May 1, 2022

The Expedition of Grapple and Recognition of Women in Bangla Theatre

Indigenous Art & Culture

SAYANTIKA GHOSH, PhD Research Scholar, RBU, SACT, Gobardanga Hindu College

“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” 

                                                                                          Virginia Woolf-


Women of the nation are considered to be the backbone of every society. The introduction of  actresses in Bengali Theatre during 1870 gave a new area to the society. Inspired by the English theatre, the Bengali theatre groups practiced their performances in the houses of the elite people, who are known as “bhadralokhs” of Bengal. The actresses who joined theatre then, were the children from the prostitute area. The talented children from the prostitute areas in order to supplement their income.  Bipin Chandra Pal, in his autobiography mentioned that in the Brahmo Samaj the use of girls from the prostitute families were denied. It was also noted that the presence of the Brahmo women in the audience were also rejected because it was disreputable that they see the performance of the prostitutes.

In the patriarchal society actresses pulled up their socks, performed at their level best but was not appreciated. Some actresses gained acceptance and also earned praise by their performances but their expectations were smashed by their male counterparts. A new change was visible , the actresses were seen as the site of reform. Some men like Bipin Candra Pal, Upendranath Das , Girish Ghosh, according to them theatre can be more informative, than only being the provider of entertainment. Men then performed as the actresses. Changed themselves into women’s character. Girish Ghosh pointed out by saying that the theatre owners did not bring children from the prostitution areas, rather no respectable women came forward for the performances in theatre. Upanendranath Das wanted to give the women the required respect for which he did not allowed the women to join theatre after their marriage. Binodini wanted  to get money to built Star Theatre but was not rewarded by Girish Chandra Ghosh , who did not want the theatre to be named after her. Amar kotha (1863-1941), Binodini , recalls her past. She met Ganga Baiji, they were very close to each other, they named their relationship “Golap”. She was then introduced by Bhuban Mohan Neogi who gave her new life.

                 During the 19th century , theatre provided an “Alternative Space” for the women in order to implore them to dream and to achieve their goals. The idea of employing women to potray the female roles in the theatre was highlighted by Madhusudan Dutta. In 1881- Tagore’s niece Sushila Performed in the role of Balika and Saraswati in Balmiki Pratibha. In 1877- the women of the household successfully enacted their parts in Aleekbabu. Theatre gave Binodini, freedom, exposure, which was otherwise impossible for a girl of her background. She acted in Haralal Roy’s play Hemlata, Sita in Sitaharan Rabanbadh, Draupadi in Pandaver Agyatabas, in Bankimchandra’s Durgeshini, she played both the role of Ayesha and Tilottoma.

Theatre personalities of West Bengal has played a major role towards popularizing the culture of Indian theatre in the country. With the maturity and progress of the Indian drama theatre personalities of West Bengal gained much importance and recognition. The history of Bengali theatre begins its journey with Goloknath Das. Later Bengali theatre witnessed much change and as a result gained a rather contemporary touch which time. Theatre in Bengal continued its journey with the “Kirtivillas” of Yogendra Chandra Gupta, with the ‘Bhadrajuna’ of Taracharan, ‘Kulin Kula Sarvasva’ of Ramanarajaha Tarkaratna,  and indeed with the ‘Neel Darpan’ of Dinabandhu Mitra. With the social dramas of Girish Ghosh and then with the historical dramas of Dwijendra Lal Roy, Bengali theatre gained its desired contour whilst marking the beginning of the realistic drama in Bengal.

Binodini Dasi  who is widely familiar as Noti Binodini, an actress ancedently of her time, a performer, a well known personality who is breathing in the hearts of Bengali theatre lover. The time when Binodini  Dasi appeared in theatre the situation of that time period was different than today what we get to see. The foundation  of  Public  Theatre in Bengal  was during 1872 where the platform was rulled by men , no women were seen nor in the stage and also not in the audience.  Later  when  women participated , the first generation of actresses included from the prostitution area. Women were provided an alternative space in the platform, where they were given chance to explore their creativity and to create a new platform for them.  Binodini came in the second phase of theatre in Bengal. Elokeshi, Ganga Baiji, Golap Sundori, Khetramoni, Lakkhimoni  and  Rajkumari were known as the first phase of native actresses.

Women as a destroyer- Amarendranath Datta, his biography was written by his nephew Ramapatti Datta, is a tale of the life of sin. Amarendranath Datta left his studies, moved out of his family , after his father death he took away his share from the family not only for the expense for the classic theatre, he established, but also for the daily necessities and extravagance of the actors and actresses he patronized. He neglected his wife, left his family for his mistress Tarasundari. It is perceptible here, on one side we observe the concept of “Sisterhood” where one women supports the other female character to complement oneself.

This concept is widely found in “Tin-Er-Talwar” where we notice how two women of different age group embraces eachother in all difficulties, may be in retaining scripts or in sacrificing one’s chastity.

 “ ময়না   আমি কালীঘাটে  জোড়া  পাঠা দেব৷ শয়তানটা এমন ভাবে তাকায় মনে হয় আমার জামা নেই

বসু    জানিস ময়না ? বাবাকে , আমাতে  আর হাবিবুর মিলে চার বছর আগে থেটারবাড়ির  নকসা করিয়ে রেখেছি l এইবার শিকে ছিঁড়েছে সে কি হৌস, কি সাজঘর, কি এস্টেজতুই  ভাবতে পারবি না” (2)

Raising voice against the wrong made both Basundhara and Moyna happy, as they never wanted Birkrishna to interfere or his prefence in their theatre. Birkrishna with his nasty mind thought,wanted moyna as his partner, after knowing that Birkrishna would give away the theatre to Captain Babu they both giggled and visualized their own theatre, their play, performances together though being esch others entrant.

