Vidya Balan in and as 'Begum Jaan'.
Director: Srijit Mukherjee
Cast: Vidya Balan, Gauahar Khan, Pallavi Sharda, Ila Arun, Chunky Panday, Mishti Chakravarthy
When a movie features Vidya Balan, one expects a lot from it. The actress is undoubtedly a powerhouse of talent but a poorly-directed film can easily sweep away the attention from a flawless performer. With ‘Begum Jaan’, director Srijit Mukherjee remakes his Bengali film ‘Rajkahini’ that starred Rituparna Sen Gupta in the lead role.
Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) owns a brothel and looks after it with the help of the King (Naseeruddin Shah). The ruthless king in return sleeps around with every single girl of the brothel. Amma (Ila Arun), Gulabo (Pallavi Sharda), Rubina (Gauahar Khan) and Shabnam (Mishti Chakravarthy) live with Begum Jaan in her brothel. They all live a happy life until India becomes independent in 1947.
Soon after, their lives change upside down. In the meantime, Mr. Srivastava (Ashish Vidyarthi) and Ilias (Rajit Kapoor) order Begum Jaan to vacate the brothel to draw the Indo-Pak border through it. Begum Jaan refuses to do so and the two tough officials appoint a local goon Kabir (Chunky Panday) to vacate the brothel in a months time. What happens next forms the rest of the plot of the film. Will Begum Jaan vacate the brothel or continue staying there and fight for her rights?
‘Rajkahini’, which was released in 2015, is a 3-hour long film and dealt with individual issues of partition and the journey of prostitutes in the brothel. The girls are nowhere close to what life as a prostitute actually looks like, except for Vidya Balan. Though the film wasn't a commercial hit but it was an art film which was critically acclaimed. Director Srijit Mukherjee tried hard to pick up the best pieces from his earlier film and present in a grand manner, but the film looks very forced upon and animated.
This 134-minute feature is a word-for-word copy from ‘Rajkahini’ (No jokes since it’s an official remake of it). Even the cinematography of the film is remade. Srijit Mukherjee took the word ‘liberty’ a little too seriously while remaking this film. He could have (and should have) easily shot the film in a much different and improvised way. The edit of the film also looks a little abrupt.
Point to be noted that Holi comes in the month of August in the special case of ‘Begum Jaan’. Really?? What a creative blunder! First half of the film is quite a yawn fest but the second half picked up pace with Vidya's intense act.
Coming to the actors now, to begin with, Vidya Balan, in an attempt to earn the next National award, overplayed in few scenes but obviously, she knows how to cheat and turn an average scene into gold. Cuss words, puffing hookah, boldness of a sex worker, Vidya has done it all to have a hit and somewhat she is succeeded also. Pallavi Sharda and Gauahar Khan are surprisingly good. The scene where Pallavi kills Vivek Mushran after being betrayed is commendable. Gauhar Khan just steals the show in the scene with her lover Sujit. Misthi is just a prop in the film with literally no dialogues. The only time she opens her mouth is to scream when Vidya hits her hard. Ila Arun, Chunky Panday, Vivek Mushran, Ashish Vidyarthi and Rajit Kapoor are impressive in their respective acts.
The film is watchable but only once. The major hiccup in the film is its poor execution and the whole set up looks fabricated. Maybe a better director would have made this film much more bearable. Watch ‘Begum Jaan’ for Vidya Balan's impressive performance but don't expect it to be a masterpiece!