Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Mukul Ahmed: Gauhar Jaan – The Datia Incident

By | Published on Tuesday 10 April 2018

Beginning this week at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham is a run of a fascinating sounding play about legendary Indian classical musician and dancer Gauhar Jaan, India’s first recording artist. It’s a multi-lingual piece fused with dance and music, and I think it looks amazing.

As soon as I read about it, I wanted to find out more, so arranged to have a quick chat with director Mukul Ahmed.

CM: Can you begin by telling us a bit about the Gauhar Jaan? Who was she?
MA: She was a legendary Indian classical musician and dancer. Famous for her talent as well as her flamboyance and beauty. She was the first Indian star performer.

CM: What aspects of her life does the play look at, and from what angle?
MA: Her vision and struggle for equality and dignity. She understood and embraced the technological revolution (invention of the gramophone) and unshackled the Indian music industry from male dominance.

CM: What wider themes does the show explore?
MA: Technology, culture and freedom of choice.

CM: She died in the early part of the twentieth century, which is quite a long time ago – what relevance does her story have for contemporary audiences?
MA: This production strives to convey a flavour of the mood concurrent during this transitional phase in Indian classical music by illustrating the great impact technology had on the arts a hundred years ago, as classical music faces a similar revolution today with the advent of the internet.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwright?
MA: Gauhar Jaan is Tarun Jasani’s first stage play. He is a trained Indian classical musician who has participated in numerous cross-cultural collaborations and composed numerous soundtracks for film, ranging from shorts such as ‘Death of an artist’ and ‘It’s OK’ to the feature film ‘Kapalika’. He is currently composing for Mukul and Ghetto Tigers’ ‘Rabia’, an experimental works incorporating motion-capture technology live on the concert stage.

Aside from performing and composing, Tarun spends his time teaching Sarod to students, both privately as well as at SOAS and Goldsmiths University, giving workshops in schools and writing for academic publications. Most recently he finished directing his first full length film ‘Aghori’.

CM: What made you want to direct the piece? What do you like about it?
MA: I was inspired by the remarkable life of the first Indian recording star who only ever wanted to have control of her life and the way she revolutionised the Indian music/arts world for ever. I was also drawn to the complementary relationship between technology and the arts.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your company, Mukul & Ghetto Tigers? What do you do and what are your aims?
MA: Our vision is Protect, Preserve and Provoke. We work in a highly collaborative way and present culturally specific works to a global audience. Mukul and Ghetto Tigers believes in theatre as a place for exploration and dissent in a democratic society.

CM: What plans and ambitions do you have for the future?
MA: At present I am working with Tarun Jasani on a play based on the life of the female muslim saint Rabi’a Basri and with playwright Raminder Kaur on a play about cancer victims called ‘Bodies’. MGT is also planning to tour ‘Zucco’ by Bernard Marie Koltes internationally.

CM: What’s coming up next after this?
MA: ‘Nazrul in Vienna’ – an opera based on the life of Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.


‘Gauhar Jaan – The Datia Incident’ is on at the Omnibus Theatre from 10-29 Apr, see this page here for more.

LINKS: | |