Again –

বসু৷ –  কথা গুলো বলছো বীরকেষ্টর মতনমুলধন,দাঁও ব্যাবসা৷ তুমি থিয়েটার খুলছো নাখুলতে যাচ্ছ গদি,দোকান, দালালির আপিস ৷ সেখানে ময়নার সতীত্ব বিক্রি হবে ”(3)

Here we see how a woman stands by a woman by protesting for her innocence. In the patriarchal society questioning a man was not accepted easily by the society but here we see how Basundhara praises Mayna not to deface herself interms of condition made by Birkrishna an old wicked man. and captain and asks her to run away. “বসু৷  ভিখ মেগে যাব ময়না,চলে যা কাপ্তেনবাবুর এই বাগান বাড়িতে নাচওয়ালি হয়ে থাকিস নে মা, চলে যা ”(4) She asks her not be a dancer or not to spend her life like an whore or an other woman.

In the play “Putul Khela” ,

সেই থেকে বুক ধক ধক করে ওঠে, কোন কাজ মন দিয়ে করতে পারি না৷ চিন্তাটা কেমন যেন  হঠাৎ সাপের মতো গায়ের মধ্যে কিউবি করে  উঠতো এক সময় মনে হত অন্ধকার  ছাদের ওপর গিয়ে চিৎকার করে কাঁদি—-অথচ কিছু করতে পারতাম না৷ কাউকে বলতে পর্যন্ত পারতুম না৷ কেবল জোর করে নিজের ভাবনাকে নিজের মনের মধ্যে পুরে রাখতুম” (5)

Here we find Bulu who seeks help to save her marriage to her friend Krishna, explains her feeling, how restless she was and every moment made her feel to shout and cry from the top of roof but she had no option to do so instead had to swallow all the pain within herslef and however Krishna supports her in her tough situation.

 In “Rudali” by Usha ganguly, the role of Sanichari, Bikhni and Parbatia in terms of empowering eachother reflects ‘Sisterhood’

“Sanichari. – You’re asking me why not? Once a young woman goes to work for Lachman Singh, the only place she’s fit for is the whorehouse.” (6)

Knowing Lachman Singh’s nature, not having good bond with her daughter in law, still Sanichari denies Budhua( sanichari’s son) to not to send his wife to Lachman’s place as women reach there never returns and turns out to be whore. Whereas, in Babu culture we find how a woman be’s the other woman’s foe.

“Bikhni.- Arre Sanichari, we’ve bruised our foreheads and rent our hair mourning for others; will there be anyone to mourn for us when we die?

Sanichari.- Of course, there will be! The jackals will howl for us, the hyenas and dogs will howl for us….Come on, let’s get our thins together for tomorrow morning.” (7)

Being eachother’s support, having no dear one’s promises eachother to be together in every difficulties. This highlights how sisterhood challenges to empower women in all odds.

The works of the prominent theatre personalities of West Bengal thus blossom forth the rich history of Indian Theatre, which stands as the portrayal of a journey from the eposes to the contemporary style of naturalistic productions. The  “Renaissance” was observed  between 1795 and 1890 in Bengali Theatre. This time span spotted an extreme and comprehensive change in capability composition in the subcontinent of Indian history. During the quiver of Social movement smacked the Bengali stage, helped to highlight women related issues through scripts and performances. In the year 1856, A Play on Widow Remarriage named as “Bibaho Natok” by Umesh Chandra Mitra scripted based on Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s Widow Remarriage movement. Then Theatre was diligently stimulated for community purpose by The Jorasanko Thakurbari , the home of Tagore, in Calcutta. The emergence of women figure was latterly contemporary establishment for the upper middle class families in Calcutta and it took time for people to accept it and somehow affected the gender equation at the working platform. The female characters were found both as cumulative and unscrupulous, independent or prosper, devoted native and conciuosly self-centered.


The participation of women in Theatre have encouraged their identity from women within the four wall’s to the women as playright, directors, actresses. From the early centuries to the recent era, there are many women who have engaged themselves with theatre from different angle and perspective. Directors, are the one’s to visualize a story and depicts it into a performance. She/He recreates and creates a play according to his imagination, thought by fulfilling his or her desire. Along with the male director’s in theatre, we get to see many women director’s, mesmerizingly potraying the current scenario of the society or by enacting the played plays. Thus the struggle, sacrifices made by the women of our society gave a wide range of tenet to the Women in Bangla Theatre.


  2. Dutta, Utpal. “Tin-Er-Talwar”, Jatio Sahitya Parishad,pg 75
  3. Dutta, Utpal. “Tin-Er-Talwar”, Jatio Sahitya Parishad,pg 77
  4. Dutta, Utpal. “Tin-Er-Talwar”, Jatio Sahitya Parishad,pg 77
  5. Mitra, saoli. “Nora, Bulu, O Amra” ( Nora, Bulu and we). Natyachnita, Vol-26 (1-6) 128-146 (A Bengali theatre journal published from kolkata) Munday, Jeremy(ed). Translation as Intervention. Continuum 2007.
  6. Katyal. Anjum,”RUDALI, MAHASWETA DEVI , USHA GANGULY”, Seaull Publication, pg-123.
  7. Katyal. Anjum,”RUDALI, MAHASWETA DEVI , USHA GANGULY”, Seaull Publication, pg-180.