On August 9, after 16 years of fasting, Irom Sharmila, the ‘Iron lady’ of Manipur, ended her fast. The political and civil rights activist initiated the hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act at the age of 28 following a massacre in Imphal in which 10 persons were killed. She has been demanding repeal of the draconian AFSPA. The iconic image of Irom with a tube in her nose, force fed by the government, tugged at many hearts and thus, Irom’s struggle became the struggle of many. This was a story followed by many in its time, including Kochi based actor-director Navjith Narayanan. When Irom ended her fast, this became another inspiration for him to tell the world again. His Irom was in his house itself. Thus, Navjith’s mother, Valsala Narayanan, an accomplished theatre personality, took up the task of presenting Irom under her son’s direction. Thus, Sharmila was born.
Last presented at the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy on December 12, the production, if all goes well, will fly to Delhi in January to be staged in front of Irom herself. “We are hopeful to do this before of Irom,” says, a happy Navajith. The mother-son relationship disappears when the duo is on the stage; then on, there exists only a director and an actor. Before Sharmila, they had presented a unique theatre production, Abhayam, the first of its kind, where they were both on stage. Valsala, owing to cancer, took a break from her 17-year-old theatre life and that production was Navjeeth’s effort to bring his mother back on stage. Sharmila couldn’t have been better without Valsala. “There were so many relatable factors my mother had in common with Irom. No one could have done it better than her. It is from her I learned the basics of theatre; she is my guru,” says Navajeeth, in whose voice was evident the love and admiration he had for his mother.
Scriptwriter Sujith Nambira too was in a critical condition while penning Sharmila. Navjith’s idea of a theatre production is to present the tales of those whose lives inspire many. Before Sharmila, he had presented the tale of Bhagath Singh. “I have been following the life and struggle of Irom Sharmila for long. One day, I and my mom took a photo in which she was wearing a headscarf. That moment made me realise that I should bring her to stage as Irom. And the rest followed,” he recalls. The production took one whole year. A lot of research was done. “There are lots of places we couldn’t talk about. We didn’t touch on the issues of the state as it was too controversial. But as a woman, with such a strong willpower, her life should be known to people. On a deeper level, it was conveying a message — whatever I fight for, I will stay strong with my willpower.” Though the 45-minutes play is about Irom, the story shifts from Gandhari to Urmila and then to the Iron Lady— all the roles performed by Valsala. The response so far has been good and Navajith is happy about that.