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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview in The Indian Republic by Shaumik Samar Ghosh

Vibha Rani is a doyen of Maithili theatre. She acts, sings writes poetry and enthralls her audiences with her spontaneous and powerful performances. In an exclusive interview with TIR, Vibha talks about the tribulations of being a committed theatre artist and what future does she see for Maithili literature and art in India.
A winner of several awards for her literary/theatrical/social contribution in Maithili and Hindi theatre; some of her achievements include The Katha Award, Ghanshyamdas Saraf Sahitya Samman, Dr. Maheshwari Singh ‘Mahesh’ Sarvottam Sahitya Samman, Mohan Rakesh Samman Woman Achiever Award, Best Suggestions Award, 1st Rajiv Saraswat Samman, 1st Ladli Media Award-2009 for her satirical blog-writing, 1st Vyangya Rachnakar Samman, Bhopal, 2009, Sahityasevi Samman, Chennai, 2011, Best female Actor Award, 2013, Vishnudas Bhave Samman, 2011 and more.
The Indian Republic:  Vibha, we would like to know a bit more about you. You are a singer, actor, poet, playwright, dramatist; all rolled in one. How did your journey begin? When did you start your group AVITOKO and where are you heading?
Vibha: 
vibhaThere are 2 questions in one- About myself and about AVITOKO. Let me take a tour towards myself first. I am very proud to mention that I am a small town girl, hailing from Madhubani (place popularly known for its Madhubani paintings). Madhubani is a district town, situated at northern part of Bihar. This area along with other parts is known as Mithila. Mythologically you may say that this is the place of goddess Sita. So I am from the land of Sita. Ha, ha, ha! My mother tongue is Maithili.  I further would like to mention that this is the land of Bharti Mishr, who won shastrarth from the 1st Shankaracharya. Apart from this, this is the land of Sita Devi, Mahasundari Devi, Godavari Devi, Chano Devi, the legendary artists of Madhubani Paintings. This is the land of Dr Amar Nath Jha and Lily Rey.
My journey began with writing, singing, theatre- all together. I find myself highly privileged for being a small town girl. Being a small town girl, I not only came across from the languages, tradition, culture, rituals and customs of small town, but also got an exposure of the village- paddy fields, vegetables fields, local and seasonal fruits and fruits garden, swinging on JHOOLA on mango trees, knowing about all seasons crop with their names, such as Kharif, Rabbi, Dalhan, Telhan etc. I had seen bulls extracting oil from muster or sesame. I had seen the milking of cows. I had seen how the goats give birth to its cubs. I had learnt making butter and ghee, preparing rice or puff rice in Ookhal, grinding flour and besan on the chakki, making vadi, papad etc from rice, wheat, Sabudana. These were community activities and full mohalla’s women used to help us. My elder sister’s marriage was fixed just a week ahead and the entire mohalla took the responsibilities and contributed. I had seen no communal ghetto those days, as it is today. These enriched me and my sensuality and sensitivity.
Apart from it, I am highly influenced by my mother, who was a gold medalist of 1936 and was appointed directly as Headmistress by the Govt. Those days, girl education was scant. My mother was a “Bahoo” of the town, so she had to cover her head or face before stepping out from home. She used to go to house to house, tried to convince male members of the families to send their girl child to school. She was very hard working, committed and sincere. She simply used to forget her home after entering in the school and never used to forget her school 24X7. Seriousness and dedication towards works somewhat I inherited from her. She was an expert in almost all subjects- Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Art, History, Geography, Science. It was my dream to be like my mother. But, she was marvelous and I could not touch even her shadow.
I am quite enthusiastic about all fields. So whether it was farming or singing, studying or celebrating rituals or local festivals, I always try to look into deeply, especially movies where I often envisaged myself as an actress. That might had helped me to carve myself as a singer, writer, poet, actor etc. I always think about society and my role towards society.
And thus AVITOKO came up with the objective to pay our gratitude towards our society. I had chosen jails, the most vulnerable sector of the society to meet my societal urge. AVITOKO was founded on May 1, 2001, on the day of World Labor Day. From day one, it’s working with all sectors of people through art, theatre, literature, culture, training, education. AVITOKO has come up with the Corporate Behavioral training concepts through Theatre. It supports low income group parents for their children education. Our target groups are “special” group of people to main stream people of all age and of all class of society. AVITOKO is Mumbai based, but its activities are global.
The Indian Republic: Where do you think Maithili literature and art stands today? What kind of reception do you get from people in Mumbai?
