Dec 15, 2007

Queen Harish, Sx in Sydney

Queen H a r i s h
has a feature in SX News the leading gay and lesbian newspaper in Sydney

Dancing Queen

Fourteen years ago, 29-year-old Harish’s mother and father died, so he took up dancing at night to make enough money to take care of the rest of his family in Rajasthan. Thus, Queen Harish was born.

“I think Queen Harish is my alter ego – drag is in my blood, and while I am dressed as her I can let loose all my greatest passions, flirtations and wild behaviour!” she says on the eve of her first visit to Australia.

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Queen Harish in the Movie

Queen Harish features in the film "Gypsy Caravan".

A Buena Vista Social Club for Gypsy Music, and also the chance to discover both 'Mr Harish Kumar' at home and Queen Harish on stage, make up sessions, interviews, promenade in Jaisalmer city, in the desert ... and amazing shots of her fantastic dance, captured while she was dancing for MAharaja, the Rajasthani music group, during the Gypsy Caravan North American tour, back in 2001.

The film is now distributed worldwide, try catching it in a theater near you, and for here is a little raw footage :

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For the film release in Japan, the distributor had the wonderful idea to have me and my make-up skills on the poster ... very good !!
The film opens in Japanese theaters on January 12th !!!

Queen Harish, her lips, her winks ...

Catch Queen Harish hottest flirtatious mood here :

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About Queen Harish : Some History

Queen Harish feels nostalgic of a time she has never lived ... Nevertheless, her 21st century lifestyle reflects it, as much as these quotes by William Dalrymple in "The City of Djinns".

The trouble was that, unlike most other periods of Delhi's history, there seemed to be very few good primary sources. There were the usual dubious court chronicles, but the accounts of the different palace intrigues – the competing factions -, the endless rounds of murders, blindings, stranglings, stabblings and poisonings, seemed only to confuse, not in any way to illuminate the age. It was Mozaffar Alam, the Mughal historian, who told me about a book which became my favorite Delhi texts : the Muraqqa'-e- Delhi.

The Muraqqa' is a wonderfully gossipy account of Delhi taken from the diary of an impressionable young visitor named Dargah Quli Khan. Khan was a Muslim nobleman from the Deccan who paid an extended visit to Delhi from 1737 to 1741 as part of the entourage of Safdarjung's great rival : Asaf Jah, the first Nizam of Hyderabad.

For all its humiliating decline, khan saw Delhi as a vibrant and sophisticated city, fill of glamour and intrigue, the beauty of its palaces and shrines, he thought, was rivaled only by the strangeness of the city's society and its dazzling complement of poets, dancers and mystics. His account brings the whole city alive: the dry bones of the period are suddenly fleshed out and take on a recognizable human face. Typical of the account is the picture he gives of the festival held at the great Sufi shrine of the Qadam Sharif, which sheltered the supposed footprint of the Holy Prophet.

"Every Thursday the courtyard of the Dargah is so full of visitors that it is difficult even to approach the place and touch it,' he writes. 'Pilgrims and ascetics come from countries and cities far and near to seek the fulfillment of their desires."

But when Khan goes on to describe the crowds a little more closely, this picture of a prayerful pilgrimage undergoes something of a transformation: "On seeing beautiful women carrying in their hands porcelain bottles of perfume, the crowds become uncontrollable …the ecstatic people move around as though being swept into a whirlpool…gradually the singers gather and the Mehfil (gathering) becomes gay. Men and beautiful women also join in. Pleasure seekers retire to the corners and find the privacy to enjoy their desired company."

If this sort of thing could take place at the most sacred shrine in Delhi, then the festivals at the lesser Dargahs – such as that which grew up around the grave of the saintly Emperor Bahadur Shah 1 – could be even more lively. Quli Khan is clearly not sure wether he should be disapproving or excited about the orgy busily going on all around him.

(At night) chandeliers of all kinds are hung so that the place dazzles like sunlight and overshadows the moon.

Hand in hand, the lovers roam the streets while (outside) the drunken and the debauched revel in all kinds of perversities. Group of windsome lads violate the faith of the believers with acts which are sufficient to shake the very roots of piety. There are beautiful faces as far as the eye can see. All around prevails a world of impiety and immorality. Both nobles and plebians quench the thirst of their lust here.

