sova sen

from  Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity

Sova Sen titled her second book, They, We and Them, in which she records her interviews and interactions with the older generation of actresses. In the course of her two books, she particularly describes her meeting and encounter with two of the major actresses of the age, Prabhadevi and Sarayubala. Prabhadevi, regarded as a great actress from the professional stage, Sova Sen was keen to learn from her and refers to her as her ‘guru’. A significant factor, the ‘new’ actress generation was eager to imbibe the method of acting from the traditional actress styles. 

Eyewitnesses attribute Prabhadevi’s style as a highly natural style with strong elements of relaxation, empathy and the psychological method even imbibing some of the techniques of alienation. Prabhadevi would deliver her lines in almost an apathetic style on the verge of throwing away lines, as if in a complete relaxed state. Yet, the emotions are meticulously worked out, not added on to expressions, but once absorbed into the psyche, excluded from the emotional manifestation. Instead of adding on expressions, it is essential to subtract them, till only the character remains and the voice cues the emotional variations. Not an overt exhibitionist style, but each nuance of facial expression and gestures made not to express emotion but evoke response.

Tripti Mitra in her memoirs refers to one moment which affected her deeply, the play was Sarat Chandra’s Bindur Chele. In one scene Bindu, the younger brother’s wife suddenly insults her, ‘Don’t you know on whose money you live on?’.Prabhadevi stares at her and then suddenly with a wavering voice she says,‘you do not know what you are saying,’ (Mitra 1992: 29). Everyone in the auditorium started crying at this minimum display of emotion.

Sova Sen relates Prabhadevi’s acting to her interaction with the actress during the shooting of the film, on Sarat Chandra Chatterji’s Bamoner Meye (1949). The director has asked the young Sova Sen to get ready for the last crucial scene. The character she plays, Gyanada, is a young widow being thrown out of her sister’s house because she has been coerced into an illicit relationship with her brother-in-law. She is in the station waiting for the train.

How will I act? I cannot fathom it out. It is difficult, nothing is coming into my fertile head. The director has instructed me. I am sitting quietly; make up ready, yet tensed with a heavy heart. It was being shot at Kali film studio. Suddenly I remembered her and ran to her makeup room. She was resting as her shooting would start later in the day. Almost in tears I confided my problem. She heard everything and said “Don’t you feel sometimes, that there are a lot of people around you, yet nothing is going into your head or ears, your attention is not there as if you are somewhere else?” Yes it happens to all of us. “Just do that”. So much worry but so easily solved. (Sen 1996: 31)