ApunKaChoice : Bollywood


Umrao JaanUmrao Jaan : Movie Review
03rd Nov 2006  21.35 IST
By Naresh Kumar Deoshi  

It depends on what bent of mind you have to appreciate a movie like J.P. Dutta's Umrao Jaan . In these times of stylish, feelgood entertainers, this tragic story of a courtesan may look like a sore thumb. Yet, the lovers of good cinema will find the movie eminently watchable.

A film like 'Umrao Jaan' is not for the laity. The movie's setting (19th century Lucknow), its story, its characters and the dialogues they speak, nothing conforms to the cinematic tastes of a contemporary viewer. Yet the heart-rending tale of Umrao Jaan stands out for a sensitive viewer to empathize with. And full credit should be given to J.P. Dutta for sensible, skillful direction and to Aishwarya Rai for her emphatic performance.

Dutta's film is certainly not a replica of Muzaffar Ali's 'Umrao Jaan' (with Rekha ), made in 1981. This movie has its own unique identity, its own tone and tempo.

Based on a book by Mirza Hadi Ruswa (a teacher in mathematics, science, philosophy and Persian), the movie tells the tale of Amiran who was abducted as a child and sold into a Lucknow kotha by Dilawar, a man seeking revenge from Amiran's father.

There, at the kotha, Amiran is re-christened as Umrao by the chief courtesan Khanum Sahib ( Shabana Azmi ). Under the tutelage of Maulvi Sahib ( Kulbhushan Kharbanda ) Umrao learns the intricacies of Urdu language and poetry. She gets motherly love from Bua Hussaini (Himani Shivpuri). She finds friends in Khurshid ( Ayesha Jhulka ) and Bismillah ( Divya Dutta ). She learns dancing under the watchful eye of Khanum Sahib.

Umrao (Aishwarya Rai) grows to be a beautiful woman with a natural talent for poetry and dancing. In her very first mujra, she wins the hearts of nawabs of Lucknow, particularly Nawab Sultan ( Abhishek Bachchan ).

A pathan, Nawab Sultan falls for Umrao as she does for him. So strong and irrepressible is their love that Nawab chooses Umrao over the wealth and lineage of his rich father. And Umrao too rebels against Khanum Sahib for her love for Nawab.

But a pauper Nawab is no longer able to fill the coffers of Khanum. Enters Faiz Ali ( Sunil Shetty ), a bandit disguised as a Nawab. He offers the asked sum for Umrao Jaan. Against her wishes, Umrao is sold to the highest bidder.

'Umrao Jaan' is the story of a woman whose life is filled with one misfortune after another. She is jilted in love, she is raped, she is turned back by her own estranged brother and mother. But Umrao Jaan forgives them all and resigns to her fate.

Arguably, Aishwarya Rai has given the best performance of her career so far in this movie. She captures the nuances of her character convincingly. She credibly brings forth the longings, unfulfilled desires and pain of Umrao Jaan. Although she spends the major part of the second half weeping and crying, never does she make it look melodramatic. A commendable performance indeed.

Abhishek Bachchan is passable as the enamored Nawab with royal mannerisms. He walks with a swagger, gazes with a glint in the eye and talks with tehzeeb befitting a nawab.

Shabana Azmi is superb playing the pragmatic, unrelenting and yet soft-at-heart courtesan. Ayesha Jhulka and Divya Dutta have marginal roles, but they play their parts with dedication.

Sunil Shetty suits the role of a bandit in love with a beauty. Puru Raj Kumar does a good job as an admirer of Umrao who eventually ends up raping her.

Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Himani Shivpuri are very natural in their performances.

It must be admitted that the movie's music lets you down a bit. After listening to the timeless compositions of Khayyam in Muzaffar Ali's movie, it is perhaps a little harsh on Anu Malik to expect something similar from him. Yet, the film seems to drag everytime a song comes up.

J.P. Dutta seems to have put his heart and soul into making this period film. Meticulous attention has been given to the ambience, sets, props, costumes and other accessories that recreate the Lucknow of 19th century. Yet the lush and splendor does not overshadow the story of Umrao Jaan.

If seen without cynicism, the movie turns out to be a touching tale. Yet its fate at the box-office might meet the same tragedy as did the courtesan whose life-story the film chronicles.

Eminently watchable if you are an Ash fan.

Umrao Jaan
Aishwarya Rai
Shabana Azmi
Kulbhushan Kharbanda
Ayesha Jhulka
Divya Dutta
Abhishek Bachchan
Sunil Shetty

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