Picture postcard depicting a ‘nautch girl’ in performance along with tabla and sarangi (circa 1900)
Tawaifs, ‘nautch girls’, ‘dancing girls’ were amongst the earliest groups of performers to embrace new technologies like the gramophone in early 20th century.
The success of the gramophone beginning from its earliest recording in Calcutta in 1902 by the famous khayal and thumri exponent Gauhar Jan, owes much to tawaif musicians like her, Janaki Bai Chhappan Chhurri, Zohra Bai and many others who quickly adapted to the format that required an entire song be sung within 3 minutes. Male musicians had on the other hand shied away from fear of `losing’ their voices to the new technology, an unwillingness to adjust to the time limit it imposed and a dread of sharing music beyond the exclusive circle of rich and influential patrons.
Always open to new and lucrative opportunities tawaifs were also enthusiastic votaries of the emerging performing arts of late 19th and early 20th century, theatre and films – which they would join in large number as actresses, singers and dancers till almost mid 20th century. Thus pushing the boundaries and if need be even reinventing their traditional role as custodians and practitioners of musical forms like the ghazal, thumri and its associative semi classical genres, the hori, chaiti, kajari and dadra as also the dance form kathak. Until early 20th century, they were the only section of Indian women, who had the freedom to learn, perform and thereby preserve these arts forms.
courtesy :saba dewan