LAHORE, Pakistan — Elizabeth Hurley has planned her upcoming nuptials in meticulous detail. Everything is to be of the best, especially at the opulent five-day-long festivities that kick off Wednesday at the grand Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel in Jodhpur, India. And a highlight of the traditional Indian Mehndi event is likely to be Kiran, the classical Pakistani Katthak dancer.
Hurley and fiancé Arun Nayar first saw Kiran perform during a March 2006 fund-raising trip to Pakistan for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital at the invitation of their friend Imran Khan, the cricketer/philanthropist/politician ex-husband of Jemima Khan (who, ironically, is the ex-girlfriend of Hugh Grant, Hurley’s ex-boyfriend). Hurley was so impressed with Kiran’s performance that she especially requested she dance for her wedding guests.
The British ceremony was set to take place Saturday at Sudeley Castle in the English Cotswolds. Hurley was due to wear Versace for the event and was having last-minute fittings at her London home on Friday morning. The fashion house would not release sketches or details of the dress because of a worldwide exclusive Hurley has inked with Hello! in a deal reported to be worth between $2 million and $4 million. Chopard, meanwhile, said Friday it had provided the rings both for the engagement and the wedding.
The bride and groom and their 200 wedding guests were then set to fly to Jodhpur on Sunday for five more days of festivities.
The glittering ceremonies certainly will be worlds away from Kiran’s upbringing. The dancer grew up in a family of Muslim courtesans living in Lahore’s Old Walled City. The area has contained the city’s entertainment district since the time of the Mughal emperors, who ruled the Indian Subcontinent from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Patrons, from aristocrats to military men, flocked to the narrow streets and tiny, crooked houses and lavished money on the legendary dancing girls there.
Kiran was only 13 when her sister, Pakistani film star Nadira, was murdered by her husband in 1995. Kiran promptly took on her elder sister’s mantle and started dancing to support her family.
After eight years of practicing under the guidance of social and cultural maven Yusuf Salahuddin of Haveli Barood Khana (an antiquated mansion in the Old Walled City of Lahore), she is earning international acclaim. Apart from performing at weddings of the local wealthy, she has entertained visiting heads of state, from President and First Lady Bush to the premier of China. Rattan Chadha, former chief executive of Liz Claiborne’s Mexx subsidiary, even sent his private plane to Lahore to have Kiran whisked off to New Delhi for a private performance. She also has been taken abroad as part of President Pervez Musharraf’s and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s entourages on their official trips.
This story first appeared in the March 5, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“My posture and technique come from my classical dance training, but my expression and body language are all my own,” says Kiran. “People who see me perform say they are struck by my grace of movement. I dance to the traditional local instruments of tabla [drums] and harmonium, in addition to requests for contemporary Subcontinental hits.”
The Katthak dance is a mixture of focused eye contact, graceful hand movements, lithe waist tilting with long hair swinging, foot drumming and body twirling. Feeling and meaning is expressed by all of the dancer’s body and the performances are nothing if not physically taxing. Kiran says, “I can dance for up to five hours at a stretch and manage to engage my audience’s attention for that length by just focusing on my dance.”
As a performer, Kiran is carrying on a 500-year-old Muslim Subcontinental tradition, which encompasses poetry, music, dance and courtly etiquette. And it is something of which she is proud. Speaking of living in a patriarchal and conservative Muslim country, Kiran says matter-of-factly, “I never try to hide that I come from an ancient family of courtesans. In fact, I am proud of it. I have just bought a house with my earnings as a dancer. My younger sister is learning to dance, also.”
— Mahlia S. Lone and Samantha Conti