Begum Jaan movie review: Vidya Balan tries to invest some feeling into her role which soon turns clichéd

Begum Jaan movie review: The climax is full of fire and faux brimstone and lots of speechifying, as the ladies of easy virtue become a gun-toting ‘fauj’.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Updated: April 14, 2017 11:08 am
Begum Jaan movie review, Begum Jaan review, Begum Jaan, Begum Jaan movie, Begum Jaan film, Vidya Balan, Vidya Balan Begum Jaan, Begum Jaan movie review: The movie could have been an impactful drama full of memorable characters, led by its leading lady, Vidya Balan.

Begum Jaan movie cast:Vidya Balan, Ashish Vidyarthi, Rajit Kapur, Gauahar Khan, Rajesh Sharma, Pitobash Tripathy, Vivek Mushran, Chunky Pandey, Naseerudin Shah, Pallavi Sharda, Ila Arun
Begum Jaan movie director: Srijit Mukherji
Begum Jaan star rating: 1.5 stars

The story of the bloody birth of India and Pakistan is so inherently full of drama that any telling of any part of it needs a great deal of skilled restraint.That crucial thing is thrown to the winds in ‘Begum Jaan’, based on ‘Rajkahini’, Srijit Mukherji’s Bangla film. I haven’t seen the original, but this, meant to be a faithful remake, climbs to a high-pitched melodramatic perch, and progresses in episodic lurches, never coming down.

Which is a pity because ‘Begum Jaan’ could have been an impactful drama full of memorable characters, led by its leading lady, Vidya Balan. Dressed in flowing robes, eyes lined with kohl, puffing on a hookah, lording it over her ladies, pardon the pun, Balan plays a madam who runs a brothel, slam bang in the midst of all the action.

In the tumultuous days that lead up to the Partition, the location of the ‘kotha’ becomes an ironic inflection point : the house where women sell their flesh without checking religion and caste is about to be divided, the line drawn by the British cleaving it down the middle.

The women, who live with an old ‘dai’-like white-sari clad figure  (Arun), a burly Pathan guard, and a jovial fellow (Tripathy, one of the better things in the film) who is everyone’s companion and one woman’s ( Khan) true love, turn fierce protectors of their turf. Just like the more ‘respectable’ citizens around them, they do not want their house divided.

 

Many elements in ‘Begum Jaan’ remind you of older, better films. The whole concept of a brothel run by a crude, foul-mouthed feisty madam appears to have been lifted from Shyam Benegals excellent ‘Mandi’. The ecosystem of that brothel and this one is similar too, but that one we believed in : this looks all dressed up for the next shot.

The casual cruelty of those in power, even if receding, exercised especially over vulnerable women ( Naseer’s increasingly weak ‘raja’ who is both patron and ruthless predator) is so much like Ketan Mehta’s classic ‘Mirch Masala’. Naseer was in both ‘Mandi’ and ‘Mirch Masala’, both of which redefined gender politics in the way they outlined the interplay between the sexes– men, women and others– and the strong and the meek : time to pull them out for a revisit.

Also read |Begum Jaan box office prediction: Vidya Balan film to face competition from Fast and Furious 8. Will word of mouth help?

There’s a great deal of stiltedness and awkward dialogue between Kapur and Vidyarthi, who play, respectively, the Muslim and Hindu officials overseeing the drawing of the line, their truncated faces peering at us from the sides of the screen : at first I thought there was something wrong with the projection, and then realized it was deliberate. It may have been done perhaps to emphasise the divide between two people, two religions, but as a device, it is embarrassingly clunky.

A still from the film.

The only one who seems to be totally in synch with the jerky heightened silliness of the enterprise is Chunky Pandey who plays a creepy bad guy, hired to get rid of the pesky prostitutes : if they won’t go quietly, they will have to be forced out.

A plot that could have turned into a powerful allegory – you divide people at your peril, for tragic temporary fixes and zero lasting gains–is run aground. And the climax is full of fire and faux brimstone and lots of loud speechifying, the ladies of easy virtue turning into a gun-toting ‘fauj’, before invoking a certain Rajasthani ‘rani’ who is currently the subject of a film with a troubled trajectory.

Such a waste of a talented bunch of actors. And of Balan, who tries hard to invest some feeling into a role which turns into a cliché the moment the film opens.

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  1. M
    megha narayan
    Apr 18, 2017 at 3:13 pm
    vidya mam rocked!... no one can be xpctd of doing ds vd such perfection. luvd ur each dailogue., luv u nd abt d movie chunky Pandey tak ur eye vd hs acting!..agree der r sum momnts whn movie swips u dwn bt overall its a treat to watch.if any of u hate vidya mam i suggest u to watch movie once.nd decide.,,she iz one of d lady who know how to act. gonna rate it 3(for vidya mam) 2 5
    Reply
    1. M
      Muhammad Luqman
      Apr 18, 2017 at 9:06 am
      Mukherji packs too much into this narrative with multiple secondary characters and their back-stories. The violent incidents and constant swearing come at you so often, you turn slightly numb.I’m going with a generous two out of five for Begum Jaan . There is a strong feminist statement here, but unfortunately, it’s drowned out by all the noise.
      Reply
      1. N
        Nidhi
        Apr 16, 2017 at 6:30 pm
        totally loved the film. Gender and par ion and uality. Raw. In your face. Po r and not parallel cinema. Exceptional roles pla . The reality was brutal , what is finesse but a sophisticated purdah of those with cultural capital
        Reply
        1. S
          SOBERS WILSON
          Apr 16, 2017 at 12:13 pm
          BEAUTIFUL MOVIE REALLY AT THE END OF THE MOVIE I WAS CRYING LIKE ASHISH, IS THIS A REAL STORY, VIDYA BALAN IS TOO GOOD AND ALL THE CHARACTER ARE GOOD, CHUNKY PANDEY DID A GOOD JOB AFTER A LONG TIME. OVERALL ENJO WATCHING THE MOVIE
          Reply
          1. K
            Kumar
            Apr 16, 2017 at 11:17 am
            This reviewer gave 2 stars to Dhanak which went on win the National Award. This says a lot about the credibility of this good-for-nothing critic. Ignore her reviews.
            Reply
            1. J
              Jusna
              Apr 16, 2017 at 12:08 am
              Wow! the nice movie really really a really nice movie.
              Reply
              1. R
                Romik
                Apr 15, 2017 at 8:19 pm
                Good movie. Must watch
                Reply
                1. S
                  Shamik
                  Apr 15, 2017 at 5:25 pm
                  Looks like the critic is in a real habit of reviewing films like Kya look hai hum and Happy New Year.... Obviously this movie will not be as per the expected parameters. The Bengali version bagged a national award and the same director remade this in Hindi... After watching both I felt this was one of a very few good remakes made by Bollywood.... Clearly this was a case of reviewing movies based on production houses..
                  Reply
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