Death of an art

A book on the life of theatre personality Gulab Bai

Recently, author Deepti Priya Melhotra launched her book "Gulab Bai, the Queen of Nautanki Theatre" at the New Delhi's India Habitat Centre. The book profiles Gulab Bai, the first female actor in nautanki. She joined theatre at the age of 12 and reached dizzying heights. She did numerous plays and later started her own drama company named Great Gulab Theatre group. A Padmashri awardee, in her last days Gulab was disconcerted by the rotting theatre form, she had given her life to. Today, in many areas it has been reduced only to female dance shows. After she retired, Gulab never told her grand children about her profession. The book tells about her struggle, her love affairs, her success and downfall of nautanki. Melhotra visited Gulab Bai's haveli, met the other performers of the troupe and her relatives to gather a glimpse of the charming old days of Gulab Bai's glorious career.The book launch was followed by a discussion between theatre personality Feisal Alkazi and eminent historian Dr. Uma Chakravarty."It was a sheer desire to perform, which made dexterous performers out of farmers and workers and the need of entertainment promoted thousands of uninitiated villagers to rush to nautanki and sit through whole night weeping or roaring with laughter. It was a folk form for the folk. However, with the rise of English education and evolution within cultural norms of society, nautanki eventually lost its sheen. Even Gulab Bai asked her troupe to wind up the almost eight-hour-long show within two to three hours as audience interest was waning," said Chakravarty.

A substitute

She pointed out this folk theatre form has been reduced to a substitute of cheap commercial Hindi cinema. "Neither it is a cup of tea of those with modern sensibilities nor an orthodox traditionalist identifies with its folk roots," noted Alkazi.So the big question is what shall be done to revive the dying art of nautanki?
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