Cast: Vidya Balan (Begum Jaan), Ila Arun (Amma), Naseeruddin Shah (Rajaji), Rajit Kapoor (Ilias), Ashish Vidyarthi (Harshvardhan)
Direction: Srijit Mukherji
Rating: 3/5 stars
Begum Jaan Story
Begum Jaan is the story of Begum Jaan, a brothel owner whose house falls right on the line of partition that divides India and Pakistan. Begum Jaan, with her prostitutes, is under the protection of the local king and hence nobody dares to stand against them. The razor-tongued Begum Jaan stands firm on her grounds and refutes to vacate the house, as officials try every possible way to get the issue settled. Tackling issues like patriarchy and male chauvinism, Begum Jaan, with her girls, fight for their home. Will they succeed in saving their home?
Begum Jaan is a Hindi remake of the Bengali film, RajKahini (2016) and is loosely based on Shyam Benegal’s Mandi (1986). The movie is directed by National-award winning director Srijit Mukherji. All the actors in the movie have used minimal make-up to keep the portrayal of scenes and characters as realistic as possible. The movie has been granted A certificate for its sexual tones and profane dialogues.
What To Anticipate:
Begum Jaan is a period drama and set within the backdrop of Indian independence paired with the partition of India and Pakistan and like every movie that revolves around partition; it speaks of grandeur and piques a lot of interest. But, has that expectation been met by Begum Jaan? Well, not so much.
The movie which picks up critical subjects like partition, feminism, and male chauvinism fails to address any of them quite diligently. What begins as an idea of a partition story boils down to only an eviction story. With a grand line-up of fine actors from Vidya Balan, Ila Arun, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajit Kapoor, the standards were set high. Though, all the movie does is remind you of older, better films and characters. The scenes in the movie lack that unconscious flow, leading to awkwardness. The story becomes inconsistent, where the characters celebrate India’s independence and the festival of Holi one after the other.
The supporting actors fail to get any screen time to make their presence felt. We understand that the director wanted to show diversity with characters from different parts of our country, but not to the extent that the audience fails to empathise with most or any of them. With as many as 20 characters running up and down in the movie, all eyes are set on Vidya Balan and she does try and live up to her acting prowess that we have seen in her earlier films. But, fed with too many corny dialogues, she looks less of a bandit queen. Among all the actors, it is Chunky Pandey who surprises with his role as Kabir, a creepy and ruthless killer hired to get rid of the prostitutes.
A movie that turns on the fuel of women standing up for themselves extinguishes that fire by flaunting dialogues that could only become the laughing and whistling subjects of lewd men, making every woman uncomfortable. Dialogues like ‘A man is a rooster with three legs’ and the other one pertaining to menstruation — “Humein maheena gin-na aata hai, har baar saala laal karke jaata hai” take its toll. Even the portrayal of officials from INC and Muslim League look cautiously superficial with their distanced seating and cornered-glances.