A male in a female’s garb? Bengali theatre---in the 19th Century and early 20th Century --- was dominated by a number of male actors masquerading as women --- and some of these actors became stars in their own right.
Two performances paying homage to this lost, androgynous trend of role playing on stage will be performed in the City of Joy on April 20th and April 28threspectively.
Impersonation in theatre probably started with the epics like Amba, Brihannala and Shikandi from the Mahabharata being played regularly by male actors. But then, these androgynous characters started appearing in plays on contemporary subjects---and stars like Chapal Bhaduri and Janardan Nandy were born on the Bengali stage.
“Males playing female leads became popular especially in the jatras, which were routinely performed in rural Bengal where female actors were reluctant to travel because of lack of facilities.
Chapal Bhaduri and Sunil Pal(who was known as Reba Rani) performed female roles regularly”, Debojit Bandopadhyay, stage artist and musician told Millennium Post.
Slowly, these actors started becoming effeminate, much like the roles they played. “Though some of these actors were normal heterosexual men, Chapal Bhaduri was gay. It is only from the 60s and the 70s that women started performing regularly on the stage”, added Bandopadhyay.
Another event---to be staged at ICCR on April 28--will focus on Broadway artists who practiced impersonation.
While this event has been partly scripted by well-known critic Ananda Lal, theatre director Usha Ganguly and multidisciplinary artist Sujoy Chatterjee will be assaying some of these androgynous roles.
“Queer art is very popular in the West. While playing a female character, I will be challenging my own gender.
“I will be playing Lady Macbeth, another actor will be playing Raktakarabi’s Nandini, another female actor will be playing Shylock that evening”, Chatterjee, who had conceived these two events, told Millennium Post.
Others performing on the 28th will be Sohini Sengupta, Shuktara Lal, members of Nandikar and students of Jadavpur University.
The project is being presented by Future Media School.