The Other Song
In 1935 Rasoolan Bai the well known singer from Varanasi recorded for the gramophone a thumri that she would never sing again – My breasts are wounded, don’t throw flowers at me. A variation of her more famous song – My heart is wounded, don’t throw flowers at me, the 1935 recording, never to be repeated, faded from public memory and eventually got lost.
More than seventy years later the film travels through Varanasi, Lucknow and Muzzafarpur in Bihar to search for the forgotten song. This journey brings the film face to face with the enigmatic figure of the tawaif, courtesan, bai ji and the contested terrain of her art practise and lifestyle.
To find the lost other song the film must understand the past and present of the tawaif and unravel the significant transitions that took place in late 19th and early 20th century around the control, censorship and moral policing of female sexualities and cultural expression.
About the Director
Saba Dewan is a documentary filmmaker based in New Delhi, India. Her work has focused on communalism, gender, sexuality and culture. Her notable films include Dharmayuddha (Holy War, 1989), Nasoor (Festering Wound, 1991), Khel (The Play, 1994), Barf (Snow, 1997) and Sita’s Family (2001). For the past few years she has been working on a trilogy of films focusing on stigmatized women performers. Delhi –Mumbai – Delhi (2006) on the lives of bar dancers was the first film of the trilogy; the second being Naach (The Dance, 2008) that explores the lives of women who dance in rural fairs. The third and final film of the trilogy is The Other Song (2009) about the art and lifestyle of the tawaifs or courtesans and has been screened widely.
Saba is at present working on a book that explores the social history of tawaifs in Banaras and its cultural hinterland of western Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The project has been supported by a fellowship from the New India Foundation.