From the forgotten pages of history
Lillete Dubey’s historical drama Gauhar Jaan returns one last time on stage to end the year with a bang
Rajeshwari Sachdev (right) in a scene from Gauhar Jaan; (below) Lillete Dubey, director
As the 25th year of Lillete Dubey’s Prime Time Theatre Company draws to a close, it’s curtain call for their iconic play Gauhar Jaan, which will be staged for the last time in the city next Sunday. Based on Mahesh Dattani’s adaptation of Vikram Sampath’s book My Name Is Gauhar Jaan, the play tells the story of the legendary classical singer, of Indo-Armenian origin, who was the first in India to record her songs on the gramophone in 1902. It’s a story Dubey deemed important to pull out from the annals of history. “The best thing for me is that I am my own director, producer. Everyone told me nobody would be interested in the life of an old thumri singer. But I went with my gut,” she says. Ask her what does she look for in a story and she says, “I’m very restless as an artiste, and I need to be doing something completely different from my last work. What hooks me in any story are the emotions, because that is what stays. And, I want my audience to pick that up,” she says.
It was her love for Hindustani classical music that nudged Lillete towards Gauhar Jaan’s story. “I studied Indian classical briefly when I was very young, didn’t continue it, but I still enjoy it. It is an acquired taste. It was a time when I was feeling the urge to do something with music, when Mahesh told me about the book. We realised people don’t even know about this feisty character, a rockstar of her times, who broke every rule in the book and yet was so vulnerable in love. And, how she shortchanged her career for her personal life is something that is relevant even today,” says the director.
Her choice of actors to play the younger and older Gauhar Jaan is intriguing. However, Dubey had her reasons. “For the younger Gauhar, I needed someone strikingly beautiful who was also a trained singer. Rajeshwari Sachdev was the apt choice. She’s attractive, graceful, has that old world charm and comes from a theatre tradition. She was great to work with. Zila Khan, who plays the older Gauhar, was my wild card. She’s has a terrific stage presence, that Urdu lihaz, a fabulous voice and a musical discipline much-needed for the character. It was an interesting experiment for both of us and the gamble paid off.”
Gauhar Jaan will soon take off for a couple of more cities but this will be the last show of the year in Mumbai. “It’s an unusual play that has got a great response. When you adapt a play from a book, it’s like moving literature and not many people do that these days. I plan to do more such projects, I’m in the process of developing something from a short story. It’s always an interesting challenge.”
Where: St. Andrew’s Auditorium, Bandra
When: Nov 20, 7.30 pm
Entry: Rs 200-Rs 1,500
A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli