Second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival 2023 begins in Thiruvananthapuram on December 27

A three-day National Women’s Theatre Festival 2023, which begins on December 27, stages eight plays, directed by women in addition to street plays

December 22, 2023 12:50 pm | Updated 04:35 pm IST

Scene from the play Roop Aroop,  directed by Tripurari Sharma, which will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival 2023, organised by Nireeksha Women’s Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram.

Scene from the play Roop Aroop, directed by Tripurari Sharma, which will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival 2023, organised by Nireeksha Women’s Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A young woman who goes to a veteran nautanki performer to learn how to act like the women that the senior actor enacts on stage is one of the interesting plays (Roop Aroop) that explores the many facets of gender and theatre in the three-day National Women’s Theatre Festival 2023, which begins in the city on December 27.

 A moment from Beyond The Shadows, directed by Sudhi Devayani,   will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival, organised by Nireeksha in Thiruvananthapuram.

A moment from Beyond The Shadows, directed by Sudhi Devayani, will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival, organised by Nireeksha in Thiruvananthapuram. | Photo Credit: jeeja.almitra

Organised by 24-year-old Nireeksha Women’s Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram, the fete includes eight plays from women directors all across India and three street plays.

The curtain goes up on the second edition of the Festival at 9.30am with a flag-off at the Connemara Market in Palayam, followed by a street play Ith Engala Kadalu (This is Our Sea) staged by Valiyathura Women’s Collective, who were trained by Nireeksha.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan theatre director Ruwanthie de Chickera will lead a theatre workshop for women at The Swathi Thirunal College of Music.

In the evening, Ruwanthie will inaugurate the festival and a huge canvas will be put up at Bharat Bhavan where artists led by Anupama Ramachandran will paint their impressions of the festival. Later, the canvas will be shifted to the Music College.

Rajarajeswari E, one of the co-founders of Nireeksha, says such a festival was imperative to highlight the contributions of women in theatre and provide them a space to stage their works. 

She elaborates: “It is not easy for women to find a space in many of the celebrated theatre festivals in India. Even in the International Theatre Festival of Kerala, one can count on your fingers the number of plays directed by women over the years. The only time we found a place was in 2010.”

Jyoti Dogra in a scene from  MAAS, which will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival, organised by Nireeksha in Thiruvananthapuram

Jyoti Dogra in a scene from MAAS, which will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival, organised by Nireeksha in Thiruvananthapuram | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

When they called for entries for this festival, they were pleasantly surprised to get 67 applications, all from women directors. Sudhi Devayani, co-founder of Nireeksha, says this proves how active and involved women are in theatre. She adds that most of the 67 women had studied theatre and had taken up theatre as a full-time profession.

Rajarajeswari points out that the overwhelming response proves that stages for women directors are scarce and they are struggling to make themselves seen and heard. “So a space like this is imperative for women in theatre,” she maintains.

An actor strikes a pose during a performance of The Cage.

An actor strikes a pose during a performance of The Cage. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

In addition, Rangrasree Community Theatre will stage a street play Maykkapedunnavar and ASHA workers, who earned a name for their sterling work during the pandemic will stage a play, Pen Peruma, directed and acted by members of Asha Cultural Collective.

“One has to remember that theatre as such has a strong male perspective and women are entering a space created by men. In the early days, when men used to play the female roles, there was a lot of exaggeration in physicality and the focus usually was on the body. Even today, not much has changed in popular theatre,” says Sudhi.

Change of scene
December 27
The Cage (Debshina Rakshith, Hindi)
Notions: In Between You And Me (Savita Rani, English)
December 28
The Edge (Ashitha PH, Malayalam)
Burn Out (Barnali Medhi, Assamese)
Beyond The Shadows (Sudhi Devayani, Malayalam)
Violet Windows (Reshma Rajan, Malayalam)
December 29
MAAS (Jyoti’s Dogra, English)
Roop Aroop (Tripurari Sharma, Hindi)

Festivals like the one organised by Nireeksha hope to bring in a new perspective, language and visuals from a woman’s point of view. One of the plays Sudhi highlights is Roop Aroop directed by Tripurari Sharma.

“When the woman enters the stage to take up a space proscribed for her, she is forced to take lessons from a male actor who has been playing the female role till then. She has to imbibe the ideas of the feminine as defined by men,” she explains.

Rajarajeswari E and Sudhi Devayani, founders of Nireeksha Women's Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram. 

Rajarajeswari E and Sudhi Devayani, founders of Nireeksha Women's Theatre in Thiruvananthapuram.  | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Jyothi Dogra’s solo MAAS in English and Hindi takes on body shaming that is rampant on social media and how, as a result, many women take a dislike to their own body.

“Each of the plays explores a different aspect of gender that is relevant. Nireeksha’s play Beyond The Shadows, wonders if women will ever be able to reclaim their rightful space in society,” says theatre actor Mini SK.

Scene from the Assamese play Burn Out, which will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival, organised by Nireeksha in Thiruvananthapuram

Scene from the Assamese play Burn Out, which will be staged for the second edition of National Women’s Theatre Festival, organised by Nireeksha in Thiruvananthapuram | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Workshops, poetry reading, music programmes, seminars and open-air shows will be held at the Swathi Thirunal College of Music while the plays will be staged at Bharat Bhavan, Thycaud.

Scene from The Edge directed by Ashita PH

Scene from The Edge directed by Ashita PH | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Although financial support is the biggest stumbling block, with even the government pleading helplessness, the theatre activists are determined to take the fete forward. “We have a deeply political stand to encourage women in all spheres of theatre – on the stage and behind it as technicians,” asserts Sudhi.

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