Tripurari Sharma, recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for direction, shares her thoughts with Anjana Rajan on a journey called theatre
By merely looking at the mild mannered Tripurari Sharma you might not realise the breadth of her accomplishments. Nor would you be likely to espy in her soothing tones the hints of subversion that set her off on her theatre journey. But then theatre, says Tripurari, who received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award — 2012 for direction, is “the unexpected — That which suddenly surprises you.” So her soft spoken ways have never been a hindrance in raising a voice against social ills, be it injustice, ignorance or damaged human relationships. Her play “Shaayar…Shutter Down” on the theme of loneliness and the compromises people make to fit in with the mechanical demands of urban ‘progress’ will be presented at the ongoing SNA Awards Festival of Music, Dance and Drama this Tuesday. A recipient of the Safdar Hashmi Award from the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Sanskriti Puraskar among other honours, Tripurari was recently given additional charge as Acting Director of the National School of Drama, “till it is seen to be necessary”, though she says she is “essentially a Professor of Acting”. Some believe acting is inborn and cannot be taught. But for this Delhi University literature graduate, acting, like the entire process of theatre, is not so much a skill to acquire as a route to liberation.
“We grew up learning to act in the way society wants us to, or decides for us. So then, acting as an art is a way to break free of the codes handed to us and to experiment with many other ways of expressing through the body, to live many lives and to connect with another,” she says. “Acting, especially in theatre, is an experiment with the given moment. Keeping it alive and generating a spark. Learning to act then, means removing that which is holding one back, provoking the energy that would propel it further and to find a design in any given moment.”
It is important to be open to the moment, she says. “There is always the ‘now’ in acting. It is about the range of possible experiences that lie within each one of us, and this can be achieved by making a beginning with the neutral and then taking on the energies and emotions of the moment.”
She points to the role of the teacher when she says, “At the same time it is necessary to have some distance, a disassociation of the self so that it is not indulgence and yet stems from within and creates the aesthetics of the moment. So maybe, the teacher is like a mirror who can see the range and potential in the student actor of which he or she may not be fully alert. A teacher can indicate the space for this growth. The one who trusts gains from the presence of the teacher.”
The Haryana-born girl who entered theatre in quest of an identity that could transcend the bounds set by middle class society accedes that the situation may have changed for many women, but the “isolation still persists”. She muses, “Earlier the question was ‘what has happened to me’, now one wonders ‘what is happening to me’, it is more immediate and less tangible. Not so much history as the present. So constantly there is a desire to move on further. A few years back it may have been to analyse the world, but now the desire is to build new worlds, to dream more, and to find in form the layers of thought.”
Tripurari — also known for her contribution to the writing of memorable films like Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa and Mirch Masala — mentions a need to constantly transcend her boundaries. In describing it, she poetically defines the very nature of theatre: “There is instability in it, but also constant momentum, there is always some seeking. Theatre is created, and then it dissolves and evaporates. It is like dew, like the shadow in water, rather like water, which is more inconsistent than the shadow. You don’t know what remains and what flows. So even while one part of you is crystallizing, another part is already imagining further.”
Speaking of moving further, Tripurari, also active for over two decades in street theatre, notes that some of the issues raised in street theatre long ago “now find their murmurings in the auditorium also”. While this is gratifying, it also feels “at times dated, and somewhere deep down you don’t want to repeat”, although some issues are perennially relevant.
Street theatre has always been important to her “because it is about every citizen’s right to express and be seen and heard in the public domain.” She adds, “We are also on the brink of another movement, away from the enclosed spaces again. It will not be street theatre in the conventional sense but maybe performances set to specific sites, spaces, landscapes. This means, in terms of design, it may be different from street theatre but nevertheless it means moving out of static spaces that are stale and expensive. A creative spirit is restless and cannot be held back. It struggles in unconventional ways to make its impact.”
While street theatre performers are often activists for a cause, she points out however, that it is “not about message, it is about protest, contact and collective reflection. The message if at all, is a discovery.”
Remarking that “something that can be said in a few words cannot be the subject of a play,” she explains, “there has to be more to it and more in it for a play to be born out of it. My work on leprosy taught me a lot about life, about splendid human beings and about the spirit that reinvents itself constantly. That is what made the play. And always there has to be something that provokes you into giving it shape.”
This process “is not about message, it is also not about art,” says the 1979 alumna of NSD. “It is about giving form to thought, to sensation, to a happening around. It has to have vitality and vigour and not feel empty to the one who is trying to connect with it. Theatre deals differently with audiences. It needs the audience. It is true that theatre is a metaphor of life and it can create ideas and concepts as images, but sometimes one can miss the ordinariness of life in performing spaces, the warmth of people and interesting characters.”
(“Shaayar…Shutter Down”, A play in Hindi written and directed by Tripurari Sharma, presented by Mandap, Delhi, will be performed June 4, Shri Ram Centre, 7 p.m.)
Tripurari Sharma on being a student during the Emergency and post-Emergency years
“The Emergency made us realise the value of democratic spaces and the significance of the freedom of expression. It also made us realise how fragile this space could be. Immediately after the Emergency was revoked, there was a passionate effort to reclaim the space that had been taken away. It was also this experience that made one feel that theatre which makes its presence felt in the public sphere, articulates the word, gives sound to a phrase on paper and thus makes it come alive. Maybe otherwise I would have been content to be a writer, but theatre is more active a living force to contend with. After the Emergency I joined NSD and it is here that I did my production called “On Imprisonment” with the students. It had experiences of people imprisoned during the Emergency interspersed with poems and episodes from literature. The result was the intermingling and coexistence of reality and reflections of reality from different time zones.”
On the SNA Award
“The joy of working in theatre and being with people is a constant award. Honestly one does not think or feel the need to think beyond that, yet the SNA award has a very special meaning for me. Because your elders and peers reflect on your work, it is a very important moment for anyone. It means acceptance by one’s own fraternity, and since a lot of my work has been off mainstream, it also implies acceptance for that too. Theatre today cannot be insular. And encompassing all that is happening around us makes it richer, gives us energy. There is so much talent in this country. So many people who know so much and create art with such ease in any remote corner, that I have always felt very humbled and grateful for being able to gain by their presence.
“My father was never inclined that I join theatre, yet he would see all my plays and we had fiery discussions around that. “Bahu” (about a Brahmin widow), which has our ancestral house as its backdrop, was a point of difference between us, but when he saw “Kath ki Gadi” (on leprosy), all our differences ceased, because I think it was then that he realised what theatre meant to me.”