DESPITE BEING HIGH ON THEMES AND BRILLIANT WORK BY VIDYA AND CHUNKY, BEGUM JAAN MIGHT NOT HAVE A MASS APPEAL

In the form of one more addition to the ‘films celebrating womanhood’ list, Begum Jaan in one sentence is- a very sincere attempt in its capacity. With the evergreen theme of independence and the situation surrounding it (which has always lured the filmmakers and the audience), strong characters, subtle symbolisms, references to a patriarchal society, and a fewer drawbacks- this film is positively inclined towards being a very good watch.

The plot of the film works at two levels- both not novel though. One which the trailers suggested- Right after 15th August 1947, it gets necessary to divide India and newly formed Pakistan with a barbed wire by means of Radcliffe Line. This line passes through the brothel run by Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan), and hence it should either be demolished or the residents be evicted. The women now take charge in their hands to safeguard their freedom. How it happens is what the film is.
The second distinctive feature of the plot is its underlying theme. The story isn’t just about a few women trying to secure their home. It’s actually about the chaos that prevailed in the society as a result of the independence, which the innocents had to pay a price for. It’s also about the turmoil of officers who succumbed to the orders of rule makers.

Begum Jaan Movie Review
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The story of the film is inherently simple and doesn’t offer much uniqueness, where it also gets predictable at some points. However the screenplay is something that lifts the film up. One major plus of the screenplay is the references to brave women our country has seen- Rani Laxmibai, Meerabai, Razia Sultan, and Rani Padmavati, all of which make the protagonist a queen in herself, hence justifying the title of the film as well. Also, the flag at Connaught Place, kings in free India losing their power, Hindu Muslim turning hostile, man in power, and female body (both as a means of objectification and shaming a man)- are just few references to aid the film- and yes, these are all just too good. It is only this power of screenplay that does wonders.

Having said that, the film has setbacks too. It seems stretched, too dramatic at some junctures, and very heavy on dialogues at some other. It is only because of these drawbacks that the mass audience might feel alienated and the overall impact of the film dips. It’s because of this that audience might not appreciate the film as a whole but in bits and pieces.

Vidya Balan as the lead is brilliant. She’s crude, raw, emotional, sympathetic, motherly, bossy- all in one. She shines in all the shades and makes the film rise. While Gauhar Khan (Rubina), Ridheema Tiwary (Amba), Flora (Maina), Priyanka Setia (Jameela), Pallavi Sharda (Gulabo), Ila Arun (Amma), Mishti (Shabnam), Raviza Chauhan (Lata), Poonam Rajput (Rani), and Gracy Goswami (Ladli) are all fine and do the needful, two men in this brothel- Surjeet (Pitobash Tripathi) and Salim (Sumit Nijhawan) are to look for. These two add shades to the film and are very charming in their respective roles. Rajit Kapur (Ilias) as an officer of Muslim League and Ashish Vidyarthi (Srivastav) as an officer of INC are very good. Naseeruddin Shah (Raja Saheb) is average. Vivek Mushran (Master) is very good in the brief role. Chunky Pandey as Kabir is remarkable. He’s deadly, cruel. He’s so good that the audience hates him.

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The music, especially the songs Prem Mein Tohre by Asha Bhonsle and Azadiyan by Sonu Nigam/Rahet Fateh Ali Khan are to look for. Background score is also very good. The film on other technical aspects is average barring the visual treat it offers during the stories of ‘Veerangana’.

Director Srijit Mukherji does a fine job connecting various themes to make one film. Having said that, it gets a bit difficult for the audience to comprehend all the underlying themes as one. However, the film must be appreciated for the spirit it showcases and the message it gives- did independence/partition actually bring happiness???

Rochak Saxena

Rochak Saxena a Mass Media Teacher, former journalist at DNA and an ardent lover of Hindi films - literally. The blog derives its name from the popular term ‘Willing Suspension of Disbelief’, most commonly used in the world of literature and cinema. Meaning to immerse yourself in an unreal world (where you know what you see on screen is fake) with a self-proclaimed/declared belief/wish to consider it real, the willing world becomes magical. It’s the same magic every Friday that drives Rochak to share things in the perspective that it needs to be observed with. Every film is different. And the difference needs to be cherished.

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