Coimbatore-born Nandita Dinesh had her career chalked out and knew exactly how her life would turn out. She was going to the US to study to become a banker on Wall Street or a development economist in the UN or a chartered accountant who would then take up her father’s business. While pursuing liberal arts in America, she happened to wander into a theatre class and got hooked for life. She says, “It was an accident that changed the course of my life!” Nandita did not take her idealism lightly and pursued theatre with a deep passion, taking a PhD in drama from South Africa and an MA in performance studies from New York University. She developed a concept called promenade structure that is theatre specifically adapted for a location it is being performed in.
During the course of her work and her studies, she understood that theatre could lend a healing touch to nations torn asunder by war. She started working with different theatre groups staging plays that always related to social issues. Currently, she is deeply involved in a theatre project in Kashmir that she is very passionate about. She explains, “It began in 2009 and is expected to be staged in 2020 with a 24-hour performance. I have been collaborating with a theatre group in Kashmir called EKTA, working with actors who will be voices of those caught in conflict zones — the soldier, militant and common man. I use theatre in a non-traditional context to address traditional and political issues.”
Working in hostile scenarios and active war zones is not something new for Nandita who has staged her plays in conflict zones like Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, Peru, Guatemala, Peru, Uganda, Armenia, Northern Ireland, Mexico etc. She recalls an incident in New Mexico when she was did a theatre play Lives behind the Walls for juvenile offenders between 12 and 18, incarcerated in a prison. “It was an eye-opener for me as I was working with kids in a prison for the first time. It was challenging to maintain a balance between not forgetting their deeds, and at the same time understanding that they were kids. Most had committed heinous crimes but in my theatre, I see them laughing and showcasing talent — it is difficult to reconcile the two sides of these children!” she shares.
A question remains — how receptive people would be to a play in a war zone where their only concern is staying alive? Nandita’s surprises us, “I found that theatre has a space in war zones as people want to laugh.” It has not been a walk in the park for Nandita, considered an outsider and she agrees, “People wonder if I have an agenda and it is difficult to convince them.” She admits to being scared in the war zones but passion overcomes fear.
Nandita is married to an American but prefers travelling alone for theatre. She says, “I have never found myself in the line of fire but as a woman travelling alone, I have faced dangerous situations. You find ways to deal with it and be safe! It is scary but this work draws me for better or for worse. The risk is in being in the wrong place at the wrong time and so far I have been lucky. Of course, there are people, particularly in India, who think that because you are a woman travelling alone doing theatre from the US, they are judgmental but the majority are sweet.”...