This paper examines the complexities of characters, narratives and aesthetics in the Indian courtesan film genre by analyzing three classic courtesan films: Pakeezah (dir. Kamal Amrohi, 1972), Umrao Jaan (dir. Muzaffar Ali, 1981), and its more recent remake Umrao Jaan (dir. J.P. Dutta, 2006). First, from the perspective of screen characters, the paper summarizes the necessary condition for a courtesan character to achieve a happy ending—the marriage between the heroine and the hero, and then illustrates the decisive factors and difficult process to fulfill this condition. Then, from the perspective of audiences, this paper explains the elusiveness of happy endings in courtesan films by analyzing the multiple relationships between audiences and screen characters and the differences within audiences. The paper also attempts to provide a glimpse of the Muslim nawabi culture, in which courtesan films are rooted, in order to help the readers to appreciate the cultural significance and myriad appeals of this distinctive subgenre of Indian cinema and Indian film art in general.
2. The Courtesan Archetype
3. The Courtesan Image in Films
4. The Elusiveness of Happy Endings from the Perspective of Screen Characters
5. The Elusiveness of Happy Endings from the Perspective of Film Audiences