India

India's 'last' female impersonator

Chapal Bhadhuri Image copyright Naveen Kishore
Image caption Bhaduri is one of the last living actors in India's folk theatre who play female characters

He is possibly the last surviving actor in India who plays female characters.

Chapal Bhadhuri was the "leading lady" for decades in jatra - a three-centuries-old travelling theatre tradition hugely popular in the eastern state of Bengal.

He began his career with a leading jatra group in Kolkata (Calcutta) in 1958 on a salary of 75 rupees a month

"It was the usual practice [in those days] when females rarely stepped into theatre or jatra and male performers would enact female characters too," he told an interviewer once.

"With time I got used to it and I also realised that mentally and psychologically, I was more woman than man."

Bhadhuri's life and career has inspired a slew of films, including a 44-minute documentary, which, according to director Naveen Kishore, is about a "man who is wonderfully talented, but slightly out of sync with the times".

The roles began drying up after women arrived on the stage in the late 1960s.

Bhaduri, 77, has seen his best days behind him, but he still soldiers on, doing an occasional female role.

Image copyright Naveen Kishore
Image caption Bhaduri worked briefly as a casual worker with Indian Railways before getting his first role as an actor in 1957
Image copyright Naveen Kishore
Image caption At the peak of his career, Bhaduri was better known as Chapal Rani or Chapal Queen for playing lead heroine roles in folk theatre.
Image copyright Naveen Kishore
Image caption In his heydays, Bhaduri used to be on the road performing eight months a year and earning up to 8,000 rupees ($127; £82) a month. Many of his roles were those of goddesses in mythological theatres.
Image copyright Naveen Kishore
Image caption "I am a man. But when I put on the fake breasts and the blouse and the wig, I am transformed. I become a woman, I feel like a woman," Bhaduri told the BBC.
Image copyright Sanjoy Ghosh/The Week
Image caption "I always felt that I performed better than many female performers on the stage," says Bhaduri
Image copyright Sanjoy Ghosh/The Week
Image caption Bhaduri says he still does a couple of shows a month, playing an occasional female role, to a dwindling audience of jatra lovers.
Image copyright Sanjoy Ghosh/The Week
Image caption In 2010, Bhaduri acted in a Bengali feature film on a gay couple who visit Kolkata to make a film on his life. A critic wrote that Bhaduri "ran away with the best performance".
Image copyright Sanjoy Ghosh/The Week
Image caption Bhaduri told an interviewer that he lost his job with a theatre company after the owner found out that he was gay. "In the 1960s, preference for the same sex was something no one even knew about."
Image copyright Sanjoy Ghosh/The Week
Image caption "In the jatra style, he's a very entertaining and charming presence on stage," says Naveen Kishore, who has made a film on Bhaduri.
Image copyright Sanjoy Ghosh/The Week
Image caption Bhaduri is a bachelor and lives with his sister's family in a poky rented apartment in Kolkata.
Image copyright Sanjoy Ghosh/The Week
Image caption Bhadhuri says he gets an assistance of a paltry 1,500 rupees ($22; £15) every month from the West Bengal government from a fund for "distressed artists".

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