Vibha: Maithili has its very long and highly rich literature heritage. Vidyapati is the first poet of Maithili, who establishedMaithili from the hard core culture of Sanskrit. Nagarjun (known as Yatri in Maithili) and Rajkamal Chaudhary are the famous writers, who came from Maithili. They are bilingual writers. Prof. Hari Mohan Jha had sensed the wit of Mithila land and wrote his fiction, novels in satirical genre to educate people in Maithili and to connect social problems and stigmas through Maithili. It’s said that to read his Novel, “Kanyadan”, people had learnt Maithili. Even, those, who were unable to read or write, would listen it from others.
Enthusiastic people are connected with Maithili through writing, publishing magazines, theatre and other forms of art from the beginning. But, as it happens everywhere, new entrants keep old aside and so is with its literature too. Today’s priorities have been changed. Indian languages do not fall among the ten priorities of our lives. With the result, we are losing our grip on our language. Today, even in small places, people have all modern gadgets, but they are out of their cultural, traditional assets and pride. In our days, no marriage or any other rituals get completed without songs. Today, women don’t sing and feel proud about the same. Not knowing rituals all in the name of so called modernity. In the last two years, I had attended many marriages in my native place and in spite of my repeated requests; no one came forward to sing ritual songs. Finally, I sang every time, danced everywhere. It’s very sad. Somehow, I don’t agree with such modernism.
Mithila art is very rich. . Apart from Madhubani paintings, other arts, such as Sikki work, Genra stitch (very similar to kaatha work), embroidery, aplic work, even food items are very rich. Folk and food of Mithila, local festivals are yet to be exposed to the world.
So far, I have written more than 20 plays and published more than 20 books in Hindi and Maithili both. I have received 16 awards for my literary and theatrical contribution, which include Katha Award, Best actor, playwright and play producer awards from the Govt. of Delhi and Govt of Maharashtra from 1999 to till date. My plays are not only being staged by me, but are being staged by several groups of the country. I have traveled across the world with my solo performances, theatre workshops and as a guest faculty, such as Finland, Abu Dhabi, Dubai.
I am out from Bihar since 1984. I have travelled across the country. I am very sad to find that I still have to tell about Maithili and Mithila. I blame myself that I have not popularized my language and region with passion. I am trying my level best to make Mithila and Maithili more popular, more visible through my theatre, literature and folk. And thus I represent Maithili and Mithila in various festivals also, such as Jaipur Literature Festival, Bangalore Literature Festibal, Samanvay, a literary fest of Indian Habitat Centre, Delhi.
The Indian Republic: How do you manage with the funding part? Is it easy to find sponsors or producers?
Vibha: Funding?! A big “NO”. It’s terrible to find sponsors or producers. My fields of work are a little unique. I work for the jail inmates and people find it’s a forbidden city and if they will sponsor, they will be questioned. So they don’t. I do solo and people think that there is no money or labour involved in it, hence they don’t come forward to sponsor it. Same is with theatre. Everyone will pay a heavy amount on all aspects of theatre, but they don’t have budget for the artists. Just now, I was talking to some theatre enthusiast. He said that you come in the morning, do your show in the evening and leave after that. We will make your food arrangements. Writers in literature and artists in theatre fields are most vulnerable.
The Indian Republic: Is there any message you would like to convey through us to the Government of the betterment of stage and regional arts?
Vibha: Today, the Central as well as State Governments are doing reasonably better in art and theatre fields. They are giving production grants along with others, especially in theatre. What is happening that all facilities are going to some big names. In theatre, people have started theatre groups just to get grants. Who will check the quality? There should be some systems that people or groups, who work with their dedication, seriousness and with commitments, must be recognized by the Governments and authorities. Regional arts must be supported by the local authorities.
But, what I think, even society also must look at it. Why should it only be a government duty? Is it not their social responsibility to nurture their culture and traditions? People will spend thousands of rupees to watch a movie, but for theatre, they still want passes.
The Indian Republic: Most stage performers are tempted to move on to films, for better exposure and more money. Do you think theatre is losing its charm as an art form due to cinema?
Vibha: I strongly believe that money is very important, not only for one’s survival, but for fulfilling one’s dreams and desires. Since, we people are still not serious about theatre, stage performers are forced to move to films, for better exposure and more money. Secondly, we have limited the capacity of theatre upto play performances in theatre halls only. Theatre can be performed anywhere and any one can by associated with it. Today, common man stays aloof from theatre.
