BY MUSHTAQUE B BARQ
You talk of Shakespeare’s Juliet, Ophelia or Miranda as love model, an embodiment of imagination, you talk of Desdemona and Cordelia as prototype of affection, Katherine as stubbornness, her plight or being ‘Tamed’, you may consider Cleopatra a problematic heroine fighting against blatant sensuality in an age that valued women’s modesty, you may take Rosalind’s liveliness and wit into consideration and above all Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s historical and towering dramatic personality. If one for the sake of inquiry will sideline the heroines of the bard and concentrate on her counterparts, all tragedies of Shakespeare will fall like a pack of cards for the reason his heroines are as important as his heroes. Without being schmaltzy, let us appreciate the role played by female actresses on the stage and on the screen. Any piece of literature that gives the idea of life, death, misery, tragedy, love and whatnot, a female character finds its reference. Any dramatist of the world, any fiction writer, or a filmmaker can certainly not think of a solemn plot without interloping a heroine in it. In Kashmir TV history, it has been seen that many female actresses have played a major role in its promotion. Performing a role on the stage within the ambits of the patriarchal society for a woman in this part of the globe is an audacious endeavor. It necessitates a lot of persuasions to bring oneself out on the stage and act before the hostile environment after putting so much deleterious stuff into a scrapyard. One such bold superwoman is Nirmala Dhar, popularly known as Yasmeen Lala, born on August 1st, 1961 at Anantnag Kashmir. After her primary education at Happy Home School Anantnag followed by Rani Bagh Girls Higher Secondary School, she obtained her diploma in Library Sciences from The University of Kashmir and PG diploma in Journalism in Mass Communication from IGNOU. From books to media her journey as actor in 1977 after joining Sungarmaal Theatre as a permanent member. Her presence in Radio came to limelight when she was on for Nanhi Duniya, a weekly programme for children produced by Smt. Shanta Koul. It was the time when she was on to prepare herself for something big. She would attend theatre workshops besides working in Ram Leela group of Srinagar. It is well said that a sea starts with a rivulet and same is true to Nirmala Ji. Her first stage performance as leading female artist in Nadi Piyasi Thee was like a fragrance that flocked many directors around her. Ek Aor Dronachari , Pazzar Yeli Moud, End Game and Goodbye Swami are some hits which she gave at the beginning of her acting career. She is the only actress who has played Epic Ram Leela produced by Sanatan Dharam Saba Srinagar continuously for eleven years. In Ram Leela during these years she has played almost all vital roles like Kekai, Shabri, Shrawan Kumar’s mother, Saroop Nakha, Sita Ki Sakhi, Vehdehi and Sita Ji. All these roles have carved a true artist out of Nirmala Ji. She has played leading role in Badhe Ghar Ke Baiti by Munshi Premchand in 1979. In Imandaar, she has played the most celebrated role Yasmeen Lala and in Adamzaad she earned one more name Saba. Owing to these hits she performed many title roles in serials and tele-films like Mouj, Lal Ded, Dedrani, Dida, Vitasta, Maaj Kasheer, Ameeran and Astha. Nirmala ji has not only acted in serials but has produced many tele plays under her own banner Lucky Vision Films. She has produced a number of documentaries on female health, education and other social issues for DD Kashir. Apart from acting on stage and for screen, she is an approved Radio artist and participated in many Radio dramas like Gandhari, Vetal Pacheesvi, Katha Kajal Kothdi Ki etc. Her best performances in Manzil Nika, Shahjar, Segal, Pathar Ke Shahar and Studio No 5 made her a household name for audience and Mina Kumari for most of the directors of state. After migration her real character in real life drama was different from her reel life experiences. She started a business and developed colonies and houses in Dehradun besides it she rendered her services as Warden for girls hostel Alpine for 18 years. Her love for mother earth is inexplicable, she worked with Sadbhavna an NGO that started a plantation drive in Uttrakhand. Presently she is doing a research on Chinar in Biotechnology laboratory of Alpine group of Institution. She is also a member of Sadbhavna Samiti, The Missionaries of Charity by Mother Teresa, Leprosy Ashram and a founder of Nirmal Sankalap Foundation.
She has the honour of representing J and K in the first ever National Telecast Montage as model. She has also credit to deliver the speech in a documentary Pradarshaani for AIR and DD National as disguise of Smt. Indira Gandhi. She has won the best actress award in Imandaar, Tamashchour and Shejar. In Shehjar her performance was a breakthrough in TV history. The last scene that she performed under a severe rainfall looking for the return of Tonga earned her a title Mina Kumari of Kashmir.
Rajesh Kaul, Ex-Director, Doordarshan India writes: “An actor justifies his/her role only when he/she actually understands the psyche of the character he/she is playing. This unique quality is well witnessed in Nirmala Dhar whom I know from the early ’80s. She is delightful, appealing, confident and highly imaginative as an actor. Her USP is her controlled crystal-clear speech with impactful modulation and action paraphrasing. Quoting an example, in 1984 we were working on a documentary on late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Nirmala was to para-dub PM’s last speech into Kashmiri. After watching the clips few times, she picked up the tone texture and style of stress and pauses so well that viewers believed that Indira Ji was conversant with the Kashmiri language.
