“ In my experience, Theatre can improve confidence, self-esteem and inspire creativity.” – Aarushi Thakur, Theatre Director
We all love to act. Becoming a character, enunciating dialogues, and working together with a creative team to send across a message. It is entertaining as well as an enlightening venture. That is the charm of Theatre. There was a time when women were forbidden to act in theatre. So much so, female roles were played by men as due to severe societal pressure, women were deterred to take up theatre as a profession. Today, there has been a sea-change when it comes women and theatre, as more and more women can be seen participating and coming forward to join performing arts. A welcome change indeed. In order to trace the status of women in theatre with reference to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the article will in series interact with the artists of this field. The objective will be to highlight the painstaking efforts made by theatre artists to provide opportunity to the masses and through theatre highlight the rich narratives, tales and histories of the state.
In the first article of the series, it was a great privilege to interact with Jammu’s own Director and artist Aarushi Thakur. She has worked in more than ten plays as a child artist and has participated in various national festivals organized by Sangeet Natak Akademi and National School Of Drama. She has acted in major nationally acclaimed productions like Ghumayee, Bawajitto, and Richard III. Aarushi has established herself as a theatre director to reckon with by adapting and directing a full length play based on Charles Dickens Classic, “Great Expectations”. To add more, she has directed another major play based on the Japanese stories by Akira Kurosawa, Roshomon. Further, she has written, designed and directed ‘Henry & Anne’, a play based on the life of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn.
It is worthy to note that Aarushi is the daughter of Balwant Thakaur, who is the renowned and well-acclaimed Director credited for spearheading Jammu’s Theatre & Performing Arts Institution called Natrang. It is again laudable to note that Aarushi has carved her own niche in the field and continues to raise the bar by highlighting and providing prospects to the upcoming artists and theatre-lovers.
In the following interview, the concern has been to realize the dynamic significance of theatre, how women can pursue it and lastly what are the targets Aarushi Thakur intends to achieve in this creative enterprise.
What is the status of women in theatre vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir?
I think the status of women is very different in comparison to men. It is clearly evident there exists a gender bias with regards to female participation in theatre. Potentially due to the dated but prevalent view which confines women to the role of a housemaker. In Natrang we proudly disassemble stereotypical views and encourage female involvement in theatrical productions. We do so by providing a safe and healthy, female friendly working environment. So initially it is about the ambiance that a theatre group provides which encourages more and more women to join. And then it’s about the characters we play on stage which further help eradicate the bias. As a director, I never discriminate, for me an actor is an actor, irrespective of their gender. I have had men playing women in my plays and women playing men. Men make tea and wash utensils in Natrang and women do technical work and vice versa because I have always believed in and endorsed gender equality. It is normal. It would be rather primitive for Natrang as an organisation to think any different, we work as a team and divide work according to the ability of the person not their gender.
What can be done to promote participation of women in theatre? Can you tell the interested masses of how they can pursue it?
Initially I believe there needs to be a greater acknowledgement of theatre only then can we influence the mind-sets of individuals who feel the stage is not meant for women. Female participation can be evoked via numerous methods, but I genuinely believe theatre itself is the single best promoter. Unlike the male-centric movie industry, theatre often exhibits narratives which highlight issues associated with women and projects females with grave importance. More specifically by establishing training teams at acting academies will only attract more women, inducing a snowballing effect which will eventually lead to our society recognising theatre as a boon. We should encourage our daughters, sisters and friends to open up to this opportunity. I would rather say that it’s better to go out and polish your talent than regret it in later years of your life as a missed opportunity.
What prompted you to take up this creative yet challenging area? Can you share your experiences?
I am not sure what prompted me to take up theatre as my profession but as long as I can remember, it has been a part of my being and my existence. I don’t know what I would do if not theatre. Everyday I wake up and think about scripts, writers, and read more plays and as a matter of fact, my subconscious is also mesmerised by theatre. Not only do I think about stories and scripts when I am awake but I also dream of blocking and script writing. My first experience with theatre was with Natrang, where I learned the definition of this live performing art. Then in school I participated in inter school competitions and did theatre in college as well. Later I went up to take training at Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London where I completed a workshop which finally consolidated the desire to pursue theatre full time and made me realise that this is where I want to be and this is where I see myself in years to come. And ever since, I have never looked back.
What is the most significant lesson you have learnt from your father? Can you tell how similar or different is your way of working than your father’s?
My father is my idol, not just because he is my father but because he is the most hardworking person I have seen in my life. He is always full of energy, positive vibes and is very encouraging. I have had the pleasure of working with him and being a part of his work process a few times and each time I learn something new, I truly feel blessed. One very important lesson I have learnt from him is that no matter what happens the “show must go on”. No matter what challenges we face, we must push through them with all the power we have and never let our work take a backseat.
My work as a director is very different from his. He is rooted and works from his heart, he doesn’t follow any book or rule when he imagines a scene and he is so creative that he can show anything on stage, and I mean anything, without the help of any property or costume. I on the other hand love to experiment with costumes and set design and I like to experiment with new things. We have our distinct styles.
What breakthroughs do you wish to bring as a theatre director?
As a director and a theatre person it is my wish to create a greater appreciation for the live art that is theatre. Most, if not all of us are bought up to pay particular attention to theoretical subjects and vocational studies, and rightfully so. However with little influence on creative studies and Art, I want people to realise that they can co-exist and the likes of theatre can prove to be as instrumental as academic studies in child development. In my experience theatre can improve confidence, self-esteem and inspire creativity. I believe theatre should be a part of the school curriculum and literature as a subject should be taught in the form of theatre. If that happens, not only the students will learn with ease but they will also enjoy their academic experience.
What message do you have for those women who wish to take up theatre as a profession?
I would say that every field of work is challenging and has its own obstacles so we should not give up just because we are girls, or just because it’s difficult, or just because you care about what others will think. The most important thing should be “choice”. The choice to choose what you think is right for you. Whether or not you are successful is secondary but you must try and have the choice to choose or not to choose. If you feel you are talented, if you feel you have it in you, then you must jump into the ocean and then trust that you will not drown. If you do so you will realise that the ocean is full of opportunities and will take you to new heights.