Bollywood Movies

Bollywood’s Portrayal Of Tawaifs Over The Years

May 8, 20243 Mins Read

Bollywood has portrayed Tawaifs over the years in all shapes and forms. From the glamorised version of these historical figures with added tehzeeb and adaa (culture and grace) to their realistic and raw picture, Bollywood’s representation of Tawaifs has changed over the years but never evolved.

In the Mughal era, Tawaifs were the courtesans who performed dance and music for elite-class men. Many historical accounts suggest that they were highly respected and were even taxpayers. While many also often compare their role to that of sex workers, some consider them of high significance and the epitome of feminism.

Let us have a look at how Tawaifs have been represented in various Hindi movies and series over the years.

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest Netflix web series ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’ has racked up mixed reactions for its storyline. While the Tawaifs have been presented as strong ladies with immense power, the stereotypical glamourisation and “falling for the powerful men” marked its attendance.

Umrao Jaan

Set in the 1800s, the 1981 movie ‘Umrao Jaan’ presents Rekha as a courtesan who was abducted and sold to a kotha (brothel) in Lucknow where she learns the art of capturing men’s attention through her beautiful dance. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan resurrected the character in 2006, with a similar representation.


The gorgeous Madhuri Dixit was seen as Chandramukhi, the Tawaif, in SLB’s adaptation of ‘Devdas’. Her immense grace and beauty left the audiences awestruck and her supporting role gave Aishwarya Rai’s role as Paro a tough competition. Although, she was shown as a wise and independent woman, unlike other portrayals.

Don’t Miss:‘Heeramandi’: Meet The Real Lives Behind The Diamond Bazaar

Begum Jaan

The period film ‘Begum Jaan’ is the story of eleven prostitutes. However, many argue that it may be the most raw and real representation of Tawaifs to date. Vidya Balan, Pallavi Sharda, and others were seen in strong roles portraying the feminists that Tawaifs are believed to be.

Mughal-E-Azam And Pakeezah

Unlike the modern representation of Tawaifs, black-and-white movies like ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ and ‘Pakeezah’ are believed to be some of the best portrayals of courtesans. Madhubala and Meena Kumari imitated the grace and elegance of real historical figures highlighting the societal stigma that they encountered.

Don’t Miss:5 Unsung Courtesans Who Contributed To India’s Independence

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