Much speculation surrounds Begum Jaan. Many won’t even contemplate watching the film, since on the outset, it seems like just another testosterone
Begum JaanFeminism done right. Border disputes and a brothel in the backdrop.
Much speculation surrounds Begum Jaan. Many won’t even contemplate watching the film, since on the outset, it seems like just another testosterone friendly, over the top reel, wrapped in the garb of being a critically acclaimed art movie. Others might give it a pass because it seems too sinful for their ever so pious and slightly bigoted minds.
However, Begum Jaan is actually none of the above. It isn’t about the horrors of flesh trade and neither is it about the lives of such women whilst slyly being nothing more than pornography. It’s a strong movie, about a woman who refuses to be evicted from her home. A woman who does not care two hoots for the freedom of the nation, since she has been forced forever into submission by a patriarchal society. A woman’s struggle to create a free world for those who are shunned whilst being tagged lawless by a hypocritical society. Impressive choice of subject matter, isn’t it?
The film is the Hindi remake of Rajkahini, the 2015 Bengali production. It is directed by the same director, Srijit Mukherjee and produced by the Bhat brothers. Vidya Balan plays Begum Jaan, the madam of the brothel in question. We couldn’t have asked for a better team. So, is it worth your Sunday? Read on.
First, let’s meet the actors:
Vidya Balan as Begum Jaan
Ila Arun as Amma
Gauhar Khan as Rubina
Pallavi Sharda as Gulabo
Indrani Mukherjee as Shabnam
Pitobash Tripathy as Surjeet
Sumit Nijhawan as Salim Mirza
Vivek Mushran as Master
Naseeruddin Shah as Rajaji
Suyash Pandey (Yes, that’s his real name) as Kabir
The story is set in 1947, when India had finally managed to rid itself of the British and embarked upon the struggle of creating a new sovereign. However, just as two equals can never respect the other’s superiority, Nehru and Jinnah decided that their feud will be fought across the breadth of India’s border at the cost of the livelihoods of millions. Begum Jaan however, decided that she will not be just another pawn in their game of checkers. She would not go down silently.
Vidya Balan plays the formidable Begum Jaan, who has no illusions about the way that society looks upon her or the girls in her brothel. However, she isn’t simply the aggressive madam, but also the protector of the residents of her ‘kotha’. She is also somewhat of a saviour for the girls whom society has mercilessly used and then shunned. She treats the four walls in which she lives, as a home and demands that it’s respect be maintained. The way we see it, no one could have played this role better than Vidya Balan, at least in the current Bollywood set. She depicts the entire range of human emotion in the film. May it be the time when she has to welcome a new member to her unusual family with calculated coldness or when she blatantly threatens to murder her neck-tied enemies. Vidya Balan executes her role with finesse.
The rest of the women, be it Gauhar Khan, Ila Arun, Indrani Mukherjee or Pallavi Sharda all play their parts exceedingly well. Their desires seem ever so natural and their sorrows are graceful. Their characters remind us, that all women have an inherent degree of internal strength that men may only have heard of and can never imbibe.
Pitobash Tripathy, Sumit Nijhawan and Vivek Mushran are so very authentic in the roles that they play. Pitobash Tripathy is endearing as the helpless man in ‘lub’. His sobs, nearing the end of the film will have you in tears. We did expect a little more from Vivek Mushran though.
Sadly, Chunky Pandey could not impress us. He wasn’t even slightly menacing. We expected a ruthless, perverse criminal. What we got in return, was a leaner version of SanJay Dutt from Agneepath.
Begun Jaan has a lot going for it. It has a beautiful if not entirely logical story, the characters are all well written. The cinematography and screenplay are on point. The editing is superb. There are moments when the film begins to feel a little ingenuine and too preachy, however, I believe it had to forgo artistic sensibilities in order to drive the point home. Hypocrisy must end in order for true freedom to prevail. That is the message that the slender yet fierce girls of Begum Jaan’s brothel subtly deliver. And who knows the value of hypocrisy and freedom more than a woman who is forced to live in submission.
It’s an A-rated film and not pleasant. It might make you reflect and you will not feel any happiness during the course of the film, but it is a good watch. A substantial piece of cinema and worth acknowledging. I give it 3.5/5.
You will like this film if: You understand that human personalities are multidimensional
You will dislike this film if: You believe that any film without a hot item number is not worth watching
Best Performance: Vidya Balan