Kya aapko pata hai? Asal mein Munni nahi,Launda badnaam hua tha?, Pankaj Pawan asks his chorus. They nod in shock. Pawan then sings the popular dance number,packed with histrionics. There is a tabla,a harmonium and two playback singers accompanying him. Every now and then,he instructs his tabla player to increase the pace to keep the audience interested. The ensemble is rehearsing for Launda Badnaam Hua,a solo act that graphs the troubles and experiences of a launda naach aspirant,and its state in the country. Weve heard of launda naach through Kashyaps Gangs of Wasseypur II,where a scrawny man danced to Electric piya. Launda Badnaam Hua,however,discusses the graph of the folk form and how it is currently rendered profane and low art.
Pawan,who plays the protagonist,continues singing Hindi film songs,sporadically adding cheeky anecdotes. The dress that Malaika Arora Khan wore in the film would have cost over a lakh. Whereas,my costume is worth 500 rupees, he says to his chorus.
It looks like a quaint village gathering,but then he breaks into Yun toh premi pachattar humaare,and the rehearsal turns into a jam session,with the others singing along. Pawan has been doing theatre for over 10 years in the Capital. This play,which is a production by Delhi-based theatre group SEHAR,was first performed at the Muktdhara auditorium in Gole Market,and since then it has travelled to Kamani Auditorium,IIT and Kingdom of Dreams.
Not many people know about launda naach. It was an extremely revered culture which involved men who held the onus of entertainment at social gatherings. Back then,women werent allowed to be a part of films or theatre, says Pawan. He talks of the popularity of performers such as Bhikari Thakur and Jayshankar Sundari,whose lives were about launda naach. The form has now trickled down to a vulgar,commercialised version,where the performers are looked down upon. They are even in danger of being raped or sexually abused because of the stigma. The protagonist in our play also faces such troubles. Its in a very sad state right now, he says.
Pawan returns to his rehearsal as a responsible entertainer. The story is revealed through conversations with his accompanists,and song/dance routines. I love to wear my sisters pink suit and dance at weddings. Theres no shame in that, he says to his audience.
He breaks into an odd folk song every now and then,asks of the audiences patience with songs they havent heard. He even adds an upbeat version of Jagjit Singhs Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho to his performance. When the ensemble sings Lahoriya,a Bihari folk song,their faces are shining bright. Clearly,folk music was a winner in that room. At the end of the rehearsal,we are asked if we liked the music. We give our stamp of approval almost immediately. A lot of these artistes have honest devotion to their performance. The culture is routinely contested in the garb of morality. Hopefully,our play will show its brighter,more entertaining aspect, says Pawan.
Launda Badnaam Hua will be performed at Stein Auditorium,India Habitat Centre on May 4 at 7 pm.