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Begum Jaan  : Melodrama On The Border
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Friday, April 14, 2017
Action
Srijit Mukherji
Pallavi Sharda, Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Gauhar Khan

A brothel-keeper defending her turf or her honour is fine.

 

The fictional tale of a brothel that falls smack in the centre of the Radcliffe Line, with one half in Pakistan and the other in India, could also make a great story.

 

But it’s the premise, Begum Jaan’s stubborn stand of not moving out and resettling elsewhere, of turning it into a prestige issue, of even giving it a feminist flavour that’s difficult to connect with. Given the catastrophic partition of 1947, Begum Jaan’s fight against officials from Pakistan and India seems hysterically pointless, with Vidya Balan spitting out azaadi as a potent bad word.

 

Writer-director Srijit Mukherji scores worthy points about women who don’t have the freedom to even curse without abusing a sister or a mother. But he overcooks it inscreechy decibels with more than one reference to monthly periods and curses against men.

 

With a dizzy number of sub-plots, contradictions abound. Begum Jaan’s house is where Hindu-Muslim-Sikh or caste divides melt away on the whore’s bed, a point that’s hammered endlessly. But criminal Kabir, played well by Chunky Panday, whose men will kill, rape or maim, is equallyoblivious to religious differences as long as the price is right. So what makes only Begum Jaan so righteous?

 

Mukherji also goes overboard in portraying Begum Jaan as a fiery feminist. In an endless series of dull storytelling by an old Ila Arun who narrates the valour of Jhansi Ki Rani, Meera and Razia Sultana, Begum Jaan is laughably shown as an avatar of all of them.

 

The bonding and catfights among the girls, sparks of love that have a flash of lesbianism, generations under one roof and doomed romances, are all packed in with uniform rawness and sledgehammer subtlety.

 

But worthy of special mention are ‘Prem mein tohre’ and a Holi number composed by Anu Malik.

 

Despite dozens of characters, it’s practically a solo act by Vidya Balan who once again proves that she’s a compelling performer. In an interaction with Raja, their chief patron played by Naseeruddin Shah, she’s particularly impressive, combining craftiness with required servility.

 

But ultimately the question to ask is, what’s the hyper drama all about?

 

Neerja director Ram Madhvani recently encapsulated the Radcliffe Linein nine wonderfully evocative minutes in the short film This Bloody Line.

 

Unfortunately, Srijit Mukherji’s 134-minute drama is coarse without making the same impact.

 

For an overloud film that spits fire without drawing your empathy, Begum Jaan gets a 2.5* rating.  

 

Reviewed by
Bharathi S Pradhan

Senior Journalist & Author

 

 

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