Having described the main shrines and Sufi festivals and mystics, khan goes on to list the city's secular personalities: the nobles, the musicians and the great femmes fatales. These figures range from Azam Khan, 'one of the chief nobles of the Empire' whose principal claim to fame is his vast harem and his insatiable appetites ('a pederast, he is also found of beautiful girls…whenever he is informed of the availability of a lad or a fine wench he endeavours to be the buyer'); through Taqi, 'one of the famous eunuchs and the ringleader of the conjurors of Hindustan' ('his house is the abode of delicate beauties, some as fair as the dawn while others are as dark as volatile passion'); to the great musicians such as the blind drummer Shah Nawaz who played his own stomach as if it was a tabla drum, or the disgusting Surkhi, a glutton who 'snorred and expectorated loudly' but whose horrible habits were overlooked by his hosts because of the unique beauty of his voice ('as melodious as a nightingale'), his brilliant mimicry and his ready wit.

Best of all were the dancers and courtesans –beautiful women like Ad Begum whose speciality was to appear naked at parties, but so cleverly painted that no one noticed:'she decorates her legs with beautiful drawnings in the style of pyjamas instead of actually wearing them; in place of the cuffs she draws flowers and petals in ink exactly as found in the finest cloth of Rum.'.

The most famous of the courteseans was Nur Bai, whose popularity was such that everynight the elephants of the great amirs completely blocked the narrow lanes outside her house.

Even the greatest nobles could only gain admittance by sending in presents of large sum of money: 'whosoever gets enamoured of her gets sucked into the whirlpool of her demands,' writes Dargah Quli Khan, 'and brings ruin upon himself and his house.

Many people have become paupers after their association with her but the pleasure of her company can only be had as long as one is in possession of riches to bestow on her.' Meeting Nur Bai was clearly one of the highlights of Khan's visit to Delhi and at the end of his description he quietly drops in the fact that he 'had the good fortune of spending some time in her company…'

But if it was the courteseans that captured Dargah Quli Khan's imagination, his real admiration was reserved to the Delhi poets. One of the most interesting description in the Muraqqa' is of the famous Mehfils, the literary or musical evening for which the city was then renowned.

'Although Hazeen (a Persian Sufi) leads a life of purity and charm, there is always a large crowd gathered in his house,' wrote Khan. 'In the evening, the courtyard of his house is swept and sprinkled with rosewater and colourful carpets are spread out on a raised platform. The great poets then start the recitation of their work. Hazeen's verses make the audience ecstatic and inspire them to polish their own skills.'

Other Mehfils, however, attracted crowds for non-literary reasons:

(The poet Miran) is humble, well-mannered and hospitable.(But) he is also a connoisseur in the art of attracting charming new faces… As a result Miran's Mehfils always attract the beautiful and their lovers. Dancers begin to assemble from morning onwards… A large number of pretty young lads are lured to the show including both Hindu and Muslim catamites. Good looking women gather in such large numbers that the mere sight of them appeases the appetite, although (of course) for the lecherous this does not suffice.

Khan was in Delhi in 1739, during the Persian invasion, and he witnessed the bloody massacre when Nadir Shah's soldiers went berserk and massacred 150,000 Delhi-wallahs. In most histories the massacre is said to mark the end Mughal Delhi's greatness, yet Khan clearly sees the invasion as only a temporary setback for the city. Certainly, it dimmed the brightness of some of the Mehfils-one noble was forced to 'lay his capital at the feet of the Emperor' during the invasion and afterwards his Mehfils are described as 'subdued'- but there is no indication that Khan regarded the invasion as the end of an era; only with hindsight would that become clear. Instead, despite writing soon after Nadir Shah had returned to Persia, the overwhelming impression that Khan tries to convey is still of a bawdy city of joy, a place remarkable for its wild parties, its lively celebrations and orgiastic festivals.

It is, of course, an image of the city very far removed from the way most Delhi people conceive their home today. Modern Delhi is thought of either as a city of grey bureaucracy, or as a metropolis of hard-working, nouveau-riche Punjabis. It is rarely spoken of as a lively city, and never a promiscuous one. Yet, as I discovered that December, the bawdiness of Safdarjung's Delhi does survive, kept alive by one particular group of Delhi-wallahs.

You can still find them in the dark gullies of the Old City-if you know where to look.

Queen of Mujra

Queen Harish presents her Mujra Mehfil Theme Night at the Harem of Udaipur City Palace, the Zenana Mahal.

It featured, in the most opulent setup: Bansi Lal Dholi on Fire, Nazir & Rafiq Niazi on Qawals and Chand Mohamed on Caligraphies, an evening produced by Arnaud Azzouz for Seventy.

The Mujra Mehfil Night is a highly entertaining and interactive spectacle total lead by Queen H a r i s h, that goes on climaxing for several hours of uninterrupted music and irrepressible dances.

