Gauhar Jaan Exhibition and Play at the Omnibus Theatre

Throughout April, the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham will be hosting a play and exhibition revolving around the remarkable story of India’s first recording artist, supported by The EMI Archive Trust, The British Library and The Arts Council England.

Mukul & Ghetto Tigers, an East London theatre company present Gauhar Jaan – The Datia Incident. A tale interwoven with scandal, intrigue and invention, this is a multilingual play fusing music and dance to celebrate the early 20th century musical revolution and the remarkable story of a talented musician who only ever craved control over her own fate.

Produced by former National Theatre staff director Mukul Ahmed and written by Tarun Jasani, the play is inspired by Vikram Sampath’s book My name is Guahar Jaan and was partly researched at the EMI Archive Trust.

The exhibition, The First Indian Diva – The Courtesan and the Recording Industry, highlights the revolutionary impact that technology had on the development of arts and culture and the importance of the first recorded sound. The exhibition addresses the role of female courtesans in India, the significance and impact of artists such as Gauhar Jaan and the influential role of the early music labels.

The EMI Archive Trust also provided digitised early Indian recordings, photos, artwork and an approved press pack in-kind.

Rolf Killius, curator of the exhibition said: “In Kolkata, the people still remember Gauhar Jaan as a personality. She was really respected as a singer, an artist and a dancer. I thought it would be a good idea to have an exhibition to tell the story of Gauhar Jaan and showcase a bit of the background.”

Of the project, Marie McCarthy, Artistic Director at the Omnibus Theatre said: “When I’m programming, I’m actively looking out for work which presents strong female characters. So, when I was approached by Mukul & The Ghetto Tigers almost one year ago about staging this reimagined tale and exhibition inspired by the life of Gauhar Jaan, and the more I learned about her bold contribution to the arts, I could see the potential for a wonderful and evocative production.”

“Omnibus Theatre opened just four years ago but our profile is growing and we are now a multi-award-winning theatre in South London. Our identity is very much driven by the legacy of our former library building, a repository of books to tell stories known and unknown. Gauhar Jaan’s story and her remarkable contribution to the arts is surprisingly unknown, it’s a great story worth telling and fits perfectly with our ethos.

Through the play and exhibition, the audience will be transported back in time to that of the Mughul courts. This re-imagined production captures an important historical moment in the evolution of the arts in India and I hope audiences and visitors alike will feel inspired, informed and entertained.”

A brief interview with director Mukul Ahmed can be seen on the Omnibus Theatre blog.
The exhibition and play are now both running at the Omnibus Theatre until April 28 and 29 respectively.

Article by Callum Galbraith

Photos courtesy of @TheConceptLounge and @explaurajones

Choreography by award-winning Indian dance artist Arunima Kumar


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