Indian history is filled with tales of valour, sacrifice and tragic endings. The world of art and music too has its fair share of stories – some we know and others need to be told.
One such story is that of the acclaimed and much ahead of her time singer and dancer from Calcutta Gauhar Jaan.
Vikram Sampath’s meticulously and heart-warming researched book, My Name is Gauhar Jaan, has immortalised this beautiful and talented singer’s life which has now, rightfully so, caught the attention of those in the world of theatre and drama.
The much acclaimed play, Gauhar Jaan, has won critical acclaim and will be staged in Chandigarh under the auspices of the Durga Das Foundation at Tagore Theatre on April 10.
Gauhar Jaan, who was one of the most flamboyant, fiesty and news-making artiste of her time, with her photograph on match boxes and postcards, unfortunately went into oblivion.
To her goes the credit of being the first Indian and woman to record on the gramophone.
Born Eileen Angelina Yeoward in Azamgarh, in what was then the United Provinces in 1873, Gauhar was a woman of exceptional beauty, talent and grace. She symbolised the secular ethos that Indian classical music is known for – her grandmother was a Hindu, grandfather a British and father Armenian Christian.
She embraced Islam and remained a devout Muslim all her life, though most of her compositions were replete with Krishna bhakti.
In the culturally vibrant atmosphere of Benaras, Gauhar’s innate talents in music, dance and poetry blossomed as she moved from Benaras to Calcutta to establish herself in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.
She and her mother were counted as among the most famous baijis of Calcutta.
In 1902, Frederick William Gaisberg, the Gramophone Company’s first India agent, chose Gauhar as the first Indian artiste to record.
To Gauhar goes the credit of devising a unique template of presenting something as expansive as Hindustani music in just three minutes, which was all that a single disc could record at the time.
The end of a recording was usually marked by the high-pitched and sometimes flirtatious announcement ‘My name is Gauhar Jaan!’.
This was of course, a technical necessity because record masters were sent to Hanover in Germany for pressing, and these announcements helped the technician identify the singer. In her illustrious career, Gauhar recorded close to 600 records in over 10 languages.
Her repertoire was vast and ranged from the weighty khayal and dhrupad to the supposedly lighter forms of thumri, dadra, kajri, hori, chaiti and bhajan.
The play, Gauhar Jaan, written by Mahesh Dattani and directed by Lillete Dubey, has a powerful star cast that does justice to her amazing life.
Enacted by the versatile Rajeshwari Sachdeva who plays the younger protagonist while well-known Sufi singer Zila Khan plays the older one. Denzil Smith, Anuj Gunwara, Danny Sura, Gillian Pinto and Pravishi Das, acclaimed theatre artistes from Mumbai are the male leads.
The play promises to be a treat for those who are musically inclined. It will also appeal to lay audiences who will appreciate the sensitive dialogues and lyrics and the engaging storyline that traces the life and times of Gauhar, bringing alive the societal mores and traditions that existed more than a century ago.
Limited invites are available at Nehru Bhavan, Sector 24, Chandigarh, on a first-come-first-serve basis.