Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

A Hindi production of 'Nati Binodini'

Legendary 19th century Bengali theatre actress Binodini Dasi was one of the pioneering women in the sub-continent. Nati Binodidni, a play based on the actress' autobiography Amar Kotha has been staged several times in Bangla. For the first time the story of Binodini was staged in Hindi with English sub-title in Delhi at the Little Theatre Group Auditorium recently.

Born into a family of 'kept' women, Binodini Dasi was in fact, the fifth woman in Bengal to take up acting as a profession in the mid 19th Century. Before this, male actors used to perform in female roles.

In a brief span of eleven years, between the age of 12 to 23, Binodini attained wide acclaim for the diverse range of characters she portrayed including Manorma and Sharojini in Bankim Chandra's play Mrinalini and Michael Madhusudon Dutt's Meghanath Badh Kabya respectively.

Those were the formative years of contemporary Indian theatre and Calcutta was the hub of exciting dramatic activity with its own theatre district following the newly introduced style of 'proscenium auditoria', based on British lines. The cultural circuit was patronised by the Babu Shamaj -- the emerging elites of Bengal, who aspired to demonstrate their refined intellectual taste.

Set and light designer of the play Nissar Allana informed that the director of the play, Amal Allana (chairperson of Delhi based National School of Drama), has presented the life and times of Binodini Dasi through fragments of incidents, snatches of music and emotions. Scenes move seamlessly from past to present and vice versa, deriving a sequencing pattern that is based on 'emotional memory' -- rather than cold, hard facts or chronological order.

The set of the play consists of a transparent glass-like floor and 5 panels of snow-white foam, surrounded by a similar white cyclorama. All the white surfaces provide an ideal setting for projecting images, and the white surfaces vividly reflect the colours used in the lighting.

The transparent floor produces a shimmering effect when lit from below, and suspends the actors in an undefined space. Images of 19the Century style of painted scenery projected on the panels and cyclorama, depicting palace interiors, old street scenes and forests, produce an impressionistic environment of the past.

Salima Raza, Swaroopa Ghosh, Jayanto Das, Natasha Rastogi, Sonam Kalra, Amita Ailawadi and Sanjay Gautam perform in major characters in Nati Binodini.

A scene from Nati Binodini staged in Delhi