This tawaif, born in kotha, became Bollywood’s first female composer, husband converted to Islam, daughter was superstar

This tawaif, born in kotha, became Bollywood’s first female composer, husband converted to Islam, daughter was superstar

This courtesan went on to be a Bollywood bigwig, producing and directing films, becoming the first female composer in Hindi films

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi has brought courtesans – known as tawaifs in India – back to the limelight. Over the years, Indian cinema has told several stories of tawaifs, both fictitious and real, ranging from depictions in Umrao Jaan and Pakeezah to Devdas. But when the Indian film industry was new and fledgling, these tawaifs became the first stars of a new industry. One of them gave birth to a girl who would become independent India’ first superstar.

The tawaif who became a musical star

Jaddanbai was born to Mia Jaan and Daleepabai in 1892. Her mother Daleepabai was a famous tawaif in Benares (today’s Varanasi) herself. As a child, Jaddanbai learnt music under the tutelage of stalwarts like Shrimant Ganpat Rao and Ustad Moinuddin Khan. By the early 20th century, Jaddanbai was becoming a more famous tawaif than her mother and her music gained popularity across India. She was among the first tawaifs who began recording their songs. She recorded several records with the Columbia Gramophone Company.

How Jaddanbai became a composer and film director

In 1933, Jaddanbai began working in theatre, where she was approached for a film. She made her debut as an actress the same year with the film Raja Gopichand. Soon, she started her own production company Sangeet Films, under which she produced and directed her own films. She also composed songs in these films, becoming Bollywood’s first female composer.

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Jaddanbai with Nargis

Jaddanbai’s personal life and legacy

 

Jaddanbai’s first marriage was to Narottamdas Khatri, a Gujarati businessman. Khatri converted to Islam upon marriage and they had one son – Akhtar Hussain. With her second husband – musician and frequent collaborator Ustaad Irshad Meer Khan – she had another son, filmmaker Anwar Hussain. Her third marriage was to a Punjabi businessman Mohan Tyagi. He too converted to Islam for the marriage, but the family practised both Hindu and Muslim traditions. Their daughter – Nargis – went on to be a superstar and married fellow star Sunil Dutt. Their son Sanjay Dutt has been one of the most successful Indian actors in the last few decades.

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