This choreographed show, theme evening, recalls of
when the Mughals took control of India, they had many of the original Hindu storytellers of the region of Rajasthan, brought into the courts as entertainers. In the courts, because stories from Hindu mythology were not of interest to the Mughal rulers, what was once the dance Kathak became infused with fast spinning, swift movements, and graceful hand gestures of Persian influence - the birth of "Mujra".

About Queen Harish : The Courtesan Cinema

Queen HarIsh drew inspiration for her romantic character from the Courtesan cinema such as ‘Umrao Jan’, ‘Pakeezah’ … these films shows the golden age of Indian entertainment.

Tudor Parfitt writes about it in her book: "Jews, Muslims,and Mass Media: Mediating the 'other' ":

The courtesan appears throughout Indian cultural texts, so it is not surprising that courtesans feature in many films, mostly in minor roles. However, some of the most popular film in Indian cinema may be class as 'courtesan films', in that their heroines are courtesans, while the usual gender imbalance of the films is reversed in that the heroes have minor roles. In films that have the courtesan in minor roles she is often Hindu but in the major roles she is always a Muslim. The two great films in which the main heroine is a courtesan are set in nineteenth century Avadhi Lucknow and Kanpur ( Umrao Jaan ) and Delhi / the Panjabi Princely state of Patiala in the early years of the twentieth century (Pakeezah/the pure one). Lucknow and Delhi were once two of the great centre of courtly Muslim culture.

The courtesan whose trade flourished in India until the early 20th century, was something like a geisha or hetaira. The most accomplished courtesans were said to be from Lucknow, the capital of Avadh. This city became north India 's major cultural centre after the decline of Delhi and was renowned for the quality of its Urdu language and literature. It was annexed by the British in 1856 and was one of the major centres of struggle in the 1857 uprisings. Although landowners from Avadh maintained a courtly culture in Lucknow at least until independence, it never achieved the sophistication of its earlier days, which are still remembered with great nostalgia by its elite. The world of courtesan also declined during the British period, as other spheres of public culture emerged. The final blow was dealt after independence as the loss of wealthy patrons came about with the abolition of Zamindars ('landowners'), and salons were banned.

Oldenburg's study of courtesans (tawa'if) in Lucknow, drawing on interviews with retired courtesans, shows very close similarities to Umrao Jan's story narrated by Ruswa. Courtesans were either born into the trade or sold into it as young girls by their parents or others. Umrao Jan was born in Faizabad, kidnapped as a young girl by her father's enemy and sold to a courtesan in Lucknow. They lived in households (kotha) run by a chief courtesan (choudhrayan), who had acquired wealth and fame through her beauty, her music and dancing talents, which she used to set up her own house where she would recruit and train younger courtesans. The courtesan had to learn music, Persian and Urdu poetry, Arabic grammar, and to dance the Mujra, a non-erotic dance where she pays her respects to the assembly. The best houses kept skilled male musicians and such householders were important patrons of music. The sons of the gentry were sent to the Kothas to learn etiquette and Urdu poetry, and presumably the art of lovemaking. Other women lived in the establishment, including the regular prostitutes (randi), who is often euphemistically called a courtesan. Although the profession of the courtesan has disappeared, she has remained an important figure in literature and later in film throughout the last century.

The courtesan has also been a popular figure in film, where her attractions give rise to a variety of pleasures in the audience. She is portrayed as a victim of men's lust and as an object of the viewer's pity, but also delights the audience in being the object of the male gaze as she dances for his entertainment. The combination of a beautiful actress, and the opoortunity for music and dance to be incorporated into the narrative are important, but viewers also enjoy the spectacle of the body, the elaboration of scenery and in particular of clothing, tied to a certain nostalgia arising from the decline and disappearance of courtesan culture.

The courtesan in the film makes her living by her sexual charms, and so is presented as an object of desire to the men in the mehfil ('gathering') and to the cinema audience. This usually culminates in the Mujra, where the filmmaler emphasizes the details of lyrics, music, costume and mise-en-scene. The role of the courtesan in films has been given only to the most beautiful actresses, such as Meena Kumari as the eponymous Pakeezah, while the most glamorous actress of her generation, Rekha, has had numerous courtesan roles including that of Umrao Jaan. Although the courtesan displays her sexual allure at all times in the film, she is usually presented as averse to her trade, to which she has been driven by the injustices of society, calling her body a Zinda lash ('living corpse'). An accomplished singer and dancer, she also writes Ghazals in which she expresses her desire for love and marriage, which she knows will be denied her because of her profession. Yet one of her attractions is that she is the woman who is the opposite of the wife, like the beloved of the Ghazal, she is unattainable, remote and perfect. Her sexuality is not associated with reproduction, nor is she expected to offer any nurture unlike the Hindu heroine – rather she is the essence of female eroticism. (Oldenburg argues that most courtesans, like many prostitutes, practiced lesbianism (chapat bazi), considering heterosexuality to be work, not pleasure.)

