Lillete Dubey on Staging ‘Gauhar’


I don’t take my audience for granted : Actor director Lillete Dubey . . . . By Preetha Nair 

As her Prime Time Theatre Company production house completes its quarter century, well-known actor and theatre director Lillete Dubey is excited to bring her latest production “Gauhar” to the capital this week. The play traces the life and times of songstress Gauhar Jaan, to whom belongs the distinction of being the first Indian singer to cut a gramophone record back in 1902.

The play, to be staged at Siri Fort auditorium on April 7, is a tribute to the pioneer of the thumri tradition in Indian classical music, whose achievements and contributions are largely forgotten, Dubey told IANS in an interview.

The life of the flamboyant Gauhar Jaan was an easy choice for Dubey, who always hunts for novel themes for her plays.

A Still from the Play
A Still from the Play

“Gauhar was a prodigy and it is sad that we hardly acknowledge her contribution to the music industry. Some of my musicians too didn’t know her, though they were familiar with her works,” lamented Dubey, who has directed critically-acclaimed productions like “Dance like a Man”, “30 Days In September” and “Where Did I Leave My Purdah?”

Inspired by author Vikram Sampath’s book ‘My Name is Gauhar Jann’, Dubey said it was challenging to adapt the immensely talented courtesan-turned-musician’s life into theatre as she also added live music to the play.

“I wanted live music in the play as I wanted to do justice to the singer who has 600 songs to her credit in 20 languages,” Dubey added.

The director was inspired by the singer who was much ahead of her times.

“She was forward enough to think the gramophone was the future challenge while others thought it as blasphemy. She also performed the elaborate melody Hindustani classical style for just three-and-a-half minutes for a record,” said Dubey, who has acted in movies like “Zubeidaa”, “Monsoon Wedding” and “The Lunchbox”. She also drew appreciation for her recent movie “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in which she romances Hollywood star Richard Gere.

“Gauhar”, written by Mahesh Dattani, dwells more on the human side of the singer as her personal life was equally fascinating.

“We have imagined several scenes from the book like her paying Rs.1,000 fine a day for riding a four-horse driven buggy on Kolkata streets, and spending Rs.20,000 for a party when her cat had a litter,” Dubey noted.

While Gauhar’s independent lifestyle and feisty nature epitomises a milestone in the history of Indian classical music, the ups and downs of her life have also been featured in the play.

“We have shown her relationship with her mother and her love life. It shows Gauhar’s journey from being a successful singer to her final days where she died in penury,” said Dubey.

While actor Rajeshwari Sachdev plays the young Gauhar till age 40, renowned sufi singer Zila Khan, the daughter of the late sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, plays the later part. Rajeshwari has done an exceptional job in her singing and acting, Dubey said.

Roping in Zila Khan was “my wild card”, Dubey admitted. “My hunch for casting actors works most of the time,” she said.

Though Dattani initially wanted Dubey to play the old Gauhar, she felt that a singer would do more justice to the role.

“Gauhar’s mother Malka Jaan was a poet in her own right. Zila was the perfect choice being a fabulous singer. She really worked hard for the acting part as it was her debut play,” Dubey noted.

Talking about the journey of her theatre group, Dubey said it was rewarding as her repertoire has been vast and fulfilling.

“I never wanted to do run-of-the mill stuff. I can’t do relationship sagas which most of the directors attempt, says Dubey.

“My company has travelled widely abroad and in India. We have covered five continents and it was a great opportunity to introduce our theatre to the world,” said Dubey, who always stuck to themes of her choice. “We tend to decide for audience what they want to watch. We should never take them for granted,” she said.

Asked whether, for her, movies had taken backseat for theatre, Dubey countered: “Never. For the last two years, I was busy shooting for (popular British drama series) ‘Indian Summer’ which airs on Channel 4 in Britain. I am very much around,” said the actor, adding she is keen to do good roles in Bollywood.

“Theatre is my passion but I enjoy doing movies too,” Dubey concluded.

“Gauhar” will be staged at 7.30 p.m. on April 7 at the Siri Fort Auditorium. Tickets are available at Book My Show.