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An interesting feature which was popular in the Silent Film period in south India was the live shows during the screening of the film. Projection would be stopped and dancers, mostly scantily dressed women would come on stage and perform dances for about 15 to 20 minutes. Such dances were widely advertised in handbills and on such days the crowds grew larger! One of such crowd pulling dancers was J Susheela Devi. Besides dancing on stage, there were also other features like wrestling bouts and boxing interludes during the screening.
(‘Memories of Madras: Its movies, musicians and men of letters’ – A compilation of writings by Randor Guy, published by Creative Workshop, 2016)

There was logic to every element of the tawaif culture of the time. No alcohol was allowed at their performances, so opium was smeared on the paan leaves that gave a high slowly reaching a crescendo with the rising notes of the dancer’s ghungroo and the musicians’s tabla.
The kothas or bordellos were like finishing schools for the arts, where respectable girls came for etiquette training. These women were so renowned for their culture and knowledge that families would send their daughters to tawaifs to learn aadaab (politeness) and tezeeb (refinement).
(‘The ‘Tawaifs’ of Shahjahanabad’ by Debasish Das, Live History India, March 11, 2020)


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