In Hindi cinema, the courtesan is pure (Pakeezah) and part of this is that she never appears in any way immodestly dressed. In fact one of the pleasure of the courtesan film lies in its elaborate use of clothing and make up. While Stella Bruzzi has discussed the meaning of clothes in western cinema, the semiotics of costume in Indian cinema has been little explored although it is an important source of symbols and signifiers of codes concerning status or class, westernization and the symbolic use of colour. Clothing in cinema is clearly a source of spectacle, sometime taken to extremes in song sequences where the heroine, and sometime the hero, has numerous costume changes to present a heady excess of consumption. As Bruzzi has argued, clothing is an important component of eroticism. This is foregrounded in the courtesan film, where the heroine's clothes heighten sexuality by their opulence and rich colours and textures, and their elaboration presents an exaggerated exhibition of gender difference. The veil is used to effect in the film to hide and conceal, in a display of eroticism rather than modesty, seen in the first song in Pakeezah (Inhen logon 'Those people') where the courtesan sings how men have taken her veil or her modesty. The courtesan is the woman who is constantly available for the male gaze, yet she remains concealed within her kotha, away from the eyes of wider society.

The courtesan film also fetishises the woman's body, usually the feet, which is one of the few uncovered parts of her body, although they are decorated with colours and jewellery. This is very clear in Pakeezah, where the lover leaves a note tucked into Pakeezah's toes on the train; Aap ke paon bahut haseen hain. Inhen zameen par mat utariyega, maile ho jaayenge! ( Your feet are very beautiful. Do not let them touch the ground, they will get dirty!') and her dance at her lover's wedding where she lacerates her feet on broken glass to leave symbolically resonant bloody marks on the white sheet of her performance. The only parts of her body which are usually visible are her hands, hennaed, manicured and bejeweled; and her mask-like face, again elaborately painted and jeweled, her hair tied back, and covered with a veil and more jewels.

The courtesan is a totally romantic figure: a beautiful but tragic woman, who pours out her grief for the love she is desied in tears, poetry and dance. Yet although denied marriage and respectability, she is also a source of power. The courtesan in the film live in splendid buildings, which are decorated exquisitely. As Veena Oldenburg has pointed out, the courtesan achieved her material and social liberation by reversing constraints on women's chastity and economic rights, succeeding through her combination of talent and education. The courtesans set up their own society within the Khotas, where they inverted many of society's rituals such as celebrating the birth of a girl like the birth of a boy in mainstream Indian culture. Perhaps women enjoy the pleasures the courtesan film as they find a figure of masochistic identification , a woman who canot find the love she wants, yet knowing that a woman's sexual attractions can provide her with power. Men may also enjoy the voyeuristic pleasures of looking at a beautiful sexually accomplished, woman yet whose status as victim allows for male fantasies of "saving her" – mostly from other men.

The beauty of the actresses in the courtesan film was not the only reason for their popularity. They were also women who had strong star personas, as the most beautiful, most tragic stars who themselves were never lucky in love. Their offscreen lives were read onto the image of the courtesan in film, as can be seen most clearly in the taking up of these stars as camp and gay icons, notably in the case of Meena Kumari (1932-1972).

This filmi view of the courtesan is very different from that presented in the book. Instead of the exquisite Rekha portraying an innocent Umrao Jaan, who falls in love with one of her clients while her story is told as a failed love story; in the novel Umrao admits she was rather plain and never fell in love although she had a number of significant affairs in addition to her regular clients. Rather than pining for an impossible love affair, she loves her work, her poetry and the pleasure, luxury and respect that this brought her. Aware of the pleasure of nostalgia, the last chapter in the book is the account of Umrao's reading of Ruswa's story of her life, where she sums it up herself in a clear, insightful manner. She was a prostitute, no beauty, but a woman of intelligence and skill:

It was my profession to dance and sing and steal men's hearts.

I was happy or unhappy depending on whether I was more or less successful than others in my profession.

I was not as pretty as the others, but because of my talent for music and mastery of poetry, I was one of the best.