THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: To observe the world with all its evils and wrongdoings from an abstract vantage point in fantasy: This is the aim of Nireeksha, the women’s theatre group in Thiruvananthapuram. True to its name, which means ‘observation’, the group through its plays enables the artists to observe the world through women’s eyes, while conventions and the laws of the world have always taught people to look, watch and stare at women. Founded in 1999 by two women, who discovered their common interest in theatre arts at a platform of protest, Nireeksha has been breaking the shackles put on women by the society.
Rajarajeshwari, a former professor of mathematics, and Sudhi, a theatre artist, jointly started the group Nireeksha. It was not just as a way to empower women, but also to show the world about women’s lives, not just the issues, but everything. “When someone hears about women’s theatre, they have a tendency to believe that our plays are just about and for women and consider it as a separate genre. But this is not true in our case. We create and perform plays that are mainstream and modern, but with a feminist perspective in them,” says Rajarajeshwari.
Currently working on a play about five women from different backgrounds and occupations, whose social situations, religions and castes add to their problems, the theatre duo are immersed in their crafts of scripting and direction. “There is a controlled rage throughout the play, which is a silent but strong reaction against the social evils that are acting against women. These women characters are joined by their lives and sufferings. More than theatrical devices, we are trying to give more importance to the content here,” they say.
In their nature-friendly practice space in Pamamcode which has been their permanent training venue, the two women are more than happy about their theatre-centric lives, which do not give importance to the concept of “I”, but rather to group efforts. They develop their plays and train women at three levels: Anubhaava, Bhaava and Nireeksha. Through Anubhaava which is the children’s group trained under Nireeksha, plays dealing with the injustices in the society that impact children are produced. “Through Anubhaava, along with the financial help from Social Justice Department in 2014 and 2015, we started training the local children, we made plays that created awareness among themselves and for the audience. We continued doing this even after we stopped receiving financial aids from the government,” says Sudhi. Other than developing plays, these children are now capable of making properties and also train others as they are in a continuous process of learning and performing.
Bhaava is the team of adolescent girls, mainly from Nirbhaya shelter homes.“These girls after joining the team overcame their trauma. They have become bold. Through their performances, they realise their inner selves. Theatre is the only art that can do this. On interacting with other children, their past disappears.
For all these, the government’s cooperation is very important, but these days, we do not receive much support from them,” Sudhi says. Nireeksha, the group for women, has a widespread existence. Other than being just a performance group, they offered training workshops for the women from Kudumbasree. This initiative called Rangasree, has grown to produce 10 such groups of women, who are now capable of earning money from theatre.
Since its inception in 1999, Nireeksha has brought out more than 10 major plays including Punarjani, Pravachaka and Aanungal Illaatha Pennungal, all of which had been performed in international fests and have received many accolades. In these plays, the women characters do not weep or scream. “Women crying will only evoke sympathy, empathy or such familiar reactions among the audience. This will reaffirm the conventions. Our aim is to break the norms and to bring an equal status among men and women,” says Rajarajeshwari.
Though founded by them, Rajarajeshwari and Sudhi believe the success of their institution is a collective one. These women believe in the power of theatre, in the possibility of deriving strength from the platform to snap the chains that the world has thrown on women, and they make sure that their plays reflect this belief.