Mallika Sarabhai was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India to Vikram Sarabhai and Mrinalini Sarabhai. She completed her MBA from IIM Ahmedabad in 1974 and Doctorate in Organisational Behaviour from the Gujarat University in 1976. She is a noted choreographer and dancer and has also acted in a few Hindi, Malayalam, Gujarati and international films.
She started to learn dancing when she was young and started her film career in the parallel cinema when she was 15. Mallika played the role of Draupadi in the Peter Brook‘s play The Mahabharata. Mallika has won many accolades during her long career, the Golden Star Award is one of them, which she won for the Best Dance Soloist, Theatre De Champs Elysees, Paris 1977. As well as a dancer, Sarabhai is a social activist. She manages the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts located at Ahmedabad, a centre for the arts and for the use of arts as a language for behaviour change.
She acted in the Hindi movie titled Himalay Se Ooncha that was released in 1975. The movie which had Sunil Dutt as the hero, did not do very well at the box office. In 1986 she acted in the Basu Chatterji directed movie titled Sheesha opposite super star Mithun Chakraborty.
In 1989 she performed hard-hitting solo theatrical works, Shakti: The Power of Women. Her performance Sita’s Daughters has toured the world and been performed over 500 times in three languages. After that, she directed and acted in numerous productions reflecting current issues and awareness among people. Amongst them is An Idea Named Meera; In Search of the Goddess and SvaKranti: The Revolution Within.
Mallika Sarabhai also wrote the script for the play ‘Unsuni’ based on Harsh Mander’s book ‘Unheard Voices’ to raise awareness amongst children in elite schools and colleges to the real issues facing India’s marginalized. The play went around 120 schools and colleges. Arvind Gaur later directed it as a play, with the same name. Darpana Academy has launched the people awareness movement through its production Unsuni which travels all over India.
In 2009 Mallika Sarabhai acted in an Indian adaptation Bertolt Brecht’s of The Good Person of Szechwan (Ahmedabadki Aurat Bhali-Ramkali) directed by Arvind Gaur in 34th Vikram Sarabhai International Art Festival.
In the year 2012, Mallika co-directed ‘Women with Broken Wings,’ an international production with filmmaker Yadavan Chandran and Swiss pianist Elizabeth Sombart, an ode to the millions of women who have been the victims of violence. In 2014 she recreated, with Yadavan Chandran, Kadak Badshaahi, a multimedia production on the 603-year-old history of the city of Ahmedabad. The performance ran for an unprecedented 33 full nights in Darpana’s venue, Natarani.
Mallika has also used film and television for social change, especially for women’s empowerment and environmental consciousness. Through Darpana Communications, she has been responsible for the production of three thousand hours of TV broadcast programming, all of which has been shown through Doordarshan, Gujarati. The programming uses the most popular genres of TV. She has anchored many shows on STAR TV and Doordarshan as well as the first NACO series on HIV, Talk Positive; the science series Turning Point; Vaividhyotsav, the culture quiz and Srishti: The Environment Quiz.
Mallika first started writing when she produced and performed Shakti: The Power of Women. Since then she has scripted her shows, TV serials for ISROs educational TV in Madhya Pradesh, film scripts and more new contemporary lyrics for Bharatanatyam. She has been a columnist for Times of India, Vanitha, The Week, DivyaBhaskar, Hans and DNA.
On 19 March 2009, Mallika Sarabhai announced her candidature against the Bharatiya Janata Party‘s prime ministerial candidate L K Advani for the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat, as an independent candidate in the 2009 general election. She had won from the Congress to contest election, the first being in 1984 from Rajiv Gandhi. She eventually lost to L K Advani by a huge margin and forfeited her election deposit in the process.
She protested against Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi during Sadbhavna Mission in September 2011. She accused Narendra Modi of scuttling the petition filed in Supreme court by her on the 2002 Gujarat violence. She joined the Aam Aadmi Party on 8 January 2014.
Mallika met Bipin Shah in 1982 and married him. They have two children, a son, Revanta and a daughter Anahita. They divorced in 1989. Bipin and Mallika co-founded Mapin Publishing in 1984 and continue to run it together.
- Government of Gujarat awarded her with ‘Gaurav Puraskar’ for the contribution in the field of drama and dance.
- She received the Padma Bhushan by government of India.