Nirmala initially was discovered by Shri P K Raina for theatre plays with The Sangarmal Theatre group where she did some strikingly unconventional roles. Her performance in the stage play YAS LAGI TAS LAGI SARKARI was stunning. She started television performance in 1980 with a Puppet drama for children, where she dubbed her voice for a puppet effectively that even being out of vision was conspicuously noticed. Her acting debut in television was in ‘Bade Ghar Ki Beti’ a teleplay produced by Shri Bansi Kaul in 1982. Thereafter she never looked back, growing into her own from one remarkable performance to the next. Nirmala quickly became the go-to actress for most of the producers working in Srinagar DD at that time. She created some of the truly unforgettable female protagonists in IMAANDAR; KUNER (produced by Shabir Mujahid) MAQBOOL-E- AAM by Mir Mushtaq, MEERAS by PK Raina, NAAV DER VAAV by Ayash Arif, the roles for which she is still remembered and admired. Apart from a good performer, Nirmala is an efficient manager and a meticulous producer which I experienced during shooting for her house production in 2010. She is an excellent host and a fine human being. My best wishes for her healthy long life.”
Ashok Jialkhani, a renowned Theatre personality, Ex ADG, Doordarshan and author declares Nirmala Dhar as one of the best actresses. An actress whose strong instincts lead her to give powerful performances. A good understanding of the craft has given some great performances both on stage and TV. She is dedicated and disciplined.
Kusum Tickoo , the Artist of repute says, “ Nirmala Dhar, as soon as this name appears, a broad smile flashes in front of us and so flashes a face full of positivity, humanity and talent in abundance. I, on a personal as well as professional level, am the biggest fan of her. She has excelled on both fronts. As a beginner, I shot a serial with her and there she made it a point to make everything so comfortable. But then after some time, I realised that it was her total persona that made every set of shoot “a feel at home” atmosphere. She is an inspiration not only for all the female actors but for the whole fraternity. Her professional approach can be redefined with the incidence when she lost her loved one and after 13 days she was back on the sets to assured satisfaction. She is a proud mother, dignified life partner, superb actor/producer, and a wonderful human being. I wish I could deliver even an iota of what she has delivered to society. Heads high and loads of love and respect for her.”
“Nirmala has performed as the main lead artist in two of my productions Gulistan and Parwaz for DD Kashir and National DD Urdu. I found her an exceptional actress who knows the role she plays and performs to the merit of the script. Her control over language and body language is a treat to watch. I have seen her both through the lens and the naked eye, she looks what she is on the sets similar to what is off the set, a good human being and loyal to her job.” Mushtaq Bala, Film Maker.
Umar Imtiyaz (Actor/Director) says, “It was 1983 when we almost started our journey of an acting career in television serials and telefilms together with the then famous serial Aadamzaad written by late Ali Mohammad Ali Lone, produced and directed by Khursheed Masoodi. She had perhaps done a telefilm before we were paired in the serial in question. Our nicknames of the serial were so popular people would recognize us with those names only. This was actually the beginning of our acting career simultaneously followed immediately by the all-time hit serial Imaandaar produced and directed by Shabir Mujahid wherein we were again cast as one of the leading pair. This time it was a super-duper hit serial that has still an image among the viewers. She is even today known as Yasmeen of Imaandaar so am I as Naveed. I have worked with her in numerous films and serials. She would always be the first choice of directors for their productions. Casting her has surely been a 50% success of the product. I am so lucky to have the experience working with her as a Director too. I remember when I cast her in the title role of serial, Dedraaen she simply personified the character to the level of par excellence. Nirmala Dhar is actually a born actor. You put her into any character the end result is a huge success with her unbelievable perfections. It has always been a pleasure to work with her as an actor or director. It would not be an exaggeration if I say she is a school of acting whose performances can be followed by newcomers to venture in.”
Zameer Ashai, a reputed actor of our Valley describes Nirmal Dhar as a complete actress and says, “Nimala ji and I have worked together in number of films together as lead roles even in a full length films like Mahan, Wanraj and many more. She is a confident actress and I am myself fan of her for being versatile .Her contribution can never be forgotten. She has set a standard for on stage and screen acting.”
Ayash Arif, Actor, director defines Nirmala as a superwoman. For him she is not only an actress but a social activist and an entrepreneur too. She is an inspiration to all woman folk may it be acting, her struggle in real life and her devotion. Her serious roles are severed with feel and agony, her moderate roles are full of modesty and her character roles have been exceptional.
