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Movie Review: Begum Jaan by Srijit Mukherjee


I had rated Rajkahini on my blog 4/5 stars – the film had moved me, left me in tears as the end credits rolled. So, when I walked into the theatre today to watch Begum Jaan, there was trepidation in my heart. It was almost like I’d be tested as an audience to what extent I can separate the Rajkahini experience from Begum Jaan. Might I say, Srijit Mukherjee made it very easy because the first sequence itself was starkly different from the theatrical adaptation of Manto’s work that Rajkahini began with. I was at ease and for the next 130 odd minutes became a part of the kotha on Indo-Pak border that fought independence for freedom.

While Rajkahini was set in Bengal, Begum Jaan is based in Punjab. Abanindranath Thakur’s Rajkahini played a significant role in the film, specially in the end; here Ila Arun’s character tells stories of feisty daughters of India (which were cleverly depicted by Vidya in the film). While the basic premise of the film remained the same as Rajkahini, there were many changes to the script – some good, some bad. The Connaught Place sequence was a fitting addition to the film. The additional scene between Gulabo-Rubina was emotive. Several characters have been given a closure in the end, another creative input.

Vidya Balan – my favourite actress for the last decade and a half – was originally approached for Rajkahini. I always wondered how different the film would’ve been with her (Rituparna Sengupta gave her career best performance as Begum Jaan, so no comparisons). She steals the show with her bold, gritted, fiery portrayal of the brothel owner who would go to any extent to save her vatan, her kotha.

Rubina (wonderfully portrayed by Joya Ehsan) was my favourite character from Rajkahini who had the most beautiful scene ever written in Bengali cinema in recent times. Gauhar Khan has done justice to the part. Also, the great Naseeruddin Shah gave gravity to a role which was oft not remembered from Rajkahini.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of the supporting cast. The sense of loss and vengeance was missing from Ilias and Srivastava. Even some scenes where half their faces were shown did not aesthetically look as good as they did with Saswata-Kaushik. Their chemistry was somehow lacking. Gulabo was expressionless when confronted with the ultimate betrayal. Chunkey Pandey as Kabir was menacing enough but did not evoke the same horror and hate as Jishu Sengupta did in Rajkahini.

I felt the narrative moved a bit fast, so we could not connect to these characters in totality. The Holi song was completely out of place and the background score did not do justice to several great scenes – like the manhunt in the butchers’ market. However, the climax choked me as usual. ‘Woh subah hum hee se ayegi’ was a great substitute for ‘Bharat Bhagyo Bidhata’ and the visuals would simply stupefy you into a state of forbearance.

And above all, the last visual you take home with you as you walk out after Begum Jaan – that look on Vidya’s face when she closes the door of the kotha, that look of victory but the sense of loss, juxtaposed with the fluttering of the tricolour, will even make a heart of stone let the tears flow.

I had always wondered how would a sequel of Rajkahini be with Buchki (Laadli) in the lead. Begum Jaan has given us a glimpse of it. Begum Jaan and Rajkahini are two different films, for two different audiences. Comparisons would not be fair. Both shine in their own right.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

Kahaani – A Joyride Through Kolkata

vidya balanEvery Bengali has two names – one daak naam (pet name) and another bhalo naam (the name used for official communications). A name reflects our identities, does the possession of two names reflect on our dual selves?

Bidya Bagchi lands in Kolkata at a time when the city was gearing up to immerse itself into annual celebration of the Divine Feminine. She was carrying with herself a piece of a riddle, in her womb, as she embarked on her journey to find her missing husband. Arnab (Bagchi?), her missing husband, had been to Calcutta for a project, and never returned.

A quest for truth that throws many unpalatable revelations on our face, a struggle for justice, the solemn pledge to walk on, even if alone, takes Bidya across the city of joy, to the most unpleasant places – a morgue, stealing files from a company at the dead of the night, the dark alleys of Khidirpur – and the near death experiences. But unmoved by all hurdles, Bidya triumphs over the odds.

The USP of Kahaani is Vidya Balan. She carries the film on her shoulder, delivering a near flawless performance. One would hardly believe she wasn’t pregnant after all. Supporting her throughout the film, Parambrata yet again delivers a role of a cop with brilliance. You could actually see glimpses of Baishe Srabon in his portrayal of Rana. Even in his cameo, Swaswata Chatterjee proves why he is the best actor in town when it comes to delivering on facial emotions, with only a dialogue or two.

Kahaani would have been unimaginable had it been based in any other city, shot at any other time of the year. The backdrop of Durga Pujo, juxtaposed to the mental turmoil of a woman in distress suffices for great cinematic irony. Kolkata comes alive in Sujoy Ghosh’s film. South Kolkata has never been captured so beautifully and in such a rustic elegance, ever before in any film. The closest i think of would obviously be Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Antaheen, but that was a poetic cinematography. Kahaani is real.

The nuances of the city, the small innuendos, the Ba-Va paradox, the sweet little nothings that get exchanged between Rana and Bidya  – all these make for a pleasurable two hour joy ride, a befitting tribute to the city of lost heritage. The thrill keeps one glued to the seats, although almost certain of what is coming. The suspense of the plot is given away in the first scene of Vidya at police station itself, if one is paying careful attention.

Had it not been for the obnoxious rendition of “Ekla Chalo Re”, Kahaani could have got full marks in music too. But alas, some legacies are better not tampered with. And for a Bengali music lover, tampering with Tagore is sacrilege. Having said that, i was almost hoping for a Ustad Rashid Khan aalaap when droplets from the sky drenched the screen.

In many ways, Kahaani is similar to Baishe Srabon (although, written and filmed much earlier). If i were to point out the similarities here, that would amount to giving away the plot, which i dare not. It would be advisable to my readers to watch Baishe Srabon too before jumping into conclusions.

The triumph of good over evil, and the extents to which we must have to at times to attain that goal, blurs the line separating the rotten fish from the pond. That is when, the divinities take it upon themselves to invoke the power of the Goddess. But even the divine return to her abode after a stay of four days; cleansing the earth of the unholy.

So, does Bidya find her husband? Does she need to, i ask!

My Rating – 3.5/5

P.S. I hope and pray that Kolkata never faces the calamity that marks the beginning of this film. Let her always be THE city of JOY.

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