Films,  Reviews

Srijit Mukherji’s ‘Begum Jaan’: Powerful and nuanced

Several versions in cinema describe the impact of the partition of India in 1947 – some are grim, some intense, while others are emotional. Srijit Mukherji’s ‘Begum Jaan‘ is a metaphorical story which offers a completely different flavour to the tragic tale of the division of India by the British into two nations. His story views the partition through the eyes of a group of inmates of a brothel. When the world around her celebrates freedom, Vidya Balan, as the madame running the brothel, wryly remarks that irrespective of the politics of freedom, a woman is never free. And in a brothel, freedom doesn’t change anything.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s attempts to draw a line demarcating India from Pakistan, without any knowledge of the culture and traditions of the territory result in large scale rioting. In Begum Jaan, Radcliffe’s crude line runs through the brothel, leading the administration to ask the inmates to evict it. The story talks of how the prostitutes stand up for their rights and refuse to vacate their premises. The satirical screenplay packs a punch, with strings of powerful dialogue, where the viewer is riveted with examples of the sheer hypocrisy of human beings.

Vidya Balan is at her best, as the madame with a big heart and her never-say-die spirit. When the world outside the brothel crumbles with hate, caste, religion and politics taking centre stage, ironically, inside the four walls, there is no discrimination among all the women who have been rejected by society. Ila Arun, Gauahar Khan, Pallavi Sharda and Pitobash Tripathy put in good performances. Naseeruddin Shah has a short role as the debauched Raja of the area. The surprise find is Chunky Pandey as Kabir- I didn’t even recognize him- he was indeed effective.

Anu Malik’s music is great. Each piece fits in meaningfully with lyrics that make sense. And everyone from Asha Bhosle to Sonu Nigam to Arijit are great. And as you leave the theatre, the strains of Sahir Ludhianvi and Khayyam’s revamped song ‘Yeh subah hami to layenge’ fills your heart.

Begum Jaan is a film with a difference, a film which makes you re-examine your notions of right and wrong, a film with several layers of nuances which should not be taken at face value, and a film with a message for change. I simply loved it. A very powerful script indeed. Srijit Mukherji should take a bow!

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