KOMAL VIJAY SINGHgets up close and personal with Vaishali Bisht, the vibrant face of theatre in Hyderabad
She’s perky like a bar of chocolate, wholesome and winsome, chucklesome and gleesome. Some lady she is. For Vaishali Bisht, theatre is the only way of life she knows. Well-known for enlivening the theatre scene of Hyderabad, she is credited with making quiet, reserved and the most introverted children lose a thousand inhibitions as part of her hugely popular theatre workshops.
Try pinning her for a photoshoot and the usually bold and bindaas Vaishali gets all jittery and disapproving.
“Hey, I can chat my brains out but why the pictures. The camera is so intimidating,” she quips. This is one person who contradicts the oft-quoted cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. A picture is so static, a camera catches all your flaws and makes you take note of them. “One goes for a party and has fun, why constrict the entire experience into a few pictures. A memory is more worthy and powerful than a picture. I love to make faces. Facing a huge audience is easier than looking into the camera’s eye, baba,” she laughs.
Her rat-a-tat responses can make you double up with laughter: “Can I look somewhere else and not that camera? Better half of me is hidden behind a bush. I’ll climb a tree for you, but don’t want to look at the camera. Want my chashma off? I’ll do that for the rest of my life, but, puhlease, no looking at this camera. It’s an intruder.”
Photo session over, she heaves a sigh of relief, plonks herself on the amphitheatre steps at Saptaparini, happy on familiar ground.
“All I ever wanted to become was a theatre person. I knew that as a nine-year-old,” she relates.
Vaishali’s theatre workshops, encompassing 24 sessions over two and a half months of an academic session or straight 24 days during summer hols, are recommended for their liveliness and gaiety. Ask her how she makes children loosen up and she comes up with a gentle disclaimer. “The efficacy of the workshop is more to do with theatre rather than me. There are very few occasions in life when we know no fear. Societally, we try to influence kids, teaching them to be wary and cautious. I’m not disputing that but what happens at my workshops is that there’s no judgement. Self-expression can’t be right or wrong, okay,” she explains.
At Vaishali Bisht’s Theatre Workshop, children are encouraged to make fools of themselves, to take risks that they can’t afford to take in real life. Whether it’s a workshop for kids or corporates, it’s about losing your personas, lifting the masks that one puts on. It involves being bare-footed, doing a lot of lie-downs and roll-ons, games and exercise.
For the tied-suited-booted corporates, it’s a reconnect with the innocence of childhood. For the knowledge-burdened children, the workshop is about getting a platform where they can say, ‘I think this, I believe in this.’
Vaishali gives voice to the Theatre of the Oppressed movement, saying that children are a disadvantaged set of people: “They are a community without a voice. We equip them with knowledge but don’t lay premium on experience and exposure to different situations. Theatre makes you find resonance in different characters.”
Growing up on the ICRISAT campus where her father worked, Vaishali spent eight years in a boarding school in Kodaikanal and graduated in drama from Canterbury. With wanderlust a part of her, she’s been to scores of places: “Delhi I couldn’t survive in ever and Mumbai is a place where one has to up one’s attitude and credentials in order to be counted as someone. No place can duplicate the love, warmth and support of the people of Hyderabad, where I was born and raised. Here, I can be what I am. I don’t have to talk or act big.”
Vaishali chuckles that theatre is not just a passion for her as it is with most people in Hyderabad, but her livelihood: “I get paid when I act and I pay my actors in my production. My time, talent and creativity are the only things on sale. I don’t have muffins to sell, no property to lease out. Theatre is my bread and butter, it fetches my coffee and cigarettes.”
Life’s been like an Enid Blyton novel for Vaishali and she’s always done exactly what she wanted. She reminisces her pa’s advice: Decide what you enjoy doing most in life and choose it as your profession. Then, you’ll never have to work and you will always be at play.
We raise a toast to that with cappuccinos in hand. She lands a smackeroo on my cheek, says a cheery ciao and flies away.