Becoming and Contradiction in the Muslim Courtesan—The Case of Pakeezah
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The figure of the courtesan in Indian cinema provides insight into a postcolonial society’s processes of ‘othering’ with relation to discourses of gender. Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi‚ 1971) is a highly acclaimed Hindi film that plots the narrative of a Muslim courtesan. The film takes us through her initiation into the courtesan set-up; her poetic expression seeking liberation from the restrictive courtesan economic order; and eventual assimilation into mainstream, sober society through an arranged marriage. This chapter offers close appreciation of the film’s numerous ghazals as depicting the courtesan’s poetic expression. The chapter concludes by arguing that Pakeezah embodies a contradiction between the courtesan’s poetic self-expression and the narrative’s conservative projection of intra-religious marriage as the sole modality for exit from the courtesan economy.