Acting is a difficult profession, whether it’s on screen or on stage. Playing a different person is a very hard job in itself. How hard would it be then for actors who challenged their genders on stage and played opposite genders throughout their lives?
Indian womanhood and the gender roles in the society have always been a matter of fierce discourse and understanding, right from the mythical narratives to today’s various art forms. On the 20th of April, 2016 Future Media School in collaboration with actor and Gender activist Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee presented ‘Future Footprints: Obhijatra’, a homage to androgyny in performing arts at The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Kolkata.
The event was important especially in today’s context because it brought out in the open things people usually avoid talking about, which in the process is also avoiding the rich cultural heritage Bengal has possessed for a long time. Two of the greatest female impersonators in Bengal, Chapal Bhaduri (or, Chapal Rani, as he was lovingly called during his heydays) and Janardan Nandi (also, Janardan Rani) were felicitated by a host of theatre personalities which included Debesh Chattopadhyay and Sohag Sen. The audience was enthralled when both Chapal Bhaduri and Janardan Nandi performed their individual lines in an impromptu session. Needless to say, if they would have been regular actors on stage now, many of the contemporary actors would be without jobs. Sujoy said of the event, “I believe what the West has been talking about today, gender fluidity and the idea of queer arts, existed centuries back in India. When we had female impersonators doing jatra or theatre in India, we couldn’t categorise them as ‘gay’ actors or ‘homosexual’ actors. They all led hetero normative lives; they had wives, children and grandchildren. What fascinated me was the fact that they challenged their own genders, converted it into a spectrum of arts and performance. This is what stimulated me to get into the depths of their art and present this to Calcutta”. The evening also witnessed a historical journey in the world of female impersonation in Bengali and Marathi theatre by Dr Debajit Bandopadhyay, a theatre historian. There was also a screening of ‘Chena Kintu Ojana’, a documentary by Dipankar Datta on the Ranis of Jatra.
>> Moments from Obhijatra <<
Events like these are vital, more so at this moment of time because gender as a concept is being broken down and conceptualised in many different ways in various mediums.But people like Chapal Bhaduri and Janardan Nandi, along with many others have done it a long time back, silently. We need to accept our rich cultural heritage and discuss the gender dynamics of the society both in the past and the present.
Catch the second day of Future Footprints: Obhijatra on the 28th of April, 2016 at ICCR, Kolkata from 6:30 P.M, with performances by Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee, Shriek of Silence, Usha Ganguly and others.
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