Begum Jaan chronicles the life inside a whorehouse set in the middle of the India-Pakistan border. Unfortunately, Vidya Balan who plays the title role cannot save the hopelessly predictable plot. The film is such a terrible, bloated and tastelessly overdone copy of the Shabana Azmi starrer Mandi (1983).
2 out of 5 (Average)
| Manisha Lakhe (NOWRUNNING)
Just because Begum Jaan runs a whorehouse, the women are made to behave how you'd expect women in the oldest profession to be: they scream at each other, call each other crass names, wear clothes created by an over-enthusiastic art director, and pose as if it was an audition to a high school play about a whorehouse.
In fact, the whole movie seems to be over staged. The idea they started with is interesting. The whorehouse falls right in the middle of the new India Pakistan border. The women have to evacuate, and Begum Jaan won't leave her home. After all, she has the support of the local king. Her refusal to move gets both the representatives of India and Pakistan to survey the border markings really pissed off. They finally get a super bad mercenary Kabira to evict her.
Unfortunately, for Begum Jaan, played earnestly by Vidya Balan, is just not enough. And after a while even she starts sounding ridiculous: I rescued each one of you from a fate worse than death and made you into prostitutes, so show some gratitude!
Since we see the women either yawn while they are with the clients or run out of the rooms when the clients behave like beasts, we understand why there is no gratitude from the girls.
If this were a tribute to the 1983 cult classic Mandi, then they have done a shoddy job indeed. Mandi was clearly well thought out, well written and had fabulous performances. Even the traumatised runaway girl (Phoolmani played by Sreela Majumdar) could speak volumes with her eyes without saying a word. In this film, everyone simply poses as if it were a fashion magazine spread where models go slumming.
Let's not even get into the weather! It's Holi when everyone wants to look like a magazine spread, and it rains because the director does not know whether to show one of the prostitutes (Gauhar Khan) make love with the servant of the House (Pitobash) after they admit that they care for each other and the body is the body. Please don't miss the moralising, the speech-ification: 'Chaati kya hai? Maans hai' (What are breasts, but meat) and so on by Gauhar Khan is unbearable rather than 'acting' with a chance of an award. Back to the weather, when the duo return to the House, the wind brings in dry leaves and twigs you see during Autumn.
The two men responsible for drawing the border: one Hindu (Ashish Vidyarthi) and another Muslim (Rajit Kapoor) have been shot so oddly you wonder why the frame contains only half their face and the rest is a blur. Maybe because what they're saying is trite and needless. Imagine when the salve comes in the form of a super bad mercenary Chunky Pandey who does his best to channelise his inner Kancha Cheena (Sanjay Dutt from the new Agneepath) and does a great job. But even he has not much to do but crack his skull as musclemen are wont to do while spouting dialogues like, 'Mere aadmi phir kuch bhi kar sakte hain.'
But that's not the only problem with the movie. The characters are such pointless cardboard cut-outs you shake your head in despair when you see three people discussing how the partition is going to affect them. One is a token Muslim, one Sikh, and you hope the third one does not turn out to be Anthony or Peter or John. You see the resulting divide between Hindus and Muslims treated so flimsily, you want to throw things at the screen. You see Hindu kids on one side crossing another bunch of kids (skull caps and all), each group staring at each other looking scared. Seriously?! To top it all, they take a classic song 'Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi' and remix it in what can be only called as a pseudo-caring version.
This is a sham of a film-making a pretense to art. Buy or rent the DVD of Mandi instead.
Critic: Manisha Lakhe
2 out of 5 (Average)
WHAT THE RATINGS MEAN:
0.0 - 1.4 : Poor
1.5 - 1.7: Poor, A Few Good Parts
1.8 - 2.3: Average
2.4 - 2.9: Fairly Good
3.0 - 3.4: Good
3.5 - 5.0: Very Good