Written by Shambhavi Dutta
A social activist, motivational speaker, and a solo street-play artist, the impressive Vipul Singh, 25, has performed a record number of solo street plays in the country (970 thus far), for which he has recently been featured in the India Book of Records. He has come a long way, having rallied behind a myriad of issues — from water scarcity to education for underprivileged kids, and menstrual hygiene and climate change. And with his empathetic understanding, he hopes to change more mindsets in the smallest rungs of society.
Born in Varanasi and brought up in Bhopal, Vipul had been doing street plays since 2010. However, he started travelling as soon as he turned 18 and has performed in more than 21 states and five union territories.
Talking to indianexpress.com, Singh tells us how his love for theatre led him on this path. “I often use satirical humour in my plays. I was an average student, but saw my potential in theatre”.
Singh dropped out of his mechanical engineering course in 2014, “Every day for 10 hours, all they used to talk was about machines and I knew I didn’t want to do this. I decided to drop out because I firmly believe you can succeed in an area that you are extremely passionate about.”
On being asked if his family supports his decision he tells us “my parents are extremely supportive. Never, have they doubted my capabilities. In fact, they help me formulate and plan for all my campaigns. I am extremely grateful for that.”
Despite his journey, he considers himself to be a poor actor. “I am not meant for films. During street plays, it’s the aggression with which I perform that reaches out to people.”
After having abandoned conventional theatre, Singh began performing solo street plays in cities and villages. Once he was familiar with people’s issues, he would enact themes that resonated with them. “Once, during a performance in Surat, I told people to offer me whatever they could and one guy gave me a polybag filled with food from the previous night. He thought I was a poor man!”
He’s been on this journey for almost a decade now yet he says “most people still don’t understand my work. This one time my far-off relative asked what do I do for a living, the other relative replied arrey kuch nahi sadak par tamboo lagaakar naachta hai.”
In 2016, Singh walked from Bhopal to Jammu for over 95 days to raise awareness about topics like domestic violence and menstruation. There was no turning back. After his TedX talk in Delhi, he bagged his first social media campaign ‘Missing’, which deals with girl-trafficking. For this, he walked from Kolkata to Delhi and also organized an on-ground campaign.
This led to the emergence of ‘Tapas’, his social reform organisation, which, he says, believes in on-ground campaigning to spearhead social change, because “social media reach is limited to the educated and the privileged”.
Singh also shares stories of connections made across the country. “This one time when I was performing at a hospital in Lucknow, I came across a 10-year-old blood cancer patient, whose family lived and worked in a temple. Tears welled up in my eyes when he told me how he came to the hospital daily for blood transfusion, and then went back to studying.” This, he says, was an eye-opening incident which highlighted the need for education in the society.
Speaking about causes closest to his heart, he says, “If there’s anything that’s really close to my heart, it’s human trafficking and education for the underprivileged kids. You’re standing somewhere drinking tea and the next thing you know, two people have been trafficked within that time. Also, as someone once said, education is not what you study, but how you think.”
Singh is also a part of ‘Project Thirst’, a campaign that documents the plight of locals in drought-hit areas of Maharashtra, including Mhaismal, Galwad, Deola, Pangarne, and Dandichibari. Through this initiative, he aims to underline the struggles and highlight the reality of water scarcity in the region.
(The writer is an intern with indianexpress.com)