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Gauhar, the fall of a star

A scene from Gauhar  

The life of Gauhar Jaan is tailor made for the stage. Her ability to sing in over 20 languages, surviving an abusive childhood to a failed love life as against her fame and stature in the early 20th century, ensure enough narrative juice to stage a gripping and a layered musical. Theatrical joy did reign at Ravindra Bharathi during the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival as ‘Gauhar’ was staged. Based on her biography written by author Vikram Sampath, director Lillete Dubey does a masterful job in ensuring a true-to-life depiction of her dramatic life.

The play by Mahesh Dattani moves back and forth between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Beginning with Gauhar’s last days which she spent at Dil Khush Mansion, Mysore, the story narrates her perspective, of how she paid a heavy price for trusting the wrong people at the wrong time, how people failed to see beyond her skin and wealth, despite her singing talent.

In the backdrop, you’re introduced to the times when the gramophone made its entry to India and the reactions of the common crowds to the ‘singing machine’. That and a satire on Indian adaptations of Shakespeare’s classics in Calcutta, evoke humour. Her life also takes you to places like Azamgarh, Benares, Chitpur and beyond. The artistry of the ages and an impressive background score, set the perfect ambience for a true portrait of the bygone era.

You realise through the play that Gauhar was indeed ahead of her times. Moving beyond failed relationships, she is extremely focussed on making a sound music career, very conscious of her stardom and unafraid to voice her views. As Gauhar’s mother Badi Malkajaan (nee Victoria) says ‘break your heart until it opens’ amidst her struggles, you realise her mother’s sympathy (than love) for her child who channelises her musical interests. Gauhar continues to be a strong woman despite her personal pitfalls and even at her deathbed, she’s someone who’s extremely committed to her word. There’s a wonderful theatrical device that Lillete uses; she makes two ages of Gauhar talk to each other and discuss their rise and fall.

As long as you see the play, you trust Rajeshwari Sachdev to be the singing sensation. She is Gauhar from the first scene, the pain, the desperation and the heartbreak all evident in her eyes. From her thumris to her rendition of ‘ Krishna nee begane baro’, she is effortless in pulling off her act. Singer and actor Zila Khan ups the ante perfectly from where Rajeshwari stops. Denzil Smith looks every bit the European Fred Gaisberg and another role as William Robert Yeoward (Gauhar’s father). Danny Sura, Gillian Pinto, Rajeev Siddhartha and Parinaz Jal too fit their parts well. The play is a true directorial vehicle and Lillete deserves praise in her use of music as a tool to narrate Gauhar’s life.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2020 1:11:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Gauhar-the-fall-of-a-star/article16443687.ece

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