I’ve just read and posted a very interesting article on the portrayal of the tawaif ( طوائ ف) in Hindi cinema. Tawaif, is the Urdu word for prostitute but in the context of north Indian culture, literature and film it is most often used to refer to the courtesan and dancing girl who provides a range of services and pleasures, not just sexual.
In Bollywood, the tawaif, is a regular feature in many films but always in a tragic often unsavory or lascivious role. The article lays out the dichotomy between the good girl (devi) and the threatening/corrupt girl (tawaif) as portrayed by India’s film industry, which, one presumes, is a reflection of how Indian society at large regards the two types.
I would encourage you to read the article…it is brilliant.
That got my mind turning towards a movie I’ve never seen but whose soundtrack I have enjoyed over the years. The film is Pati, Patni aur Tawaif (The Husband, The Wife and The Whore) from 1985. It was a B-film with a racy title concocted to get House Full with horny young men. The story line is as follows:
A successful film director is happily married to Shanti. On the set his main starlet, Kiran, spits the dummy and walks out. In desperation to finish the film, the director (and our hero) Vijay, hires a prostitute named Gauri to fill in for Kiran. One thing leads to another, what with all that sexy dancing in Bollywood films, and soon Vijay and Gauri are sharing each other’s beds.
Disaster strikes when Gauri announces she is pregnant with Vijay’s child. Rather than giving it a ‘good’ upbringing, Gauri intends to raise the child as a tawaif. “I need someone to look after me when I grow old,” Gauri tells Vijay. Vijay is pressed into a tight corner. Does he marry Gauri the tawaif, and make a good woman of her, or does he return to Shanti with his tail between his legs? You guess what happens next.
The story is pure pulp fiction but together with the soundtrack it does raise some interesting, perhaps, unexpected issues. First, Gauri is played by Salma Agha , a Pakistani actress with sharp aquiline features and come hither eyes. Tawaifs were a primarily a feature of the Muslim nobility and landed aristocracy of 18-19th century India and most but not all, were Muslim themselves. So here you have a Pakistani and Muslim actress playing the part of a tawaif in a film made in India by presumably non-Muslims. Talk about reinforcing stereotypes.
Second, Gauri’s insistence that she will raise her daughter as a tawaif for social security rings with hard nosed realism. She is very aware the Vijay is never going to leave his respectable Hindu wife for her, no matter how much he says he loves her. Yet she is leaving the door open too, marry me and your daughter can be respectable. Gauri is one clever, tough, street smart woman.
The music, is lively and light as was the case throughout much of the 80s, a decade seen as being pretty abysmal as far as poetry and fine musical art went. Salma Agha, herself, sings several numbers which adds more verisimilitude to her performance. And though quite nasal-y she acquits herself well. But the highlight of the soundtrack is an utterly beautiful folk number performed by another Pakistani singer Reshma, the gypsy queen.
I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I have over the years.
01 Kehna Na Tum Yeh Kisi Se (Mohammad Aziz and Salma Agha)
02 Teri Mohabbat Meri Jawani (Mohammad Aziz and Salma Agha)
03 Mere Chann Pardesi (Reshma)
04 Ek Doosre Se Khafa Hona Nahin (Kavita Krishnamurti and Mohammad Aziz)
05 Mujhe Log Kehte Hain Kadmon Ki Dhool (Salma Agha)