Fusing dance and dialogue, music and romance, humour and melodrama, this travelling folk theatre was precursor to Bollywood. In cities and villages, people watched all night, drawn into a world of fantasy and make-believe.
Gulab, a twelve-year-old girl from the Bedia caste, joined Nautanki in 1931. Reputed to be the first female actor in Nautanki, she rose to dizzy heights as the heroine of countless dramas and later started the Great Gulab Theatre Company. Gulab Bai was awarded the Padmashree, a mark of national honour-yet she died sad and disillusioned, for the form to which she had devoted her life was languishing.
To tell Gulab Bai's story-and reconstruct the social history of a genre-Deepti Priya Mehrotra travelled to Gulab's village and Kanpur's Rail Bazaar, met family members and co-artistes, gathered oral narratives, traced drama scripts and song recordings. The tale that emerges is a wonderfully intimate portryal of a dying art and its uncrowned queen.
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