Begum Jaan – Movie Review

Director: Srijit Mukherji

Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan)
Amma (Ila Arun)
Rubina (Gauahar Khan)
Gulabo (Pallavi Sharda)

Paisa Vasooli:2 / 5

After watching the film, we at The Movie Wala are still in a confusion that what was the actual theme behind the film Begum Jaan? Was it the glorification of women empowerment through the characterization of an outspoken tawaif cum pimp and her subordinates? Or was it trying to show the repercussions of partition by drawing out the infamous ‘Radcliffe Line’ ? Or both? Whatever it was, the Director was not able to do justice to both the themes leading to the downfall of Begum Jaan both on-screen and critically off-screen.

The movie starts with some goons entering a bus which has stopped at The Connaught Place< Dilli. Inside the bus they start harassing the couple and try to molest the girl. (At this time everyone started to check their tickets in the audience whether they were in the correct movie hall or not. Our point is, this scene wasn’t really required in the first place) While running away from them she hides behind an old lady to save herself. The old lady chases away the goons by stripping naked in front of them.
The story then shifts back to pre-independent era where Lord Mountbatten orders the demarcation of India into two separate nations- India and Pakistan. Oblivious to all these events is Begum Jaan’s mansion cum brothel. Begum Jaan is shrewd, uses vulgar language, won’t mind beating up her prostitutes if they do not obey her but at the same time she has a soft corner for her so-called daughters. Backed by Raja, from officials to policemen nobody dares to question the authority of Begum Jaan in that mansion. However,  the main twist comes in the story when the Radcliffe Line has to be passed through Begum Jaan’s kotha/randi-khaana according to the prescribed map and they are coerced into emptying it. But Begum Jaan is hell-bent about leaving her mansion even if it means using guns and rifles.

The movie had an impressive first half but after the interval it somehow lost its plot and that’s where Begum Jaan (both the character and the film) started to witness its dooming fate. The songs too didn’t match the backdrop of the film. The film bears a lot of resemblance to Shyam Benegal’s film ‘Mandi’ but it doesn’t match up to its standards.
A lot of characters and events in the story were practically wasted and far from realistic. The only positive thing about the direction was that it was able to bring out the rawness at a lot of occasions which evoked disgust within the viewers. It was the only thing that the director managed to achieve in this two hour film.

Vidya Balan, true to her character remains the real Begum of the film. Nobody else would have been able to carry the role of a unibrowed Begum Jaan who drinks freely, smokes hookah, has a filthy vocabulary and won’t mind manipulating the Raja to fulfill her demands. Though she too has her ethics but when it comes to protecting her mansion she wouldn’t even mind selling an innocent soul to the lustful Raja even if it is killing her from inside. Ila Arun too did a remarkable job as Amma who narrates bedtime stories to Laadli about Jhansi ki Rani and Razia Sultana. While listening to all these stories Laadli imagines these heroines to have the face of Begum, who is also her mother’s pimp. The most surprising element in this film turned out to be Gauhar Khan, the most loyal of all the girls in Begum’s kotha. From giving massages to her boss to crying out in pain on her lover’s death, she was the only one out of the lot who managed to grab everyone’s attention. The rest of the star cast including Vivek Mushran, Rajit Kapoor, Ashish Vidyarthi and Rajesh Sharma too did a great job but ultimately Balan’s acting overshadowed everyone. More stress was laid on India Pakistan partition and the ongoing political events but what lacked in the movie was a little more focus on Begum Jaan’s early life. The director just gave an iota of her background which is where the viewer felt disappointed.

No Jaan in this Begum.

Image Credits

About Vasundhara Seli
This movie fanatic is the youngest and the only girl in the team. She feels that one should never withdraw from the reality of life but at the same time having your own utopian world isn’t bad either. Maybe this is what inspires her to be a storyteller and be optimistic about life. After movies, her second love is ‘the red velvet cake’.