Choreographed and performed by Manjari Chaturvedi
Venue: India Habitat Centre
Date: 31 August 2016
Baiji – tawaif – courtesan may have been portrayed as glamour queens by popular media in India (read Bollywood). However their prowess in music and dance is hardly discussed anymore. These ladies not only demystified and expanded the ambit of classical music and dance forms but also made these permeate more among common people.
This tradition is virtually obsolete today. However, Manjari Chaturvedi, during a recent dance act at IHC, presented “Darbari Kathak”. This is a more dressed up, perhaps lighter form of Kathak that we have seen earlier in Samvet – The confluence of the five elements. Her script was based on Pran Neville’s book “Nautch Girls of India” and the program started with an audio visual presentation on her Sufi Kathak Foundation and her efforts towards helping aged courtesans. This was followed by an introduction by Pran Neville.
The main act had Chaturvedi performing to music and poetry of the bygone era. Her performances were punctuated by narration by the actress Neesha Singh. She related selected episodes and anecdotes from the lives of the courtesans Malka Jaan and Gauhar Jaan, Rasoolan Bai, Jaddan Bai etc. Both the performing ladies looked stunning in their elaborate Mughal styled costumes and they had fantastic stage presence.
Brownie points for starting dot on time and finishing by a decent 9-ish, thus allowing the audience enough hours of shut eye before the next work day.
The slight disappointment was the recorded sound track. The music – the poetry – these were played on a laptop with a slightly low vocal output. But courtesans were all about music and live voice support would have enriched the program manifold. Sitting in India, it can’t be so difficult and we hope to hear this addition next time round.