khurana admits. “When you take on a play, you’re prepared for these things. It’s the price I paid,” he adds, laughingly.