Tawaif: Gender and Power in South Asian Arts | Reading Group for Tawaifnama by Saba Dewan (2017)

Brooklyn Raga Massive

Part of Social Justice Series

Past Event


Thursday, Jun 17, 2021
from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM (UTC)

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Brooklyn Raga Massive




Arts & Culture

Race & Ethnicity

Virt India

Brooklyn Raga Massive is proud to announce the beginning of our Social Justice Series. This series of concerts, events, and activities is a platform for the voices of artisan communities and a place to share valuable resources on how to be better allies through decolonized art and critical activism.

The first season of the Social Justice Series will be dedicated to the contributions and influences of tawaifs: often reductively defined as courtesans, tawaifs are female-identifying entertainers who served as community authorities on art and adaab (etiquette). They were also teachers, innovators, and revolutionaries who lent their talents to India’s first gramophone recordings and movies as well as countless musical, dance, and literary compositions. Due to British-styled social reformism and the erasure of non-dominant-caste women’s artistic contributions in both post-colonial India and Pakistan, however, the profession of tawaif became stigmatized with matrilineal tawaif communities nearing extinction today.

Registration is for all 4 events. We will send email reminders

May 14, 7pm EDT Screening of “Pakeezah” (1972)

We open the series with a timeless Bollywood classic and an invitation to consider how tawaifs are understood in the post-colonial Indian imagination. Pakeezah tells the story of a tawaif living in Lucknow at the turn of the 20th century. Considered the masterpiece of director Kamal Amrohi, the movie features a gorgeous Hindustani-inspired soundtrack and the legendary actress Meena Kumari.

May 21, 7PM EDT Screening of “The Other Song” (2009)

In contrast to the dramatized Bollywood narratives in Pakeezah, this documentary by director and author of Tawaifnama, Saba Dewan, explores the contemporary history and musical traditions of matrilineal tawaif communities in Varanasi, Lucknow, and Muzzafarpur, India.

June 17, 1PM EDT Reading Group for Tawaifnama by Saba Dewan (2017)

An elaboration on Dewan’s “The Other Song,” Tawaifnama is a beautifully written and detailed ethnography on tawaif communities in Varanasi, Lucknow, and Muzzafarpur, India. Given the length of the book, participants are encouraged to focus on the chapters “Ibtida,” “Dharmman Bibi,” “Pyaari Bai: Radio Singer,” “The Law,” and “Kab Tak Mere Maula.”

June 29, 8PM EDT Panel Discussion

The series will culminate in a panel discussion featuring artists, activists, and scholars who can speak to strategies for uplifting tawaifs’ contributions to the arts as well as avoiding the erasure of artists on the basis of their gender, occupation, and faith.


Brooklyn Raga Massive