Star Cast: Vidya Balan, Gauahar Khan, Pallavi Sharda, Ila Arun, Pallavi Sharda, Naseeruddin Shah , Chunky Pandey
Director: Srijit Mukherji
What’s Good: Vidya Balan’s bravado performance that is completely uninhibited and hard hitting
What’s Bad: Melodrama kills this otherwise interesting story.
Loo Break: Yes! Maybe in one of the songs.
Watch or Not?: Begum Jaan fails to make an impact with its story, because of its botched up screenplay.
With the announcement of ‘Independence’, as the girls in the brothel rejoice, a disheartened Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan), who is a brothel owner, says its a waste ofa day’s business because no customers would come on account of Independence celebration. Yes! That’s Begum Jaan.
The local brothel owner is living a carefree life with her girls in the huge Kotha, until the tumultuous time of partition hits its nerve. Before leaving India, British officer Cyril Radcliffe, a man who was unfamiliar with India’s topography, ordered to separate India and Pakistan in just 4 weeks. In this newly crafted territory, Begum Jaan’s brothel falls straight in the way and hence she is sent a notice by the government, asking her to vacate the same.
A stubborn Begum Jaan refuses to leave and seeks help from the local King (Naseeruddin Shah) whose patronage over Begum Jaan is the reason for her daredevil nature.
After she refuses to bend under pressure, INC leader Hariprasad (Ashish Vidyarthi) and Muslim league leader, Illyas (Rajit Kapoor) find violent ways to threaten her to leave.
An adamant Begum and her girls, put up a strong fight for their home irrespective of the disastrous consequences.
Begum Jaan Review: Script Analysis
If one looks at Bollywood films and their treatment when it comes to brothels, one would agree, Shyam Benegal’s Mandi stands out as one of the most impactful films. Minus forced drama, the film is considered to be an iconic film.
With Begum Jaan, one has to agree that Srijit Mukherji seems hell bent on melodrama. The screeching conversations between Begum’s girls are surely a hint of that. I would have really appreciated had we seem a brothel that did not have to be overtly noisy for a change, it is in this case that an inspiration from Mandi was needed.
One would also have to agree that there’s too much happening in this film. There are sub-plots that could have easily been avoided but they make their way to the screen but hardly make any impact. One such example would be the conversations between Hariprasad and Illyas. Also, Ila Arun’s character as the ‘mother’ of the brothel, who keeps narrating stories of brave men to a young girl who imagines them to be Begum Jaan could have been cut down slightly.
Coming to characters, there’s not much detailing that we learn about the rest of the girls because, majority of the time is spent in scenes where they bond and little is known about their background. Begum on the other hand is a on the face lady who is not only like elder sister, but also like a disciplinarian to them. She is a thorough businesswoman by nature but its not like her past doesn’t haunt her. The scene where Begum has a nightmare gives a great insight into her character.
Some of the best written dialogues in the film, remain those, which are not punchlines. The exchange of dialogues between Rubina (Gauahar Khan) and Sujit (Pitobash) whilst the latter expresses his love for her is impressive.
Dialogues are typically those significant to a Vishesh film. Some irritating one’s like ‘Tawaifon ke shauhar nahi hote, Kharidar hote hai’.
What also poses as a problem here is that, Begum comes across as an extremely stubborn person for no reason. Much to our irritation, she’s mulling over her losing her house due to partition, a house that is a brothel that she wasn’t even born in. Also, she’s protesting at a time when there are lacs of people getting displaced and forced to pick a side. The sensitivity of partition seems slightly lot here.
Begum Jaan Review: Star Performance
Vidya Balan tries hard to save this film with a powerful performance. No doubt she does her job fair and square but it is the script that fails her. As the hookah-smoking, swearing at the word go and with a lionesses of a stare, Balan does a great job.
Amongst the supporting cast, Gauahar Khan, Pitobash, Pallavi Sharda and Vivek Mushrah make an impact.
Naseeruddin Shah’s cameo is quite average.
Chunky Pandey is superb as Kabir, the villain. His evil laugh is spot on.
Ashish Vidyarthi, Rajit Kapoor and Rajesh Sharma, are dependable actors who never fail to pull off what’s expected of them and that’s exactly what they do here.
Begum Jaan Review: Direction, Music
Srjit Mukherji has remade his own Bengali film, Rajkahini in Hindi, as Begum Jaan and I can’t help but wonder, is it the influence of the banner producing it, that the film loses its way into becoming a commercial melodrama.
Begum Jaan’s opening scene shows us a young couple in Delhi getting harassed by a bunch of boys. The director wants to make a statement here as to women were never ‘independent’ neither then nor now. Further, the film traces back to Begum’s newly independent India. Whilst addressing the issue of partition, the film wrongly identifies Radcliffe as the sole reason for it, where as in reality, he was the British governments puppet who could not anticipate the impact of his actions.
It is the scenes between Hariprasad and Illyas, where the consequences of this British decision are discussed. Much to our unease, these scenes have been shot weirdly, showing only half the face of the actors in frame. It is a hint at partition, unfortunately as a viewing experience, it looks like a technical glitch.
One Mukherji’s most powerfully captured scene is where Begum repeatedly slaps Shabnam, a young girl who is in trauma after being raped and abandoned in a brothel by her father until, she finally has a breakdown.
Begum’s girls who are otherwise shown to be pulling each other’s legs, abusing each other and screeching at the top of their voices, suddenly transform into gun-trotting ‘Jhansi Ki Ranis and Padmavatis seems extremely unreal. The scenes where they are being trained to shoot seem all too crowd pleasing for cinematic impact. Just like the climax, which is completely over the top.
The music is alright and in most cases misplaced.
Begum Jaan Review: The Last Word
Begum Jaan loses out on impact due to melodrama. The cluttered plot runs out of steam despite of decent performances. A 2/5 for this film.
Begum Jaan Trailer
Begum Jaan releases on 14th April, 2017.
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