Cast members rehearse dance moves at the office of Durbar with Riddhi Bandyopadhyay on song
Children of sex workers will present a tribute to the stars who have twinkled in the sky that envelops the youngsters in darkness.
“Binodini, Angurbala, Indubala, Kanon Devi, Ashchoryomoyi Dasi… they are all artistes who had so-called disreputable and lowly origins. So these youngsters would be best suited to tell their stories,” says singer Riddhi Bandyopadhyay, who has conceptualised the free-for-all programme to be held at ICCR on July 30.
Children from Sonagachhi, Rambagan, Bowbazar and even beyond Calcutta are rehearsing daily to present pastiches of the lives of songstresses, many of whom have risen from these localities.
Fourteen songstresses feature in the show, the script of which derives from autobiographies (like Amar Katha by Noti Binodini and Sobare Ami Nomi by Kanan Devi), interviews in magazines, transcripts of radio talk shows, etc.
“They were never ashamed of their roots. Indubala, for instance, declares: ‘Ami Rambaganer Indu, ekhaan theke ami gaan shikhechhi, protishthsa peyechhi,’ spurning an offer to shift out of the locality once she became famous,” said Bandyopadhyay.
“Indubala and Angurbala were direct students of Nazrul Islam. Her belongings are still preserved in her room, named Indubala Home. Then there is Kanan Devi, who rose from Harkata Goli of Howrah to act in films. She too has written that her mother was not married to her father.”
Born Kanaklata Chattopadhyay, the daughter of the zamindar of Bhagalpur and his mistress, Chhaya Devi was a good singer whose vocal talent got suppressed under her acting skills. “A rare playback opportunity came in Tapan Sinha’s Harmonium. We are using her thumri Aha chhal kore jal ante ami from the film that Sinha himself had composed,” said Bandyopadhyay.
Ketaki Dutta was the last songstress on the Bengal stage. “In Baarbadhu, to stay true to her character of a prostitute, she did not wear underwear on stage. The play was banned. I will be singing a song from it.”
Binodini, Bandyopadhyay points out, was a good writer. A self-taught girl, she even wrote poems. “Married to a nobleman, she was allowed quarters in his house, but in the outer wing. She had penned a heart-rending poem, when their only daughter died young, which we will use.”
The show has a scene from the play Sarojini, to which she has referred in her memoir, where Rajput women sacrifice themselves in a pyre one by one. With that enactment will be sung the first song that a young Rabindranath Tagore had written — Jwal jwal chita — for the play penned by his brother Jyotirindranath.
The last on the list is Keya Chakraborty, who rose from a Maniktala slum to do an MA in English and become a teacher at Scottish Church College.
“She trusted people with her life and was betrayed,” say siblings Abhijeet, 20, and Priya Ghosh, 17, who are taking part in the programme.
The youngsters have heard of the actress being mangled by the propeller of the launch, from which she was supposed to jump in the river for a scene with a net underneath to pull her up. The actress had jumped but the net was not there.
The 11 dancers, including choreographer Loknath Bhattacharya, and the two supporting singers, one of whom was trafficked as a child, are veterans on stage, having presented shows for Komal Gandhar, the cultural wing of Durbar, an NGO working for sex workers.
Tanjila Khatun of Basirhat was forced to quit school at 15 when her mother’s professional identity became known. Now she clings to dance as the way out of darkness. “I am inspired by Noti Binodini. Her name spells out that she, like our mothers, was a binodon shilpi, a worker in the entertainment industry,” the teenager says.