Directed By: Srijit Mukherji
Produced By: Vishesh Films
Cast: Vidya Balan, Gauahar Khan, Pallavi Sharda, Chunky Pandey
Duration: 2 hours
Bollywood Bubble Rating: 3/5
After a prolonged battle of blood and sweat, Indian independence arrived in 1947; however, in many colours. While India seemed to rejoice at the end of the oppression that went on for almost two centuries and commemorated sacrifice of thousands of lives, the number of teardrops went unnoticed. No one took notice of how many bare feet walked past the borders, leaving a chunk of their lives behind. Women bellowed, they were abducted. Children shrieked, they had no childhood left. The screams lost themselves amid labyrinth of a celebration, so very alien to millions of homeless, loveless souls. Around one and a half years ago, back in Calcutta, Srijit Mukherji’s ‘Rajkahini’ had made my night heavy. This time, as he comes up with ‘Begum Jaan’ that promises to be more national in perspective, Mukherji has both satisfied and disappointed us.
Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan), a woman with surprisingly firm characteristics, owns her kotha in rural Punjab, just where the India-Pakistan border through the notorious radcliff line was later drawn. She is a prostitute, but not the one you’d dare to look down upon, even for once. She is unabridged in her own morals, she is rebellious and beautiful. Begum has her jaan in the women who stay there and earn their living by selling their bodies. Unapologetic, and why not? These girls know what living really is. It is to sell what really belongs to you, and to keep your head high. However, Begum Jaan doesn’t have slightest idea that the border is being drawn just through her house. One rainy day, she is asked to leave the kotha in a month and is taken aback. She fights out like a queen, though nothing saves the reality. ‘Begum Jaan’, that way, is a brave story of survival.
But there’s more. Into 2017, and we are yet unable to acknowledge a woman’s own rights over her body. 70 years back in time, perceptions were evidently more rigid and social treatments were a few hundred times regressive. In that context, ‘Begum Jaan’ is also a story of humanity in its most humble shape. It leaves its faint yet firm touches on the ugliest colour of national politics, which had further made partition a more miserable affair. It paints love in most helpless manner. After all, can a prostitute ever fall in love? Apart from those bruises on her breasts, is there anything that solely belongs to her? Not even her body.
While the emotional and social appeal of the story is an absolute winner, the problem appears where it shouldn’t have. Vidya Balan, otherwise uncomparable in terms of her acting abilities, looks too tender. And thus, she has failed to become the Begum Jaan we wanted to witness. The raunchy, truculent expressions are missing in her. She puts her best forward and it is visible. But somewhat, the bellicose woman who we all wanted to take over our senses, was never there.
The narrative is the second problem. It consists of the perfect moments, but is annexed unrightly. Individual instances wrench us, but the film as a whole doesn’t create the stirring effect it could have.
Albeit, ‘Begum Jaan’ raises crucial questions that are ever relevant. It questions our understanding of a progressive system, puts us through bigger perspectives about women’s empowerment. And certainly, it is an eye-opener on our notion towards s*x workers.
Despite being a Vidya Balan-starrer, the other characters all play their own pivotal parts in the story and add their exclusive emotional quotient. Mukherji should be credited for that. A special mention to Pallavi Sharda, Gauahar Khan, Priyanka Setia and Pitobash Tripathy. One more woman to draw your eyes would be Mishti. Her second Bollywood outing couldn’t be better!
With appreciable technical aspects and situational compositions by Anu Malik, ‘Begum Jaan’ has bucked up at many places it could lag.
This weekend, watch this one for a little piece of reality you knew little about.