Magazine 2012
Journey Into The Self: Binodini Dasib s My  
Story and My Life as an Actress  
Ms. Dhanusha Vyas  
Maniben Nanavati Womenb s College,Mumbai.  
The mainstream literature written by men has all the time represented women as meek, self-sacrificing, and  
chaste. Women expressed freely by writing poetry, short stories and autobiographies. A Number of  
autobiographies written by women were published in the nineteenth century. b Who defines the community of  
women?b  b Are women brought up in well-defined patriarchal community.b  b Do women represent themselves as  
entity or this patriarchal society or Do they break away from it?b  b How do they redefine themselves?b   
This paper focuses on some of these questions and endeavours to trace various mechanisms adopted  
by women autobiographers like Binodini Dasi, a marginalized woman both by class and gender to question  
patriarchy. Her autobiography My Story and My Life as an Actress portrays the life of a woman and pursues the  
expedition of redefining their individuality.  
Binodini Dasi, a successful actress in the nineteenth century in Bengal, shows resistance towards the prevailing  
attitude of society against actresses. Binodini Dasi is a marginalized woman both by class, gender and profession.  
In her career of twelve years she came across many hurdles, and faced criticisms from people but she refused  
to succumb to it. She questions the very beliefs of society and adopts an individual existence in portraying her  
story which she values as her own individuality. Her autobiography My Story and My Life as an Actress portrays  
the life of a woman and pursues the expedition of delving into her own self and contemplating, questioning, and  
redefining her individuality. It is a major document of the Bengali theatre and portrays a life of a woman who  
showed resistance towards the prevailing attitude of Bhadralok against actresses. She questions the very  
beliefs of society and adopts an individual existence in portraying her story which she values as her own  
Binodini encountered many hurdles and had to face criticism from people during her career as a theatre artist.  
She refused to succumb to it as a critic Eugenia Delamotte rightly mentions b Binodini fought to participate in  
the career she [passionately] loved and refused to accept her cultureb s reductive definition of her characterb   
(168). It is evident from her autobiography that she is highly self-respective. She gives importance to herself and  
her career as she is the sole earner of her family. She is not at all hesitant in expressing her contempt for society  
that was responsible for making her prostitute and says, b A prostituteb s life is certainly tainted and despicable,  
but where does the pollution come from? Surely they were not despicable from the time that they were in the  
motherb s womb?b  (105).  
Like Goswami, Binodini asserts her individuality time and again in her book. Despite of the fact that she was  
very young as an artist, she very confidently presented herself in front of her senior actors. Though she was  
loved by them, especially by her mentor Girish Chandra Ghosh, she behaved very professionally with them. In  
twelve years of her career in theatre, she never tolerated any unjust and insulting behavior from anyone. In an  
incident which she mentions in her autobiography, the owner of a theatre named Pratapbabu refused to pay her  
due wages for a that period of time when she was on leave. She protested against him and threatened to leave  
his theatre. When Girish babu tried to placate her, her professional attitude is clearly evident when she demands,  
I want a higher salary, and whatever money is due to me ha to be put down in a contract; otherwise I shanb t  
workb  (83). Thus she asserts her individuality as an independent actress.  
Binodini uses many strategies to gain position in her career. She never hesitates to change her protectors and  
shift from one theatre to another. In fact she takes it as an opportunity to move upwards in her career. Thus when  
she gets an opportunity to start up her own theatre she readily accepts to become a mistress of Gurumukh Rai,  
the owner of the Star Theatre. She confidently mentions about this event in her autobiography:  
I decided to set up a theatre. Why should I not? The people I had lived with all my life, together as brothers and  
sisters, those who still had such powers over meb & I were to build a theatre we would all live under one  
roofb &when my mind wasb &made up, I got Gurumukh Rai to support my scheme. (in Tharu 292)  
But after few years Gurumukh Rai had to sell the theatre because of his family pressures and Binodini was  
deprived of a share in the new ownership by her colleagues whom she trusted. It was at this point that Binodini  
decided to be independent and survive on her own earnings. From then on she refused to become mistress of  
any man and kept herself active in theatre.  
After renouncing theatre, Binodini stayed with a man whom she addresses as Hridhoydebta in the autobiography.  
She fearlessly displays her emotions and love for him without bothering about peopleb s cynicism. She also  
questionb s people that while playing various mythological characters on the stage, does anyone from the  
enthralled audience have ever tried to see her b inner self?b  She thus interrogates b When I had the opportunity to  
pronounce Krishnab s name, with what absolute yearning had I called out to him; was the viewer ever able to  
perceive this?b  (57). She also says that even if they submit themselves to men they do not sell their love,  
money cannot buy anyoneb s love. We too cannot sell our love for moneyb  (in Tharu 293). She despised  
untruthful and pretentious people and therefore she left her protector who broke his promise and got married  
to someone else.  
She also mentions in her autobiography about what a woman like herself have to go through in a society where  
she has no social recognition and has been forced to take up prostitution. More so, she is trying to point out  
that even if prostitutes like her wish to come out of their profession and make her career in theatre, they have  
to face resistance and criticism of people and where social customs and beliefs are of no comfort.  
For Binodini writing was an important means to express her emotions. After taking leave from theatre she sorts  
a refuge in writing. As a critic Bhattacharya mentions that after being b stripped of from everything that she  
considered precious-the theatre, her last protector, her daughterb she can only live in her writingb  (qt. in Dasi  
36). It seems in her writing she is reliving a life as an actress. She transmutes her acting skills into her writing.  
She lays bare the reason for writing this autobiography:  
I have written for my own consolation, perhaps for some unfortunate women who taken in by deception has  
stumbled on the path to hell. (107)  
She thus questions and shows her resistance to the prevailing beliefs of her times and asserts her own set of  
beliefs. And in doing so she redefines her individuality. She shows great courage in making up a successful  
career in theatre during nineteenth century in Bengal. In questioning and resisting the beliefs of society, in  
adopting an individual existence, and in writing her story, she thus values her own individuality.  
Primary Texts:  
Dasi, Binodini. My Story and My Life as an Actress. Edit. & Trans. Rimli Bhatacharya.New Delhi: Kali, 1998.  
Secondary Resources:  
Delamotte, Eugenia. b Binodini Dasi: My Storyb . Women Imagine Change: A Global Anthology of Womenb s  
Resistance from 600 B.C.E to Present. Edit. Delamotte, Meeker And Ob Bare. New York: Routeledge, 1997.  
Harish, Ranjana. b Sructiny of Self in Society: Indian Womenb s Autobiographiesb .  
Women about Women In Indian Literature in English. Edit. Ram Singh and Charu Singh. New Deldi: Anmol,1988.  
Tharu, Susie and Lalitha. K. ed. Women Writing in India. Vol. 1. New Delhi: OUP, 1991.