(Last Updated on : 11/01/2012)
Actresses seemed to be the principal players of the first phase of colonial theatre history. A plethora of actresses through memoirs, travel writings, newspaper advertisements and criticisms seem to constitute the history of the theatre. However, the real names of the actresses were concealed. Two actresses whose histories are partially revealed through contemporary newspaper sources are Mrs. Esther Leach and Madame Dhermaunville. They were professional actresses who had to fend for themselves in a co-sexual workplace. Other actresses of the time were Madame de Cigny, Mrs. Chester, Mrs. Black, Mrs. Goodball Atkinson, Madame Thondom, Mrs. Francis, Mrs Fly, Mrs. Davis, Madame Noveau, Madame Ventura, etc.
It was not before 1872, that theatre in Calcutta (now Kolkata
) witnessed the coming of the Indian actresses. The first name traced was that of Teenkori Dasi. The growing popularity of the New Theatres and the juxtaposition of reality and allusion allowed a great deal of intervention from the theatre in which the actresses, by their very presence, would create inputs. Given the repertoire and theme, the actress presence would become significant in nationalist agenda. The agenda would almost follow a metamorphosis of the actress and a path for rehabilitation. Some actresses in the process had to undergo public catharsis, for example, Binodini Dasi
. The need to supplement the actress' path towards a chaste and pure persona with the two western actress presence and encodings is crucial to understand why theatre depended on actress appeals and the balance between the idolizing and desiring. The argument that the inability of the audience to see the prostitute actress as the domesticated wife led to the shift to the mythologies is not convincing. Drama inspired from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
were also staged and appreciated. In addition to this, Girish Chandra Ghosh
's themes also became popular.
A victim, a pathetic figure, a dangerous figure, all move within the cycle of fear and sympathy for the actress. Stories without the actress are not obliged to follow such tragic, redemption end and are written with a playful farcical and satirical style. Actresses in theatre space are often conceived as symbolic makers of a new genre to retaliate claims of qualitative change. The IPTA formed in 1942, was very equivocal in pointing to the induction of a new breed of actresses, who were completely different from actresses of colonial period. IPTA staged a different genre of theatres- displaying the war conditions, famines, blackouts, economic constraints, etc. for its theatrical project, 'Nabanna', two actresses were inducted: Tripti Mitra and Sova Sen. These actresses went onto become the lead female actors and co-organisers of the two most important theatre groups at a later stage.