Multiple Roles of Bahurupi
For most part of performances, there are a particular story structured into the personality of performers and actors through make ups, role and costumes. Hence he is required to master the art of dance and songs, as well as costume and make ups, and must also be proficient in voice modulation and should be flexible with the same. In case of an ardh-narishwara performance he performs the dual roles of man and woman with the help of facial make ups divided vertically down the middle. One side portrays the masculine face and the feminine side is projected by the other. It is essential of a bahurupi to have good command over his diction and accent- should be able to produce sounds of animals (barking of dogs, roar of tigers). He must also be skilful in composing music, write lyrics and songs. Hence it can be said that a bahurupi show, from beginning to end, is a one man show.
Altered Acts of Bahurupi
Most of the acts performed by bahurupis are meant to educate, inform and entertain. With the change in expectation of audiences and sponsors, some performers have modulated their performances so as to spread a particular message like promoting importance of education, family planning etc. The audiences of a bahurupi are varied and this is perhaps the sole performing art where an actor does not have a particular platform or place to perform. He roams from one village to another to perform and add value to his impoverished lifestyle.
The costume boxes of a bahurupi has all kinds of articles like wigs, bow and arrow, knife, trident, axe, toy rifles, guns, sticks, sword, dagger, a set of eight false arms, a set of two false arms, a set of eight heads crafted out of paste board, a set of two imitation heads, a human skull shaped out of old cloth, sudarshan chakra, flute, bucket, doll, rubber snake, drums, tiger mask, hanuman mask, bear mask and a lion's mask. For purpose of make up a bahurupi usually take help of zinc oxide, vaseline, coconut oil, vermilion powder and alaktaka liquid.
For the purpose of story building, a bahurupi generally take help from the great epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. And they also build stories on characters like Mother Teresa, Charlie Chaplin, Indira Gandhi, and tales with twin characters where the bahurupi performs both the roles himself.
Social Relevance of Bahurupi
Bahurupis still function is various parts of West Bengal, in and around the district of Birbhum, Burdwan, Murshidabad, Hooghly, Burdwan, Murshidabad, Medinipur and Nadia. This is a performing art and may not be hereditary culture. In most cases they have stepped into this profession from Jatra- Folk Theatre in India, West Bengal. The style of making a particular presentation or wearing specific disguise differs between two bahurupis- depending on the place they come from, the district. Apart from the cultural and aesthetic significance of bahurupi, historical evidence tracing the folk art underscore the social relevance of bahurupis. He is significant because, in the absence of amusement, entertainment he provides happiness, fun through mythology, fantasy and performance. The performance of Bahurupis in West Bengal goes back a long way, but there are very few women in this profession.
Life as a Bahurupi
There were times when performances of bahurupis continued round the years, going from one door to another in search of audience. In return of performance, the mistress of the house would gift him with rice, pulses, fruits and vegetables, condiments and sweets. This was never considered a charity or beggary and was given as a price of performance.
With passage of time, and increased availability of entertainment options, bahurupis literally forces their performances on unwilling audiences. Moreover they have not received any help or aid from the administration in order to flourish their craft- acting. Hence, with no options left, they have been forced into a life of hardship and pain. Most of the bahurupis now indulge in various types of work in order to support their families. Some pull rickshaw, some work as wage labours. For those who are educated have received a slightly better fate, as they works in grocer's shop as accountants. Some with singing talents have turned into kirtaniyas, wandering from one door to another in the morning, singing and performing kirtan dance.
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