The tawaif has been a figure of fascination in the popular imagination of India. Films like Devdas, Pakeezah, Amar Prem, Umrao Jaan have created a powerful image of the tawaif in our minds - she is the sensual singer, the beautiful dancer, the temptress, the breaker of hearts, the fallen woman, the woman your wife must not be.
Seeking to understand the history of middle-class women like herself, her mother and grandmother - women who had begun taking public space since the late 19thcentury - Saba Dewan's research led her to the women whose public space was snatched away from them. She saw how these histories were inextricably linked, and so began a journey that led to her film The Other Song (2009) and Tawaifnama, her first book. In Tawaifnama, we meet tawaifs like Dharmman Bibi, known for her beauty, singing, and swordsmanship, who rode into battle during the 1857 revolt alongside her patron lover, and who could beat pretty much any man except one Dalip Singh in the wrestling arena. This is a different tawaif from the image imprinted in our minds.
We are delighted to invite Saba Dewan - filmmaker, writer, feminist - to Mumbai Local, to share with us her journey that culminated in Tawaifnama. She will be in conversation with Paromita Vohra - filmmaker, writer, the agent of Ishq, and curator of this session. Together, they will explore tawaif culture, notions of creativity they offer us, what has been lost and what persists, the relationship between pleasure and art, the intertwined histories of women. They will also discuss the ethics of documenting when writing about a family that is living and aspiring to social acceptance after their profession has been shamed.
Please join us on Sunday for a free-flowing conversation that delves deep into the history and experience of the tawaif, and its resonance in our lives.
RSVP for this session begins on Monday 4th November 2019.