Two troupes from Manipur and Kerala have women taking centre stage
From two ends of India come two theatre groups united by the same credo if men can do it well,women can do it wonderfully well. These are Nireeksha Womens Theatre from Kerala and the Moirang Parva from Manipur,both of which are part of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav,the ongoing theatre festival at the National School of Drama.
Most theatre groups are run by men,with women often cast in stereotypical roles, says Rajeshwari,producer of Nireeksha. Ten years ago,we decided to reverse that trend. Nireeksha has women at the helm,and men are hired only if the production requires them. Nireeksha staged Pravaachaka on Friday while Moirang Parva will close the theatre festival with Love Story of Khamba-Thoibi on Monday.
But at Moirang Parva,even the male roles are played by women. The only guy in the troupe is Loitongbam Dorendra of the Imphal Theatre Group,who directs the 20 actors of Moirang Parva. He says,Moirang Parva is a traditional folk art form of Manipur that was almost dead in 1975 when a group of women decided to revive it. Since then,it has been performed only by women. From the original cast,only his wife L Chaobadevi is part of the present troupe.
Nireeksha is arguably the only womens theatre group in Kerala,and when Pravaachaka got an award for Best Actress at the Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi last year,Rajeshwari knew they had finally made it after years of battling ridicule and funds crunch. This is their first outing at the NSD festival. Few people believed a womens theatre group stood any chance, she says. Had it been easy going,it wouldnt have taken us a decade to stage our first major play. The group aims to train excellent women technicians apart from award-winning actors.
Not surprisingly,the plays have a strong political message about women in a mans world. Moirang Parva tells the tale of a princess who defies her fathers diktat and social conventions for the sake of love. The king wants her to marry the nobleman Nongbam but Thoibi loves the orphan Khamba. In one scene,she visits Khamba in the dead of the night and in another,she defends him with knife, says Dorendra. Pravaachaka,which revisits the myth of Cassandra,highlights how women never start wars but always suffer the consequences. No heroine weeps in our plays,even after the rapes and abuse that follows the Trojan war, says Rajeshwari.