Begum Jaan

Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Chunky Pandey, Gauahar Khan, Pallavi Sharda and more...
Vishesh Films and Mahesh Bhatt
Srijit Mukerji

BEGUM JAAN is all about breaking but not bending. A lesson overdue for Indian girls who have been taught otherwise all along, but do BEGUM JAAN and her girls really walk the talk?

The film is all about the strength and vulnerability of a woman, Begum Jaan. She rules the ruins of her house, as she does that of her body and her soul, and Begum Jaan being Vidya Balan, she does it with barely sheathed power and accuracy of craft that leaves you staggering. Her introduction scene sets the rhythm for the film and Vidya single-handedly ensures her notes are pitch-perfect.

The film has the backdrop of the partition of India along with its confusion and chaos. The film picks up pace when the administration diktat states that the border will cut across right through Begum Jaan’s brothel. Standing against the administration, the occupants of Begum Jaan’s haveli decide they are in no mood to give up their sole shelter, their sole-haven. Yes, theirs is a brothel but clearly they see it more as a means to freedom. Freedom from family, love and society at large, freedom to think about yourself, freedom to accept and be accepted! The girls residing with Begum each have a unique story, a story Begum protects and exploits depending on the need of the hour which confuses a bit but only briefly. Given this is the second time Srijit Mukerji is working with the same script (for the uninitiated, BEGUM JAAN has been based on Mukerji’s RAJ KAHINI starring Rituparna Sengupta), he has had the privilege of experience when he is dealing with his rather complex characters. But in the bid to cash in on the talent that is Vidya Balan,the director Srijit decided to sideline a few characters that could have textured the film more beautifully.

However, in the course of the film we encounter some rather memorable characters that break your heart and bring a smile. Chunky Pandey needs a special mention because he does look and act sinister which is a far cry from anything we have seen him do. It does chill the spine. Amongst the girls Pallavi Sharda misses one more opportunity to outshine but Gauahar Khan grabs her chance with both hands. The film is of course solely on Vidya’s able shoulders. She is crackling as Begum Jaan so much so that you forget that she is Vidya Balan. The way Balan does Begum, it is clear that there is nothing this woman cannot do.

You can actually see the mind working behind each of Begum’s manipulations, as she uses the girls and even the aging local royalty, Naseeruddin Shah to get what she wants. And yet, her acute vulnerability cannot be ignored. However, it is Srijit’s awe of her talent that leaves a gaping hole in the film.  Yes, Vidya Balan’s dialogue delivery is the best. But her thunderous silences also sway the audience. In the bid to cater to one, the director has missed the other. This is a classic case of dreams being realized but the morning leaving you too dazed to do anything substantial. Yes my grudge is with Srijit... We have seen what he is capable of but it sure looks like he lost perspective?

See the film only because watching Vidya Balan as Begum Jaan can be a case study for aspiring actors!


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