A miran is born once again on the silver screen to sizzle as the Awadhi courtesan Umrao Jaan.
The nautch girl with the heart of gold has always caught the filmmakers’ fancy and several leading ladies of Bollywood have immortalised the role — from Nargis in Adalat to Hema Malini in Sharafat, Meena Kumari in Pakeezah, Rekha in Umrao Jaan, Madhuri Dixit in Devdas, Rani Mukerjee in Mangal Pandey and now Aishwarya Rai in Umrao Jaan.
The portrayal of a tawaif’s life, grief and bliss has always been larger than life, complemented by attitude and dancing skills. And the attempt has never gone wrong.
The look: A filmy courtesan comes wrapped in exquisite clothes, jewellery and nazakat. Says Abu Jani of the designer duo Abu-Sandeep, who created Chandramukhi’s look in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, “A courtesan has to be draped in vibrant Indian hues — Benarasis, diaphanous dupattas and embroidered blouses.”
Bindiya Dutta, who has created Ash’s look for husband JP Dutta’s Umrao Jaan, says, “JP Dutta wanted the innocence of a girl child to come forth.” Loveleen Bains, who designed costumes for Mangal Pandey, adds, “The look should reflect the era to which it belongs.”
Body rhythms: Dancing and the body language of a courtesan too take on a special character. Remember Rekha mesmerising through her eyes in Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan? Says choreographer Saroj Khan, “A tawaif has to dance and that too very gracefully.”
The emotions: The nautch girl enchants with her skills but camouflages the atrocities of her life. That is perhaps the romance which has drawn people to her life through the ages. Reminisces Muzaffar, “My Umrao Jaan danced because I wanted to show her optimism. For me, she wasn’t a courtesan but a storehouse of culture and creativity.” And for the public, she is an entertainer who never ever falters.