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The elegance of Umrao Jaan

Published: Friday, November 3, 2006, 11:42 [IST]


'Pehle Aap' ki tehzeeb - When Kothas were Finishing Schools Lucknow, 1857

The mystical and magnetic Lucknow has been heralded as the cultural capital of North India for generations. The ' kathak' classical dance form, 'thumris', the 'pehle aap' attitude, the ultra-suaveness in the Urdu language, multi-layered 'shairis' and 'mushairas' -- all trace their origins to Lucknow.

Lucknow, the romantic city of Nawabs... Lucknow, the land of unmatched etiquette, wit and sophistication; enviable style, valor and emotional intelligence; incredible art, fashion and entertainment. Indeed, whether it is history, architecture, sports, handicrafts, music or dance, Lucknow has its very own story to tell.

The courtesan of Lucknow was no figment of Ruswa's imagination. She practiced her profession in Lucknow and Ruswa had much to do with her life and loves. The kothas of Lucknow were finishing schools for the children of the royalty (nawabs). The most recent and arguably the most advanced of the classical Indian dance forms the 'Kathak' took place in Lucknow in that era. The mass popular Pharsi theatre whose basic structure was taken over by Hindi films in the 20th century can be traced to the Urdu theatre in Lucknow. The modern innovations in musical instruments like the tabla and the sitar were created. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was the exponent of the love composition, the famous 'thumri'. The Indo-Persian gentleman vis-À-vis his European rival was a person steeped in refined manners unassuming sophistication love for poetry, ideas, wit and letters. There is something undeniably feminine about Lucknow - no other city invites like a courtesan of yester years without inhibitions, pretensions or lewd less. Lucknow's thematic evolution is based in imaginative fantasy called 'Sham-e-Awadh'. It was this very ambience that was prevalent in Mirza Hadi Ruswa's celebrated novel Umrao Jan Ada. The book, which revealed the heart-wrenching story of a mesmerizing courtesan, Umrao Jaan , took the literary world by storm and went on to reach meteoric heights of popularity. Written in 1899 and first published in 1905, it is known to be the first great modern Urdu novel.

The film Umrao Jaan's tragedies were acted out in a thin and restless twilight zone between past and present till date the gloom hangs over Lucknow's towers and minarets to register a permanent tragedy. The Lucknow of today may be a pale shadow of its former self. Yet, till date, it is identified as the enchanting city of grace, culture, elegance, great history ..... and Umrao Jaan.

Aishwarya Rai

Kirdaar - The Cast

Aishwarya Rai as Umrao Jaan

"Courtesan...Poetess... Temptress ...! Friend...Lover...Giver...!
Many names......one special woman......Umrao Jaan ! "

Umrao Jaan was never destined to be the pride of her family.... She was nine when sold into the flesh trade of Lucknow. Yet with her dance prowess, literary genius, magnetic persona and inimitable style, she went on to become the pride of Lucknow. Strangely, she never asked for it... All she wanted was a life laced with simplicity, but her weighty existence crushed her beyond imagination. For, each time she reached out for happiness, it evaded her like a heartless lover.

When it came to Umrao Jaan, J P Dutta's first ever film with a woman as the main protagonist, it was Aishwarya Rai who was destined to play the legendary pathos-laden role. And play the role, she did ... with every part of her being.

Aishwarya Rai in Umrao Jaan

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