Begum Jaan Film Review: No Man’s Land

| April 15, 2017 | 0 Comments

In the times of transition when cherished old values, traditions and conventions are on their way out and the society is in flux with acute identity crisis creating a vacuum that is being lured to be filled with religion, caste, communal identities, Begum Jaan tries to tell a story of a brothel house where no such discrimination takes place.

Customers from any religion, caste,creed, class, community are welcome. The flesh trade has no prejudices and biases. Everyone is welcome.

Radcliffe Line partitioned the country from East Bengal to Western Gujarat. This wholesale uprooting left millions dead and homeless. There was this brothel that became a bone of contention between two nations as it was situated bang into the middle through which the line of partition had to go through.

Paying a weak tribute to Saadat Hasan Manto’s classic story Toba Tek Singh, by borrowing its premise and then get inspiration from his other stories like Titwala Ka Kutta, Thanda Gosht, Khol Do, the film weaves a story of a child-widow Begum Jaan aka Vidya Balan who  grows into a madam-with-a-golden heart, owning a brothel where the inmates are an ensemble from various states, which is somewhat of an aberration in Punjabi dominated milieu.

Begum Jaan lords over her world with firm and fair hand. Vidya Balan’s body language is more like an underworld Don. Thank heavens she is not stereotyped with paan chewing or bidi smoking Madam. Her favorite addiction is Hookah. Small Mercies.

The going-ons in the  whore house amongst its various occupants is clichéd and characterisations are a template from other such movies depicting the life in a whorehouse, like Mandi,Mausam,Umrao Jaan.Their interactions monotone,melodramatic and over-the-top. It becomes monotonous at times.

To save her small kingdom, she goes all out fighting the forces of two  independent nations, that are playing, as Begum Jaan puts it Azadi –Azadi amongst themselves, in the process snatching her freedom and fiefdom.Whether she is able to save her domain, a sprawling haveli, and at what cost is the rest of the story.

The screenplay meanders through trails of intrigue, betrayal, greed and hate to underscore a point that  inspite of us having achieved independence seventy years ago, we are still slaves to age-old feudal traditions,gender biases,female exploitation and objectification. The prologue and epilogue set in present times underline this with some telling effect.

Vidya Balan tries her best to be different and the effort shows. Other inmates of the whorehouse just deliver on the dotted lines. Chunky Pandey as a contract killer leaves an impact. Vivek Mushran as Masterji-cum-social-activist presents the masked intentions and hypocricy with sincerety. Naserruddin Shah, Ashish Vidyarthi, Rajit Kapur try to soar above the narrative with clipped wings.

Story-screenplay-dialogues by Srijit Mukherji from his own Bengali film Rajkahini (2015) loses much in translation. Too talky and elongated in its narrative, the screenplay mercifully saves itself in the climax.

As a director Srijit Mukherji shows sparks of his vision but is not able to sustain the light for long. He lets the film become too melodramatic and loud, whereas more nuanced and sensitive handling was the demand of the story.

Sahir-Ludhianvi’s immortal ode to the New Dawn “Wo Subah Kabhi To Aayegi”, encapsulates how things can change, not expecting them to be changed by the ruling elites but by the masses themselves. By taking things in our own hands and being the change. This montage is sufficient enough motivation to make Begum Jaan one time watch fare.



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Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Dhieraj Mohan is Hindi cinema's keen observer. With earnest interest in its dynamics and constantly changing milieu he revels in dwelling on the discrepancies, idiosyncrasies,contradictions,masala and the formula that defines Bollywood.He is a poet and a screenwriter too,who simply adores Hindi cinema's chameleon like traits.

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