Sunday, March 11, 2018

Larger than Rajini: The 19th-century stage actress who drove to her performances in a silver chariot

Balamani lived life queen size, literally. A palatial bungalow with a swimming pool, marble fountains, a garden adorned with a swing and peacocks and deer, a domestic staff of over fifty women and much more surrounded her at all times. When she ventured out to make an appearance in public, she did so in style, in a silver chariot drawn by four horses. Her fame grew so much at some point in the early 1900s that the State began arranging special trains to ferry scores of her fans who wanted to watch her plays. 

However, in spite of all her fame, she remained much ostracized by the conservative elite and puritans of that time. History and fate turned cruel to Balamani. Her charity cost her much. Gradually her property eroded and she was forced to move to Madurai. The last days of her life were spent in utter penury.

The movement Balamani started empowered many more actresses to start their own drama troupes in the following decades. She was truly the first celebrated superstar of the Tamil stage.

read more here 
@ Narthaki (book review - Drama Queens: Women who dared to succeed in a man's world)
@ Images dot Dawn (interview with author Veejay Sai)
@ Bengal Buzz (rise of women in Bengali theatre)

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