“Nirmala Dhar is one of the toughest actresses I encountered in my acting career. It is a challenge to work with her, she is always accurate and aptly fits herself in any role. I would do good homework before coming across with her on sets. You need to be accurate and confident while acting against her. I call her Mina Kumari of Kashmir for the reason that she fits herself accurately in serious roles. She perfectly plays every role. You need guts to work with her” Bashir Dada, Actor/ director.
Vijay Dhar, an Actor Director conveys, “Though I did not get much opportunity to work with her on stage or Radio still I acted with her in some commissioned TV serials after migration.
But I have seen Nirmala Ji grooming as a refined and polished actress of our times. She worked devotedly, dedicatedly and honestly to carve out space for herself amongst her competitors and proved her mettle. She has worked with almost all the male and female co-artists of her time. Nirmala Ji acted in Urdu/ Kashmiri plays and serials with superb command over language as well as a feel for the character she portrayed.”
“It was either the late 70’s or beginning of the ’80s when she got her first opportunity to perform on stage when a shortage of female character made Shri Kanhaiya Ji get her in the field on the insistence of one of the legendary performer and great friend of Mr. Dhar Shri Roshan Lal Kothedar. I remember the main turning and acceptance of Nirmala as an artist was in 1982, the stage play, in the cultural academy festival titled Ek Aur Dhronacharya where she played the role of Dhronacharya’s wife. Her performance, body language and language expression as Krispy is still fresh in the minds of theater practitioners of that era. From this period onwards her journey in the performing art particularly in Doordarshan took a leap ahead and still it continues with great passion. In television, I had an opportunity to work with her in some of the famous plays like Subha Hone Tak and Bhaut Door directed by Shri Ashok Jailkhani. In this paly her character of a performing artist Naina is still fresh in my memory. We together performed in Mir Mushtaq’s play Dag in which the most senior and legendary artist Shri Sudama Ji Koul performed with us.
Later after 90, I performed with her in Cenvista Communications production scripted by legendary Pran Kishor in Saaye Deodar Ke in another serial titled, Akh Aous Pohala directed by Shri Suraj Raina and also in one of the serials directed and produced by Shree KK Raina. As a performer, to work with her is a great experience as she possesses the natural instinct in her portrayals, Nirmala Dhar, as I said, is a great institution of the sense of performing art in her subconscious mind which she converts into conscious performances and makes the viewer’s spellbound. I wish good health and prosperity for her. She is a treasure for the whole artist fraternity.” Kamal Razdan, Artist
Q: – What attracted you to acting and how did you evolve yourself as an actress?
After my marriage in 1977, I joined PK Raina’s Sangarmal Threatre where my husband was an associate and a senior artist. I started to help them during rehearsals and volunteered myself as a spot boy, in the make-up room, copying the script and backstage arrangements. This was my incubation period and I learned so many things during that time. I was invited by Smt. Sarojini Raina to DD Srinagar for Baman and as a voice-over artist for puppet shows. This was the beginning and I never looked back. I think I have an inborn artist in me and I nursed my talent with honestly and zeal and now I am enjoying the fruit of my hard work.
Q:- How difficult it was for you as a woman to take acting as a career?
Well! As we all know for any woman in this kind of society that is not open one needs a lot of persuasion and self-confidence. I too had early hiccups, but I set my own standards and carried on with the same zest the people carry forward for their jobs. The acting was my passion and I didn’t stop there. I produced many serials, I started my business and I engaged myself in social works and above all, I kept myself busy by doing service to mankind, may it be as an environmentalist or social activist. I believe no woman is fragile as long as she believes in herself. Now that our society has opened up a bit, there are no more such restrictions around and one can go and hunt.
Q:- I have seen you as a matured artist in Shehjar, how satisfied are you after performing the role of a daughter, beloved and then the role of an eccentric woman?
To be honest, Shehjar became a super-duper hit. I acted in that film as a daughter and I tried to bring on the screen the feel of a daughter by virtue of my attire, style and dialogues and as a beloved, I changed the pose, I delve deep into that character for it was something unique with a typical word after every dialogue (Dapus) which added flavour to the romance. Ayash Arif performed his part so accurately and flawlessly that inspired me to bring the best out of me. And the third role I played in the same film was a rebellion lady who had to fight for the survival of my beloved and Bashir Dada played a negative role as Nunda with utmost accuracy. And then the final drop scene that people are often talking about was a scene of an eccentric woman. I think it was the best of me on the screen.
Q :- What message you want to convey to upcoming female artists?
The only message is to believe in yourself and be honest about what you are about to do. There are so many venues and ventures, where she can fit herself and act and acting is one of the components she must try. Nothing is impossible as long as one is committed to deliver. No work is insignificant as long as you do it devotionally. Work is worship so keep performing it. Yes, there are hurdles to face but then difficulties and failures are better teachers than conventional gurus.
Mushtaq B.Barq is a Columnist, Poet and Fiction Writer. He is the author of “Feeble prisoner, “ Wings of Love” and many translation works are credited to the author like “ Verses Of Wahab Khar” and “ Songs Of Sochkral”