A performer much ahead of her time, an enigma who renounced the stage at the pinnacle of glory, a star who still lives in the hearts of millions of Bengali theatre lovers – that is Binodini Dasi who is more popularly known as Noti Binodini, particularly in the performance domain. When Binodini began her theatrical journey on stage, Bengali theatre was not like what we see today. Public theatre in Bengal, from its very inception in 1872, has been a man’s world. Therefore in the first phase of Bengali theatre, “good ” women not only did not act, they did not even feature as audience.
Thus the first generation of actresses recruited for performance was the prostitute entertainers. Theatre provided an alternative “space ” for them, thereby imploring them to dream, to nurture their creativity and live up to better expectations. These actresses negotiated their place in theatre through their performance, persona, stability and popularity and thus constructed a new “social identity “. Binodini belonged to the second wave of native actresses performing on the new form of proscenium theatre in Bengal. The first wave of native actresses were Elokeshi, Ganga Baiji, GolapSundori, Khetramoni, Lakkhimoni and Rajkumari.
BINODINI’S FIRST ENACTMENT ON STAGE : A STAR WAS BORN
When Binodini was just 9 years old, Ganga Baiji, a famous singer and a professional theatre artist came to reside in their apartment. Binodini took her initial musical lessons from her and she took young Binodini along to her practice sessions and rehearsals. During her days spent observing Ganga and her theatre companions, Binodini was exposed to theatrical forms like Geetinatya (opera) and plays like Sitar Bonobas. Binodini’s first appearance on stage was a small role of a sakhi (handmaid) in a play titled “Beni Sanhar” (The binding of the braid) by the National Theatre.
Thus she made her debut in the Great National Theatre . She worked there for two years and then briefly for the Bengal theatre. However, she settled down for a much longer period of six years with the National theatre . Here the famous actor and playwright Girish chandra Ghosh worked. It is mention worthy that since Binodini started her professional career as an actor at a very early age . However she mastered the art of enactment through informal trainings and self-taught methods. Moreover, her rigorous training phase in acting happened only under the guidance of Girish Chandra Ghosh during her years at the National Theatre.
ACHIEVEMENTS OF NOTI BINODINI :
Binodini started her acting career at the tender age of 12 and ended by the time she was 23. During a career spanning 12years she enacted over 80 roles which included those of Pramila, Sita, Draupadi, Radha, Ayesha, Kaikeyi, Moti bibi and Kopal kundola among others . She, along with sri Girish chandra Ghosh, founded the star theatre in early 1883 . For Star Theatre she had to make a great personal sacrifice. Binodini reached the peak of her fame when she was at the star theater.
The first play staged at the Star in 1883 was Dakshsyagna . Both Binodini and Girish Ghosh in the leading roles. Her most lauded performance was in the play ” Chitanya Lila”, where she played Chitanya Mahaprabhu. On 7th October, 1885 Ramkrishna Paramhansa, the most revered Hindu religious guru , came to watch her performance. He was so impressed that he went to meet her and blessed her.
Soon after, Binodini once and for all quit the professional stage at the age of 23. Her contribution as a pioneering entrepreneur and a make up artist is unforgettable. She is attributed with the creation of an entirely new make up style that blends both European and Indian style. She is perhaps the only native actress in 19th century Bengal who created a body of literature. Her autobiographical writings namely “Amar kotha” and “Amar abhinetri jeebon”. However , give her readers an insight into an alternative history of colonial Calcutta.