Timeless Noti Binodini staged again

Classic theatre

Cultural group Impresario India almost heralded an early Durga Puja this year. As part of their year-long programmes to celebrate Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary, theatre group Srijanee performed Noti Binodini the historical play about a 19th Century theatre woman Binodini Dasi who was born to prostitution but received the grace of none less than Thakur Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Seeing the great spiritual leader of Bengal and his deity goddess Kali come alive on stage, was a great spiritual experience for all present.

Noti Binodini has been staged by almost all theatre groups, especially those in Bengal, innumerable times. It was also reproduced as the NSD National Theatre Festival’s opening play by acclaimed director Amal Allana in the year 2008. However, Noti... never loses its relevance owing to its historic quality and ingrained social messages.

Binodini Dasi is born out of wedlock in a red-light area of Calcutta in 1862. She refuses to become a part of flesh trade and instead, nurses a passion for theatre. Celebrated director of that time Girish Chandra Ghosh, a drunkard himself, visits her brothel and discovers her acting talent.

Binodini becomes only the fifth woman to entre theatre in India and gets rave reviews for her acting skills. She hopes for a life of dignity now but Girish Ghosh’s theatre company gets into financial trouble and there is only one man who is willing to lend it money. His condition: To ‘keep’ the beautiful actress Binodini.

Binodini is loath to accept this but Guru Ramakrishna, indirectly, prods her to do it for the sake of theatre and social awakening in Bengal.

A hapless Binodini ultimately accepts the proposal and goes on to play many memorable roles, one of which Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a particular favourite of Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

She gets nothing in return for her sacrifice, suffers abuses and humiliation from society, but gets her name etched in history through her acting talent.

Though the story was presented very simply by Srijanee, without many props or lavish costumes, the performances carried it through. Besides, moments like the final Samadhi of Ramakrishna (death in mediation), with goddess Kali appearing in the background, took it to total salvation.

The director, Dr. Abhijit Bannerjee, who also played Ramakrishna, explained, “This play is a staple of jatra. It is generally very high-pitched, scripted to suit the tastes of village folks. Over the years, we have mellowed it down to appeal to urban audiences.”

His brother Prosenjit Bannerjee, who played Girish Ghosh to excellence, added, “It is a challenge to recreate 19th century Calcutta and its theatre scenario on stage today.
However, with detailed studies and costume designing, we have succeeded in doing that, hopefully.”

Mithu De, who played Binodini, was no doubt the ‘star’ of the evening. She expressed, “This was a very difficult role because it requires such a wide range of emotions. You have to play a lover, a fighter struggling to protect her dreams as well as a woman broken from inside by the laments of people. I went thr­ough a gruelling training session to prepare for Binodini.”

“The best part however being that wherever we have taken this play, people have appreciated it. What better way than to charge up the mood of the audience just ahead of the festive season?”

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