Theatre’s trailblazer


Ashesh Malla, is a self-made man, an individual who has created a path of his own and has left no stone unturned to achieve his goals and dreams. A passion for theatre and the unyielding zeal to work persistently, Malla, the man and name synonymous with Sarwanam, has added one milestone after another to give new dimensions to the world of theatre in Nepal.

And he says, “The experiences you have in your life become your principles.”

Malla is happiest and most satisfied when “I am teaching and rehearsing, sharing what I know, and exchanging creativity gives me immense pleasure”.

Credited with being the first person to start street theatre in Nepal, Malla says, “I decided to compromise with time and prevailing situations and work according to my capacity. We had

to pay for the halls and technical support which was really difficult since we didn’t earn much, so I had to find an alternative.”

As the technical aspects were supporting factors, he decided to do a play relating the story through actions and expressions. And this thought led to the first street play or low cost theatre — Hami Basanta Khoji Rahechaun in the year 2039 BS, which was performed at TU.

They did not know how the audience would react. However, after the play Malla realised that if they had to reach out to people, this was the best possible way.

“There was a very close relation between the two, and one could not feel the difference between the two,” says Malla.

This boosted his confidence and led to street plays fostering plays like Ma Bhaneko Hami, Aatirikta Aakash and others. Since most of his plays were critical of the government, many a times during the staging of the plays, police barged in and stopped the stagings. But they would move to another place and start staging the play again. In this way they performed their plays all over the Valley and were highly appreciated.

“I think Nepalis fail in their efforts because they do not give it continuity. We Nepalis try to do 10 different things without being consistent in any one. Following just one path is difficult, but you have to trudge through it to reach the summit,” says this veteran whose journey has been long, arduous and patient.

At the young age of six, he excelled in poetry recitations, was acting in plays and playing the maadal too in Dhankuta where he was born.

“My father Khagendra Kumar was an editor, litterateur and poet. He received letters with the title poet and this had a huge impact on me. Even I wanted such a title in front of my name and wrote poetry intensely.”

Then Malla along with a few of his friends opened a club in 2028 BS and started performing plays by Bal Krishna Sama, Bijay Malla and others, which were welcomed with open arms. “Sometimes when I look back, I wonder how we got the ideas to get all the technical stuff ready even without electricity or create scenes as we were unaware of the outside world and had no idea about theatre,” says Malla.

His quest for creative writing saw him launch a literary magazine called Vivechana. As he was writing his own stories, his friends encouraged him to write one for a play, and so Malla’s own first play Tunwalo le Dhakeko Basti was written. The play ran successfully to packed halls in Dhankuta for a week.

Then came the chance for Malla to turn his dreams into reality. An advertisement from the academy for different theatre groups to send their plays was announced. When they contacted the academy, the then Member Secretary Satya Mohan Joshi asked them to come instantly. Without any proper plans, the excited team of around 35 members headed for the Capital. The play was selected and staged at the Academy in 2033 BS. “I was quite young and to see a queue that went all the way to Ganeshthan of people waiting to see my play totally overwhelmed me. The play ran for around a month and it was this play that brought me publicity,” says Malla.

He had found his forte and decided to stay back. He joined TU for his Masters. While in TU, he wrote, directed and acted in many plays. While most of his plays were banned as it was against the then political system, his experimental play Sadak Dekhi Sadak Samma was much acknowledged and also brought a new form in the world of Nepali theatre. With his plays gaining popularity, he felt the necessity to have a platform of his own and so established the group Sarwanam in 2038 BS. “To me the word sounded really beautiful and as sarwanam means pronoun, it means that it is just not one person.”

And through his theatre group he has given many plays which have been widely acclaimed. Rakta Beej, Ma Bhaneko Hami, Aatirikta Aakash and Naya Adhyaya are some of his personal favourites, but he points out, “I don’t ever feel that any of my creations are ever complete. You always feel like you could have done something better and so in my plays also there are changes.”

Talking about the changes in the country and theatre he says, “Since there is more freedom, people talk openly about issues we symbolically showed in our plays and has become even more difficult for us to show it artistically.”

But he is satisfied with the changes that has come about. “There is a vast difference in the rate of awareness among people, and I think that the country will develop gradually. It may take years but I am happy with the progressive way it is taking.”

About the future of theatre Malla says, “I am really happy and proud that so many groups have come up, and our family is growing and preserving street theatre. Now I think it’s time for us to bring out the artistic side, incorporate our unique culture and tradition in our plays, the versatility we have, and I am sure South Asian theatre will rule.”