Theatre will never lose its charm and identity. It’s a direct medium of expression. Theatre shapes you. It’s not necessary that theatre means acting only.  There are several aspects of theatre, where one can works. Similarly, theatre provides a platform of confidence, whatever your field of work or career are. In fact, I will advocate that each and every one must be given an exposure of theatre to understand self and self’s capacity.
The Indian Republic: Who are the artists from theatre whom you have idolized?
Vibha: I always admire people, who are doing theatre in small places by facing all odds and still living as well as dying for theatre. They are real heroes of theatre. They are my idols.
vibha-raniHowever, my theatre travelogue will not complete without naming my director duo, who not only refined the actor within me, but also extended their immense faith in me. Whatever I am today, the credit goes to them only. They are Sri RS Vikal, with whom I had worked in 1986 in Delhi and now since 2007 in Mumbai. Another director is Mr. Bombay Kannan, who directed my 4 solo plays during my Chennai stay from 2010-13. He directed not only mythology based plays, “Main Krishna Krishn Ki “and “Ek Nayi Menka”, but also directed “Bimb-Pratibimb” which has a strong flavour of dialectical Hindi and “Bhikharin” a grand mixture of Bangla and Hindi. Ironically, he does not know Hindi and I am illiterate in Tamil. But as it’s said that theatre has no vocal language and at the same time, theatre has its own language. My other director Sri Rajendra Joshi has directed my Maithili play “Naurangi Natni”, who himself is a Marathi speaking man and does not know Maithili at all. I always admire Subodh Poddar, who always shaped me in my dance steps for “Naurangi Natni” and accent, Robindro Sangeet and costume for my solo “Bhikharin”.  Harsh Prasad had directed my English solo play “Life is not a Dream”, which was opened in Finland and had several shows in Mumbai. Manjul Bharadwaj had awakened my playwright urge. These are my real idols, whom I admire and respect from the bottom of my heart.
The Indian Republic: Your plays Bimb-Pratibimb and Naurangi Natini are stories about the plight of women in rural India, while Aao Tanik Prem Karein and Ek Nayi Menka have a more romantic and social storyline. Do you consciously choose the kind of plays you want to do?
Vibha: I choose content and situations, which appeal to me. Upon seeing social injustice, I become very restless. But, I cannot take law and order in my own hands. My media of expressions are writing, theatre, training and interaction. Bimb-Pratibimb is a story of 3 women, caught under the odd situations of widowhood and divorce. This is not only a saga of a village woman, but is a trap of social stigma. Women, whether they are educated or not, rich or poor, from village or from the town, finally, they are just women. You will appreciate that widowhood is a destiny. Any woman would not like to become widow or be called a divorcee. But since our society has labelled women as a soul responsible for maintaining the long life of their husbands, they start cursing women for the unfortunate death of her husband. Not only this, they are deprived of the basic facilities.
All my stories or plays have a social and contemporary storyline. Even, if I deal with mythology, then also contemporary aspects have to be there. Naurangi Natni deals the anger of common man against the system. “Ek Nayi Menka” starts, from where Menka and the Vishvamitr story stopped in our mythology. Here, the woman’s voice is very strong.
The Indian Republic: According to you, what is the real essence of a good artist? Is art an in-born talent or can it be learnt even later in life from teachers?
Vibha: To my mind, the real essence of a good artist is “What I want to do?” I don’t believe in in-born talent. I believe in practice, Riyaz. I also believe that there is no age for any kind of creativity. But yes, Learning and riyaz is the mool mantra of success. Of course, there is a very vital role of a teacher and institutions. It saves your time and efforts. You get a structural training. Self teaching sometimes takes your full life. But teacher and institutions are just like a torch. Pupils or disciples have to move ahead and to create their own path.
The Indian Republic: Any note of advice to the young theatre aspirants?
Vibha: Believe in yourself. Be ready for hard work. Do practice regularly. You may be a full timer theatre practitioner or not, but you will have to be a full time learner all 24×7. Never be over confident. People see the success of big names. But they simply forget to see their hard work. They get neglected, rejected in their primary days. Humanity is an essential aspect of success.
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Shaumik Samar Ghosh

Shaumik Ghosh,has been working with the media as a journalist and writer since the last 12 years. He enjoys writing, observing social trends, pop culture, doing interviews and travelling. He is presently in the process of developing 2 documentary stories and hopes to finish them in time.
- See more at: http://www.theindianrepublic.com/lifestyle/entertainment/meet-vibha-rani-doyen-maithili-theatre-100050716.html#sthash.GxiSePGQ.dpuf
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