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Men, as women, make a mark

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By ABHIJEET MUKHERJEE in Ranchi
  • Published 4.07.05
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Ranchi, July 4: While Nader Nimai, an opera in two parts, captivated the mostly elderly-Bengali-speaking audience over the weekend, the show-stealers were the men who enacted women on stage.

To find men doing the roles of women in this day and age was intriguing.

The group, Howrah Samaj, had a lot to say about this unusual practice.

The secretary of the group, Ashok Banerjee, pointed out that the practice is an age-old tradition from the time it was difficult to find women willing to act on stage. But the more important reason of having men perform as women, he explained, is because of the extensive travelling that is involved and also because the group performs mostly at temples and places of religious significance, many of which still do not allow women to act.

Another factor is the availability of men adept at playing the roles of women, he added. Panchanan Bari, who plays the role of Chaitanya?s mother, Sachi Devi, has been acting since 1952 when he was just 17 years old. Now in his seventies, he continues without a break and is overwhelmed at the response to his ?female roles?. He has seldom been recognised as a man. Biswajit Majhi plays the role of Chaitanya?s wife, Vishnupriya in the opera. Amit Roy does a cameo as Jyogmaya Devi as a reincarnation of goddess Durga while Chandan Banerjee enacts the role of a female beggar.

Make-up and costumes obviously play an important role, points out Pradeep Banerjee who plays the central role of Nimai. ?We are gradually transformed and when we finally appear on stage, that is the time when the identification with the character becomes total,? he says and acknowledges that it is difficult to emote and play characters without the make-up.

Most of the actors associated with Howrah Samaj , established in 1931, happen to be amateurs.

Much of what the group earns is spent to cover travel expenses, costume, make-up and music. What is left is donated for the upkeep of the temple at Howrah managed by the group, adds Banerjee.

It?s a large group, he points out, of 45 people travelling together and comprises make-up men, musicians and helpers besides the actors. It was a conscious decision to confine themes to Hindu religion, myth and epics, he informs. The troupe has played out themes from the Ramayana, Sri Krishna Leela, Kangsha Leela and so on. Here in the state capital the group portrayed the life of ?Nimai? in the first part, till he abandons home to become a sanyasi and in the second part the life of the sanyasi as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.