A remake of national award winning Bengalifilm Rajkahini, Begum Jaan is Laced with surreality and unintentionally unhealthy hilarity this weird tribute to Shyam Benegal’s 1983 masterpiece Mandi revolving around politics and prostitution that brought together the on screen stalwarts of parallel cinema Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah, Begum Jaan is a unconvincing mash up of Mandi and the disturbing partition of India that lacks the power to hold, behold and any chance of being told and considered either as a commercial drama or meaningful art.
Gung ho to be shocker right from the word go, within 2 minutes the movie opens with a sickening incident where an old woman strips to shame a gang of rapists in New Delhi with the National flag at the backdrop. Now, this could have been the maker’s reaction to the utterly disgusting and horrifying Nirbhaya incident and their shout/ cry for women empowerment and their cringe against the system but it makes you cringing on your seat rather than clinging.
Vidya Balan makes a Dhamakedaar entry as Begum Jaan
Cut to its circa 1947, an outspoken Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) dressed in flowing robes, puffing on a hookah, lying on a charpai ( a bed made of jute), with ‘kajal’ eyes making a dhamakedar entry. She is the Boss, who runs a brothel that falls right between India and Pakistan from where the Radcliffe Line (the Indo –Pak border) needs to be drawn. Madamji says, what border, all men are equal in this ‘Kotha’ and there is no religion, caste involved while the carnal desires are fulfilled over here.. shabash.. clap clap but what’s that?, the government officials played by Rajit Kapur and Ashish Vidyarthi give us an awkward feeling when their faces stare at us from the sides of the screen making it look like a technical guffaw but then we understand it’s another chapter in forced deliberation by the helmer to make us realize the divide between two communities. God please, stop testing, doubting and underestimating the intelligence of the audience.
Gauahar Khan’s track that gives some emotional relief
Unfortunately this is the topsy –turvey Begum Jaan indulges in and fails to find a way out. Begum Jaan’s Haveli (mansion) is surrounded by an old Naani played by Ila Arun who narrates the historical tales of Jhansi ki Rani, Meerabai, Razia Sultana and the latest controversies favourite Padmavati , the director tries to compare his protagonist Begum Jaan with these legends in unbearably tacky shots for reasons better known to him. Apart from the history reading Nani, a hefty guard played by Sumit Nijhawan, a jovial pimp (Pitobash Tripathy) and the gang of girls that include Gauahar Khan as Rubina, Pallavi Sharda as Gulabo, Priyanka Setia as Jameela, Ridheema Tiwary as Amba, Flora Saini as Maina, Raviza Chauhan as Lata, Poonam Rajput as Rani, Mishti (Indrani Chakraborty)as Shabnam and Gracy Goswami as Laadli. Its Gauahar Khan’s track that gives some emotional relief from the erstwhile forced hysteria and sensationalism.
Gauahar Khan, Pallavi Sharda, Pitobash Tripathy and Sumit Nijhawan shine in their individuality. Hold on there is one more thing that’s a bit convincing and its surprise, surprise Chunky Pandey in that evil and menacing Kabir whose job is to kill for money and he faces an unexpected challenge from Begum and her lady gang from the brothel who vow to fight for their home. Vivek Mushran as the master is strictly okay, while Naseeruddin Shah as Rajaji is highly disappointing.
The introduction of Gulabo, the policemen incident involving Rajesh Sharma and the little girl, rains before Holi (how come), etc, etc the weird unconvincing, hysterical and lurching episodes of Begum Jaan continue… a picture of a slayed dead dog in close up… such desperation to be sensational backfires on the audience like Newton’s third law of motion.
Asha Bhonsle’s Prem Mein Tohre’ ‘song attracts people
Production values are adequate and musically ‘Prem Mein Tohre’ sung by Asha Bhosle and composed by Anu Malik is nice to the ears. Gopi Bhagat’s cinematography is toned accordingly.
After the screening, I met the curiously waiting Srijit Mukherji and asked why he changed things from original and tried all the hysteria and sensationalism like the introduction of Gulabo, the Delhi incident, he said, we wanted to give the 2016 feel.. the shocking Nirbhaya happened in 2012, Rajkahini was released in the mid of October 2015.. just a fact shared to highlight the unconvincing jumble Begum Jaan has got itself in.