Balkrishna Arts, 'Pakeezah'

Balkrishna Arts, 'Pakeezah'

Balkrishna Arts
'Pakeezah'
Film hoarding
India
2002
Oil on canvas
Museum no. IS.114-2002

Pakeezah (Pure Heart): 1971

This classic film tells the story of Sahibjaan, daughter of the courtesan Nargis. Nargis dreams of escaping her dishonourable life but she is rejected by her husband's family and dies in a graveyard giving birth to Sahibjaan. Her husband is unaware of his daughter. Sahibjaan grows up to become a dancer and courtesan, and falls in love with a noble stranger, Salim. Like her mother, she is rejected by Salim's family because of her status until her true identity is revealed and she is reunited with her father.

The lavishly produced film booklet gives a detailed account of the cultural importance of the courtesan. Known as 'tawaifs', they are represented as custodians of culture, well versed in Hindi, Urdu and Persian poetry. Their existence is traced back to ancient India where they were used as informers by the administrators, thus placing them at the centre of politics and culture. The underlying contradiction between the impurity of Sahibjaan's actions and the purity of her soul is made apparent in the film title, which means 'pure heart'. The unfinished hoarding depicts a portrait of Sahibjaan and an image of her dancing.