Theatre is a medium through which society displays its ideas and moralities, and debates its yearnings and struggles. Akarsh Khurana of Mumbai-based Akvarious Productions’s play What Planet Are You On? debates one such issue and portrays how often it is overlooked. The 90-minute play is based on the works of the famous French psychiatrist Pierre Pichot and pivots around the character of Homi, who has concentration issues and discovers he has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). “Homi is a young boy in school and faces a fair amount of trouble focusing on subjects. It’s a sweet story that involves music. It is not preachy. Problems such as ADD are becoming common these days and the play tries to show the inner strength of those dealing with such issues,” says Khurana who has both adapted and directed the play.
The story is told from the boy’s point of view and on how he copes with this knowledge, and then his condition. “The cast includes award-winning playwright Siddharth, who is a terrific actor with high emotional intelligence. That helps his portrayal of Homi. Kashin Shetty brings his wit and wisdom to the parts he plays. There’s also Avantika Ganguly who sings beautifully. Zayn Khan plays Homi’s mother with surprising maturity. Muzammil Qureshi has brought so much humour to the play that he might be its saving grace. And Muskkaan Jaferi is quite the surprise package, nailing both the role of Homi’s counselor, and the role of Nidhi, his love interest. The play depicts the protagonist’s first romance. It is a major coming-of-age moment for him,” adds the director.
Khurana, who is married to a psychologist, based his research on ADD largely from those he knew personally. He reveals that suprisingly a large number of adults struggle with ADD but do not acknowledge it. “Issues such as ADD are very common and people are slowly becoming aware. But people don't want to accept that they have the condition,” says Khurana, who has worked on several children’s plays in the past such as The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat (based on Enid Blyton’s works) and A Special Bond (based on Ruskin Bond’s works) but ventured into the mental health space for the first time.
“When we were growing up there were no counsellors in school. There was no internet or awareness that there could be things like ADD. But things are different today. Through What Planet Are You On? we want to show things through children’s perspective. We’ve tried to make it less of a taboo and more fun,” says Khurana.
As mental health issues are coming to the forefront, films and plays are increasingly focusing on the subject. On the trend Khurana says, “The more we talk about mental health the less of a prohibition it will be. I’ve recently seen plays such as Motley Production’s Father starring Naseeruddin Shah which dealt with dementia and Alzheimer’s and Quasar Padamsee’s Every Brilliant Thing that deals with other aspects of mental health. Both were splendid works. Rather than just succumbing to the fad of a topical issue, plays and other works of art should portray their message with the right intention. The content should be sincere.”
While Akvarious Productions is based out of Mumbai, the group stages plays across the country. “In Delhi, there’s an interesting geographical impact on the demographic that comes to watch our plays. Venues like Oddbird, with Gurugram in its vicinity, usually draw a young working audience. There’s an older crowd as well. This is very similar to Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai,” concludes Khurana.