Nepali stage actress Nisha Sharma Pokharel on women, the world and the stage.

She was a schoolgirl and her elder sister was an actress in a repertory company. She had little interest in the theatre. Once her sister's director needed a schoolgirl for a small role and reluctantly she agreed to act. Today her sister is in America and has no connection with the theatre, but she has become a well-known professional actress of her country. Incidentally, her sister's director is her husband.

Nepali stage artiste Nisha Sharma Pokharel recently mesmerised the Delhi audience with her leading role in Henrik Ibsen's “A Doll's House” as “Putaliko Ghar” in the Nepali version, which featured at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav. She is probably the only foreign artiste to have performed five times in different BRMs, bringing vibrantly alive different complex characters.

Adaptation of Ibsen's classic

Directed by Nisha's husband, Sunil Pokharel, “Putaliko Ghar” is a brilliant adaptation of Ibsen's classic to Nepalese cultural and social ethos. As Nora, the female protagonist, Nisha truly lives her role. She vividly projects her character's different stages of growth with insight and perceptiveness. At first we watch her as a happily married woman who considers her first and foremost duty to obey her husband unquestioningly. Her husband treats her like a doll.

He calls her ‘a sweet little bird' and ‘a little song bird'. After confronting various domestic crises, Nisha's Nora gradually becomes aware of her status and sees the real face of her husband. Finally she acquires a mind of her own and a new Nora emerges, rebels against her husband, and walks out on her marriage to discover her real identity and a meaning in life.

Talking about her role as Nora, Nisha says, “I find Nora close to my heart. I really live this character. Since my husband is my director also and often he behaves like Nora's husband Helmer, it compels me to retaliate to maintain my independence both as a woman and artiste to view things in my own way.”

Bhanu Bharti was the first non-Nepalese director she interacted with in the course of a theatre workshop on “Andha Yug” in Kathmandu. Later, she graduated in acting from Norway and Denmark. So far she has acted in more than 40 plays in leading roles. Most of these have been featured at various festivals in Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, Norway, Denmark, Thailand and several cities of India. She has also acted in a television serial and film. As an active member of Aarohan Theatre Group, which also runs a theatre centre and offers a four-year degree in theatre, she has little time to work for films and theatre.

“Six days a week we present plays at our auditorium, apart from rehearsing and making necessary arrangements for regular classes and preparations for the annual national festival and international festival every two years. We have a hectic schedule.”

Some of her memorable roles include Mayju in “Aaruka Phulka Sapna”, featured at BRM-2006. She creates a poignant portrait of a young woman being married, never to return to her parents, like the mythological character Bharikuti who was married to a Tibetan king. Through poetic imagery her face represents tragic faces of Nepalese women who, once they crossed the river, never came back. In “Maya Devi Ka Sapna” (BRM-2009) she movingly projects the tormented world of a mother whose son disappears while the country is ravaged by civil war. Her Maya Devi echoes women's suffering caused by senseless war.

“I am fascinated by women who are victims of a society dominated by men who treat women as a commodity. The exploitation of womanhood takes place at every age in different avatars, and women must adopt new strategies to liberate themselves. Right now I am working on Yashodhara whom Prince Siddhartha deserted. Well, he became the enlightened one, the Buddha, but what about the agonised world of his young wife and little son?”

Mother of a son who is appearing for the board examination, she says, “I am happy that our son loves theatre and is eager to join us when he completes his education. It is a good sign that young people in Kathmandu are coming in increasing numbers to watch our shows.”