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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  A singer and an empress

A singer and an empress

Two plays, about women who were creative and powerful in their own right, will be staged this weekend

(left) Gauhar; and Noorjahan: An Empress Reveals. Photo courtesy Yatrik TheatrePremium
(left) Gauhar; and Noorjahan: An Empress Reveals. Photo courtesy Yatrik Theatre



She was the first singer in the country to record on the gramophone—in 1902. Do you know who she was? Probably not. That’s exactly why Lillete Dubey decided to make a play on Gauhar Jaan. “She was the rockstar of her generation. Yet people know very little about her," says the thespian.

Drawing from the extensively researched book by Vikram Sampath, My Name Is Gauhar Jaan, Gauhar is Dubey’s latest directorial venture. The 2-hour play, which first premiered in November at the Prithvi Theatre Festival in Mumbai, contains speculative drama that offers an insight into the life of the courtesan turned singer, who cut close to 600 records in over 10 languages. Her repertoire ranged from the weighty khayal to the lighter forms of thumri, dadra and bhajan.

“She was way ahead of her time. She was beautiful, feisty and independent. She spent 20,000 for a party when her cat had a litter! But she was emotionally very weak and yearned for love, because of which many men used her, and she died in penury," says Dubey.

The first show of Gauhar in Delhi was staged on Thursday at the Siri Fort auditorium; on 8 April, it will play at Epicentre in Gurgaon. The show will also travel to Ludhiana, Chandigarh and the US.

Gauhar includes live singing—something which Rajeshwari Sachdev, who plays the Indo-Armenian singer, had to work on “rigorously".

“Rajeshwari is not a trained singer. So she had to do a lot of riyaz (practice), and her hard work shows. I didn’t want to use scratchy YouTube recordings," says Dubey.

The play also shows Gauhar’s relationship with her mother, played by vocalist Zila Khan of the Imdadkhani gharana, and daughter of sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan. This play marks her acting debut.

“Gauhar’s story is the story of the many successful women who have to face difficult relationships, and who have to sacrifice a lot to keep everything together," says Dubey.

Gauhar will be staged on 8 April, 6pm/8.30pm, at Epicentre, Apparel House, Sector 44, Gurgaon (0124-2715000). Entry for those aged 10 and above. Tickets, 750, 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000, available on

Pooja Singh

Noorjahan: An Empress Reveals

Written and directed by Avijit Dutt of the Delhi-based Yatrik Theatre, Noorjahan: An Empress Reveals will open at the India Habitat Centre on 9 April.

“The subaltern historians may not be interested in Noorjahan because she became powerful through her connection with the royal family. I think she is an under-studied character," says Dutt over the phone. “Noorjahan was intelligent and creative—did you know she brought Chikankari to India?"

The Chikankari connection was also how Dutt got interested in Noorjahan. Dutt’s friend Rekha Mohan works with widows in Lucknow, employing them for Chikankari embroidery. In November, Dutt met Mohan and they started talking about the Mughal empress. “She was a perfumer and an architect, and she had this amazing love story with Jehangir. When he became an opium addict and drunkard, and quite inept as a ruler, she took over the reins," Dutt says. “She was the first woman in India to have her name minted on coins."

The play will map this trajectory of Noorjahan’s life, from the story of young love with Jehangir to the time she came into her own, and then her advanced years, when she was kept in captivity by Shah Jahan, her stepson.

In terms of technique, Dutt says, the play uses period costumes, but the pace and treatment of the subject are quite modern. Dutt has written 27 separate scenes for the 90-minute play. “The audience will have to do some work, for the play will get them thinking. But that is what theatre is about for me," he says.

There’s another interesting element in the play which, Dutt believes, the audience might like. There’s a parallel story to Noorjahan’s. Kora, a male runner, a sort of courier from the silver mines, loses his job when Jehangir closes the mines because of a surplus of silver. “He is later killed off by Noorjahan. But there are these tiny stories in the play—imagine closing down mines because there’s a a surfeit of silver," Dutt says.

Noorjahan: An Empress Reveals will open on 9 April, 7.30pm, at the Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road (011-43663333). Entry for those aged 16 and above. Tickets, 150, 350 and 500, available at the venue.

Chanpreet Khurana

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Pooja Singh
Pooja Singh is a features editor at Mint Lounge based in New Delhi. She writes on luxury, fashion, culture and sustainability.
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Published: 07 Apr 2016, 08:57 PM IST
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