Saba Dewan in conversation with Paromita Vohra

Saba Dewan is a documentary film-maker. Her documentaries have focused on issues of gender, sexuality, communalism and culture....

In Search of the Lost Worlds of Tawaifs

Saba Dewan in conversation with Paromita Vohra

The tawaif has been a figure of fascination in the popular imagination of India. Films like Devdas, Pakeezah, Amar Prem, Umrao Jaan have created a powerful image of the tawaif in our minds - she is the sensual singer, the beautiful dancer, the temptress, the breaker of hearts, the fallen woman, the woman your wife must not be.

Seeking to understand the history of middle class women like herself, her mother and grandmother - women who had begun taking public space since the late 19thcentury - Saba Dewan's research led her to the women whose public space was snatched away from them. She saw how these histories were inextricably linked, and so began a journey that led to her film The Other Song (2009) and Tawaifnama, her first book. In Tawaifnama, we meet tawaifs like Dharmman Bibi, known for her beauty, singing and swordsmanship, who rode into battle during the 1857 revolt alongside her patron lover, and who could beat pretty much any man except one Dalip Singh in the wrestling arena. This is a different tawaif from the image imprinted in our minds.

We are delighted to invite Saba Dewan - filmmaker, writer, feminist - to Mumbai Local, to share with us her journey that culminated in Tawaifnama. She will be in conversation with Paromita Vohra - filmmaker, writer, agent of ishq, and curator of this session. Together, they will explore tawaif culture, notions of creativity they offer us, what has been lost and what persists, the relationship between pleasure and art, the intertwined histories of women. They will also discuss the ethics of documenting when writing about a family that is living and aspiring to social acceptance after their profession has been shamed.

Please join us on Sunday for a freeflowing conversation that delves deeply into the history and experience of the tawaif, and its resonance in our lives.

Curated by Paromita Vohra
RSVP for this session begins on Monday 2nd December, 2019.

Saba Dewan is a documentary film-maker. Her documentaries have focused on issues of gender, sexuality, communalism and culture. Tawaifnama is her first book and has emerged from her trilogy of films on stigmatised women performers: Delhi–Mumbai–Delhi (2006) about the lives of bar dancers; Naach (The Dance, 2008) on women dancers in rural fairs and The Other Song (2009) about the art and lifestyle of the tawaifs or courtesans. The research and writing of the book was supported by a fellowship from the New India Foundation. Saba lives in Gurgaon.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning filmmaker and writer whose work focuses on gender, feminism, urban life, love, desire and popular culture and spans many forms including documentary, fiction, print, video and sound installation. She is known for having created a uniquely personal, popular voice in Indian documentary.

Her films include the path-breaking Unlimited Girls and Q2P as well as Partners in Crime, Morality TV and the Loving Jehad, Where' Sandra, Cosmopolis: Two Tales of A City and A Woman's Place. She also directed the cutting-edge prime time TV series Connected Hum Tum.

She has written the internationally released Pakistani film Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) and several documentaries. Her writing has been published in various anthologies including Bombay Meri Jaan: Writings on Mumbai, The Tranquebar Book of Indian Erotica, The Penguin Book of Schooldays, Defending Our Dreams and First Proof and journals, including Signs, South Asian Journal of Popular Culture, Bioscope. Outlook, Vogue, India Today, Elle, Indian Express, Times of India, Mint, The Ladies Finger, and Yahoo Originals.

She writes popular weekly columns in Sunday Mid-day and Mumbai Mirror and is currently working on Agents of Ishq a multi-media, digital project about sex, love and desire, already being noted for its fresh take and creative approach to digital media.

Venues Dates Time
12-99 yrs
Museum Charges apply. Entry fee Rs. 10/-.