‘I believed in my ideas, tried to change ideas of society through theatre’

For two decades now, theatre director Sangeeta Gupta is telling stories of women, their concerns and status in society. Her group and its woman actors strive to bring change through the medium of theatre.

Written by Parul | Chandigarh | Published:March 7, 2016 8:06 am
theatre, inetrnational women's day, theatre festival, women, women on international, women's dayin chandigarh, chandigarh theatre, chandigarh news Sangeeta Gupta at Punjab Kala Bhawan, Sector 16, Chandigarh. Express photo: Kamleshwar Singh

Every year, you celebrate International Women’s Day with a theatre festival, bringing to stage productions which mirror women’s position in society, their emotional turmoil and status in the society. Tell us about this year’s five-day festival.

This year’s festival brings to Chandigarh plays by women directors from different cities. Be it Mirza, Gulbano, A city without Love…the productions bring to the stage the change of roles of women in cities and the various facets of her life and her interactions with society and herself. The plays talk of various gender issues, through satire, comedy, poetry. The festival is a commitment to ourselves and women at large.

When did your journey with theatre begin and why did you choose theatre to express yourself?

I began acting when I was at school, and later in college, I was part of youth festivals, which gave me the identity which was missing in my small little world, my home. A girl, who lived within the confined boundaries of her family and society, got a platform to express her feelings. My performances gave me an opportunity to work in Doordarshan serials. I then decided to pursue my Master’s in Theatre and Television from Punjabi University, Patiala. Ever since, there has been no looking back.

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As a woman, how tough was it to find a place for yourself in the world of theatre? As a woman, how tough was it to find a place for yourself in the world of theatre?

When I stepped into the Department of Theatre with practically no experience, there were only one or two girls in my class. I faced many challenges and insults, which were stepping stones towards my success and I finally got my big break when I played the lead protagonist in the department’s women-oriented productions. After completing my Master’s with flying colours, I worked in colleges, orphanages, schools…I received both positive and negative comments, but I kept going on, motivated by people who encouraged me and my work. I took some tough decisions, but never regretted those.

What is the philosophy of your group and theatre?

We formed Roopak Kala and Welfare Society in 1998. We began with eight members, and now we have eight different groups in the region. In 2006, we formed a group, with only women members and we are growing every year, performing in different cities and rural areas. Our all-women group works in 275 villages, and we do street theatre to reach out to the uneducated, making them aware of their rights. Even after so many years after Independence, our women do not take a stand for themselves. Our group moves from village to village to spread knowledge about their rights and change their views. We talk and interact with hundreds women and try to help them in every possible manner.
I wanted to create theatre which left an imprint on people’s minds and had a strong conviction and determination to spread awareness on issues through theatre. At least 70 per cent of my plays were on subjects related to women’s issues, with mostly women actors essaying the roles. I believe a woman should be ambitious and should take a stand to convey her ideas and create a place for herself in this world .The inequality, physical and mental violence that women go through made me do theatre which was inspired by real situations and people.

Tell us about a few such productions which are close to your heart.

In the production Firangian Di Noo, an illiterate woman brings a revolution in her life through mental strength and inspires others to respect and honour women in society. The production Khali Plot was about a woman who refuses to use the surname of a man, instead of her own. She expresses that she is not an empty plot for a dominating man who will come and place his surname there. It’s her choice to choose her life partner and live her life on her conditions. The play Galat Aurat was about a woman who crosses all hurdles to reach her husband and he questions her character. This makes her question society, her rights and existence. A woman is always questioned and has to pay even if she is right. This was beautifully projected on stage with an adaptation of a story of young girl Gulbano. I would like to share a recent experience. We created a street play for a non-government organisation based on the poem Bhedia by Sarveshwar Dyal Sexena. We aimed to teach the girls of today to fight against the wolves in our society. A woman came up to me and said that some boys used to stare at her and pass indecent comments when she would be going home, after college. After watching the street play, she decided to take a stand. The very next day when they were staring at her, she stared back at them and they felt ashamed and ran away. This story filled my heart with joy for I knew that I was able to touch someone’s life and my theatre could make a difference, however, small.

So what keeps you going and what are your future plans?

In my life, I have faced many challenges — gender inequality, violence and molestation. This did not deter me from achieving what I wanted. I was determined to move forward. Life is replete with struggles and sufferings, but we must take a stand, and make an effort to bring change. I believed in me and my ideas and tried to change the ideas of society through theatre. I believed that when you live for a purpose, then hard work isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. We are now starting a group — Adults Performing for Children — where the effort will be to do quality theatre productions for children. We will have professionals conducting workshops for children. We will encourage them to be involved in the various aspects of theatre. This will also encourage children to read.

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