The big day is all set to arrive for Kangna Ranaut. She is making her debut as a
nautch girl with Rajjo today. Stepping into a role that not many mainstream Bollywood
heroines have played before, the obvious comparisons for her are being made with the likes of
Meena Kumari (Pakeezah), Madhubala (Mughal-E-Azam), Madhuri Dixit (Devdas),
other than these iconic actresses, there have been few others as well who have tried to step in
as a ‘tawaif’.
Here is presenting 10 such actresses from past and present.
Aishwarya Rai – Umrao Jaan (2006)
It was sacrilege no less for someone to actually attempt remaking Rekha’s Umrao Jaan.
However J.P. Dutta got adventurous and tried doing that with Aishwarya Rai. The only output of
this was her coming close to Abhishek Bachchan, the film’s lead, and beginning of a steady
affair. Yes, she did well, but the burden of expectations was so high that right from the
release of the music, it was downhill for the film.
Sushmita Sen – Kisna (2005)
A year before Aishwarya Rai, another beauty queen who had tried getting into the garb of a
‘tawaif’ was Sushmita Sen. This was the beginning of a downhill journey that Subhash Ghai was
taking as a director and even though Sushmita Sen brought grace to the proceedings in an
extended special appearance, there were no takers for this confused affair starring Vivek
Rani Mukerji – Mangal Pandey (2005)
In the same year as Sushmita Sen, even Rani Mukerji had attempted doing something different in
the Aamir Khan starrer Mangal Pandey. As a 19th century courtesan, she did exude oomph
with ‘Main Vaari Vaari’ but audience wasn’t as receptive to this Ketan Mehta directed
film that went on many tangents and couldn’t really settle down to the core of the story.
Rani Mukerji – Saawariya (2007)
Rani was convinced though that she had it in her to play a ‘tawaif’ with conviction and from
19th century, she moved on to the fantastical world created by Sanjay Leela Bhansali in
Saawariya. She did well in her teasing act as she took on a boy (Ranbir Kapoor) under her
wings. She danced well to the tune of ‘Chail Chabeela’ and carried herself well but when
it came to the film as a whole, audience said ‘I Don’t Likes’!
Mandakini – Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985)
What audience had liked though was Mandakini’s Lolita-sque act in Ram Teri Ganga Maili.
Though it is the debutant girl’s shower under a waterfall which is remembered most as one of the
most iconic shoots by Raj Kapoor, she did well as a ‘dukhiyaari bechaari’ while weeping away in
the ‘mujra’ number ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili Ho Gayi’.
Rati Agnihotri – Tawaif (1985)
The one who played a ‘tawaif’ straight up though from start to finish without any pretence was
Rati Agnihotri. The film had incidentally released in the same year as Ram Teri Ganga
Maili but instead of relying on titillation, director B.R. Chopra chose to address a social
issue with much drama and seriousness. Though it was Rishi Kapoor who was the most notable star
in the film, it was Rati Agnihotri who led from the front.
Salma Agha – Pati, Patni aur Tawaif (1990)
This lesser known act and the film may not have quite made it to the list but then it deserves
to, courtesy the twisted storyline that it carries. Mithun is married to Farah but when Salma
Agha, a ‘tawaif’ comes in his life and gets pregnant, he has to make a choice. Reason? Ms. Agha
decides to raise her daughter as a prostitute and Mithun da has to make a choice on whether he
would allow that or rather leave his wife.
as Tabu decided to bring some dialogue-baazi to good use as a ‘kothewaali’. Her confrontation
scenes with Ashish Vidyarthi, who played a cop in the film, are still remembered for their
applause worthy impact in theatres. As for the mandatory ‘mujra’, she did it with aplomb in the
song ‘Dil Ka Kya Kare Sahib’.
Mahie Gill – Gulaal (2009)
Mahie Gill too had a ‘mujra’ to her credit in Gulaal though the song in question,
‘Ranaji’, could well be termed as a fusion number, courtesy references to Bisleri,
Afghanistan, Coca Cola, Iraq, Aeroplane and stuff alike. She played her seducing act well in
this K.K. Menon starrer where Anurag Kashyap was in good form. Unfortunately, the film didn’t
cover much distance commercially and Mahie’s act isn’t remembered much.
Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls (1973)
However, the true homage that has ever been paid to nautch girls in Bollywood featured none
other than (and most deservingly) Helen. For a woman who has featured in over 500 films and done
all sorts of dances, many being ‘mujra’ and cabaret, it was just apt that Merchant-Ivory came up
with an Anthony Korner documentary on her tremendous work. The movie is a montage of scenes from
her films and very interestingly, features an opening sequence from Shashi Kapoor starrer
Bombay Talkie where she danced alongside him on the keys of a ‘giant red typewriter’.
Check it out!