Theater has an ancient but male-centric history in India. Tripurari saw it as an intimate way of revealing and connecting the lives of women audiences and sharing their perspective with the world.
Tripurari Sharma (born 1956) initially chose theater as a means of expression to shrug off middle-class conventions and to seek an identity. It did not take her long to realize that it was more than that: it was an intimate way of revealing and connecting with the lives of women audiences and sharing their perspective with the world. Evolving a play through collective interaction has helped bring theater out of closed spaces, and into the lives of Indian women.
Tripurari Sharma has been at the forefront of theater-based activism in India. She graduated in English literature from Miranda House College, Delhi University, in 1976, and the National School of Drama in 1979. Those were years after the draconian emergency, when dissent had been ruthlessly suppressed. Tripurari saw theater as a means to share and talk about the lives of women. Her travels across the country, performing plays, conducting workshops, and working in close conjunction with the local people helped concretize her approach-to evolve plays collectively. Her attitude to the issues of peace, women’s rights, human rights, and the right to information have helped break the traditional barrier between high art and grassroots communication. Her work with traditional theater-and her attempt to carve space for contemporary issues in it-is remarkable. In 1983, Tripurari set up Alarippu, an organizational platform for her work and for the people associated with it. Alarippu and Tripurari have also been associated with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (laborers’ and farmers’ power collective), and its campaign on the right to information, from the very beginning. They toured villages in Rajasthan, devising and performing plays, the impact of which was tremendous in terms of consciousness-raising, and pressuring the government to enact the Right to Information Act. Beside the severe financial constraints with which she worked, she also found that her group was resistant to her method of collectively evolving a play. Moreover, there was no space where women could show their work. While it was not easy to keep the process going, and growing, Tripurari’s conviction won the day.
Alarippu National School of Drama
South Asia | India