The dark, Thatcherian family comedy was adapted to revolve around a Catholic man and his Punjabi in-laws. Pics/Bipin Kokate
In 1987, British playwright Alan Ayckbourn*s play A Small Family Business premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London. It followed the travails of an honest man, whose principles are compromised without his knowledge. The play revolves around morality and won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play that year. Film and theatre writer-director Akarsh Khurana stumbled upon it about seven years ago, and liked it instantly.
Cut to 2019: An opportunity arose for a joint collaboration between his theatre company, Akvarious Productions, and the NCPA with the latter keen on a new production for its thousand-seater Tata Theatre. A Small Family Business came to Akarsh*s mind and he shared the drama script with his younger brother, Adhaar. The actor-director came on board immediately.
"My earlier plays, such as Internal Affairs and Sometimes, revolved around youngsters, and although they were fun, they were also a bit frivolous," says Adhaar. "I was looking for something moreâ¦ so when I read this script, I lapped up the opportunity to direct it. It is a dark, family comedy, which is very relatable."
The original play dealt with Thatcherism, and Adarsh adapted it to an urban Indian setting. It revolves around Samson Sequeira (played by Digvijay Savant), a man of principles, who is married into a Punjabi family from North India. A series of events, including his father-in-law*s decision to entrust him with the family business and him becoming privy to compromising information, lead to a comedy of errors and his integrity*s trial by fire.
"The story looks at the politics within a family business," says Adhaar, "Lies are told and important information is kept under wraps. It also shows how money challenges the family dynamic." When asked how important it is to have a Catholic man marry into a north Indian family, he says, "It was to highlight the distinction in sensibilities between Catholics and Punjabis about business and money. As a Punjabi, I can take the liberty to say that we are boisterous and celebrate money, while Catholics celebrate life."
The play was supposed to premiere in April 2020. They were into the third week of rehearsal when the country went into the Covid-19-led lockdown. "Thankfully, the story remains relevant across decades and even post-pandemic," says Adhaar, adding that the biggest challenge was to bring the cast together after two years. "Since some members couldn*t do this play," he says, "we had to bring a few new members on board, which injected fresh energy into the team and the play."
And does COVID-19 make it to the script? Adhaar adds that he was very particular to not bring even subtle references to it. "People see entertainment as a break from reality. They don*t want to see a pandemic on stage when they are already living it," he concludes.
WHAT: A Small Family Business
WHERE: Tata Theatre, NCPA
WHEN: May 15, 4PM and 7:30 PM
PRICE: Rs 500 onwards