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Nirmal Rishi: Living with theatre, its ups and downs

Nirmal RishiLudhiana, Nov. 2, 2013–

Awarded by the President this year for her contribution to performing arts, theatre veteran Nirmal Rishi, now 70, came to Ludhiana in 1969, at the age of 26, and joined Khalsa College for Women as a physical education lecturer. Born in Mansa, Rishi had earned her MPhil in physical education from Punjabi University, Patiala.

After 34 years of service, she retired as the head of physical education department in 2003. All the while, Rishi remained devoted to her passion for performing arts. For the initial couple of years, Rishi travelled to Patiala, often to work with the legendary theatre group 'Punjab Kala Manch', which was established by veteran Harpal Tiwana. She remained associated with the group for 40 years.

During this time, Rishi also acted in a number of films, including 'Laung Da Lishkara', 'Diva Bale Saari Raat', 'Suneha', 'My Love Punjab', 'Little Terror', 'Death on Wheels' and 'Women from the East', and television shows, including 'Do Akal Garh', 'Nasihat, Dal Dal', 'Rjija ji' and 'Kach Diyan Wangan'. Postretirement, in 2003 Rishi formed the theatre group 'Alive Artists', which continues to promote theatre in the state and has become a sought-after platform for many young artistes.

Please share your initial perception about the city when you shifted base.

Ludhiana did not have any opportunity for a performing artiste when I came in 1969. I remember how I frequented Patiala to work with the Tiwanas. However, things changed when Harpal ji moved to Ludhiana in 1979. For 10 years, the city buzzed with theatre activities and people paid to watch plays. Theatre in Ludhiana has never been the same since his demise in 2002.

What palpable changes have you witnessed in the city over the years?

Over the past few years, theatre is gaining popularity again. A number of theatre groups have been formed, which is a good sign. Moreover, a cultural organisation by city industrialists has taken the initiative to promote theatre here by calling well-known groups to the city.

Please share your high points in all these years.

I have been blessed with several recognitions in all these years, and feel lucky to have received love from people. To mention a few awards, they are: Punjab Arts Council Award, Chandigarh, for contribution to Punjabi theatre; Award by Calgary Sikh Association, Alberta, Canada; Shromani Adakara by the languages department of Punjab in 2000; Samita Patil Award in 1999; award and honour for best cultural show in Ludhiana national games in 2003; awarded for Sant Singh Sekhon Yaadgari Puruskaar in 2003; and most recently, the prestigious 2012 Sangeet Natak Akademi award by President Pranab Mukherjee in May. I have also travelled to the US, UK and Canada for shows.

What are the changes that you would still like to see?

I wish there is a collective initiative by the public to revive and sustain this art form. Theatre is important for society; it evokes people's emotions like nothing else. The theatre in Ludhiana is suffering from lack of sponsorship.

Any upcoming projects?

I am working on a mega play which will be staged at Punjabi Bhawan, Ludhiana, on November 15.

*HT Media Ltd.

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