(2006) Umrao Jaan Reviews
Sawf News Review
JP Dutta tells his story well, a tad too well actually. In a film stretched too far Aishwarya Rai’s brilliant portrayal of Umrao Jaan keeps a firm grip on viewers attention.
From the outset Producer / Director JP Dutta has promoted his Umrao Jaan as an interpretation of the the Urdu novel “Umrao Jan Ada” by Mirza Haadi Ruswa (1905), not a remake of the 1981 film directed by Muzaffar Ali. That Dutta’s assertions are true is obvious within minutes of the film’s opening.
It is a good interpretation but an interpretation that may not appeal to a broad segment of the audience. Dutta tells his story well, a tad too well. He tells his story with passion but even as he crosses his T’s and dots his I’s with relish the film stretches too far and audience attention flags to a point where a large number of cell phone displays suddenly begin to glimmer and beep all around the movie halls as the generation next forays into their cellular worlds.
JP Dutta interpretation of the Ruswa novel is anything but subtle. At times it tends to be basal. For example, he doesn’t downplay the role of a Tawaif (courtesan) as a sex worker. He stresses on it more than he stresses on her skills in dancing and poetry. He does not allude to a sexual relationship, he shows it. The stress is not on romance but physical attraction and possession.
The leading characters in the film too have been tweaked and in a manner that downplays romance. Nawab Sultan is not a weak kneed philanderer with a sharp intellect who loves the good things in life. Dutta casts his Nawab Sultan as an assertive pathan who loves Umrao, obsessed with her to the point where he kills to defend her honor and even threatens to cut her up to punish her infidelity.
One wonders what prompted Dutta to tweak the role of Nawab Sultan to an extent where it is obviously contrived? Was it done to suite Bachchan’s screen image?
Nawab Sultan and Umrao Jaan rarely waste their time with intellectual sparring and poetry. They are more comfortable canoodling and rolling in bed.
Aishwarya Rai excels as Umrao Jaan and conveys her passion and angst with conviction. With the passage of years, as her breathtaking beauty is waning into a charming countenance it is either becoming easier for Rai to emote, or for the audiences to see her emoting without the blinding effects of her beauty. Rai’s is the pivotal role in Umrao Jaan and she has come good.
I am not so sure this will be a good film for Abhishek Bachchan. His performance at many critical points is suspect. For example, when his friend delivers him at Umrao’s kotha, inebriated and forlorn, he is just not convincing emoting his lapses into self pity.
The Aishwarya Rai Abhishek Bachchan pairing also disappoints and the sparks just don’t fly.
Shabana Azmi as Khanum Sahib gives a brilliant performance even by Azmi’s standards. Sunil Shetty as Faiz Ali is also convincing.
Good performances are also forthcoming from Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Puru Rajkumar as Gohar Mirza did a good job but didn’t fit the role too well.
Musical score by Anu Mallik’s effort is impressive but not outstanding. The songs are melodious but their notes are unlikely to float in and out of your thoughts for days to come. You will be back listening to Himesh Rashamiya soon enough.
If you like good story telling or Aishwarya Rai you will enjoy Umrao Jaan . If not, go and see it anyway. It is not Don it is Jaan.
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.
Gosh, can this really be Aishwarya Rai!? We all know she’s stunningly beautiful and dances like a dream there’s always been a serious lack of warmth in her performances. Which is why, it is heartening to see her delivering such a knockout performance that wonderfully translates the feeling of a woman who just can’t fight her fate. Heart-wrenchingly real, Ash’s power-packed performance stuns you for its sheer understanding of Umrao’s pain over her misunderstood and jinxed existence.
J. P Dutta’s outing this time is indeed memorable, for more reasons than one.
Amreen (Aishwarya Rai) is an eight-year- old girl, belonging to a lower middle class. Along with a loving father (Parikshit Sahni), mother and younger brother,… … her life is uneventful, though blissful. Suddenly one day, life takes a turn when a certain Dilavar Khan, who wishes revenge on the girl’s father for being witness against him in a case, decides to abduct her. He carts and sells her off in a kotha in Lucknow.
The brothel is owned by Khanum Sahib (Shabana Azmi), a kind-hearted woman of robust common sense and enterprise. Amreen grows up as Umrao and becomes not only an accomplished dancer but also a poetess under the guidance of her mentor and father figure , Maulvi Sahib (Kulbushan Kharbanda).
In fact, there is this wonderful scene, where Maulvi asks Umrao to help him complete a verse. She does it brilliantly, proving not only her facility with words but deep poignancy that touches hearts instantly.
Umrao’s big day arrives when Khanum selects her over other regulars and even her own daughter Bismillah [Divya Dutta], for an esteemed mujra performance at a wedding. Umrao, who has been yearning to showcase her prowess is thrilled and gears up for the big night.
Again, these portions are absolute aces the way they have been shot. Especially, the scene where Divya cries on Khanum’s lap, asking her why she preferred Umrao to her. Khanum explains astutely that Umrao’s success will bring the kotha more fame and prosperity and it’s only fair that the most deserving gets the chance.
Honestly, this one scene alone is worth the price of the entire ticket.
Again, Dutta’s casting of Ayesha Jhulka (Khurshid) is clever, in the sense that she stands for what Umrao could be at a later stage in life. Having gone through several heartbreaks in her youth, Khurshid acts as a constant reminder of the fate that awaits women like her who fall heedlessly in love.
But warnings notwithstanding, Umrao soon finds herself falling hopelessly in love with a handsome Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan), whom she meets during her mujra. Not known to love by haves, the kind-hearted and emotional Umrao is willing to be consumed by this tumultuous relationship, whatever it may cost. And in her heart of hearts, she desperately wants this affair to last.
Refined and a man of letters, Sultan stars become a regular at the kotha. Though clearly enamoured by Umrao, it’s never quite clear if Sultan really loves her. He expects her to be faithful to him and mentions clearly that he will cut her off from his life, if she ever betrays him. It’s clear that beneath his debonair exterior lies a man capable of cold indifference and cruel detachment.
To Abhishek’s credit, he performs this part wonderfully well. If he demonstrates courage by standing by Umrao and giving up his father’s home and wealth, he also reveals his conceit and egoistic nature when his pride is injured. All these emotions, Bachchan portrays very effectively.
“Sach toh yeh hai ki aap ek kothewali hain aur mein ek nawab’, he tells Kanum when she puts him down in an attempt to dissuade his alliance with Umrao.
Sultan leaves and tells Umrao that she has no other alternative but to wait for him. Meanwhile, Kanum wants Umrao to pursue other suitors, who are waiting for her. One being a certain Faiz Ali (Suneil Shetty), a dacoit in the garb of a Nawab. When Umrao declines, Kanum burst out her practical dielimma, ‘ Agar sab kothe ki ladkiyaan ishq kirti phirengi, toh khayengi kya?’ (if all the girls in this brothel stars falling in love, what will they eat’)
‘Tawayaf khwaab dikhane ke liye hoti hai, dekhene ke liye nahin’ she adds.
Umrao is never the same again after Sultan leaves and longs to meet him. She uses Faiz for this purpose but it proves catastrophic for Umrao, as the former realizes her true intent and poisons Sultan’s mind against his lover, telling him he has already slept with her. Incensed, Sultan decides to bury all his connection with Umrao and tells her he will go ahead and marry his uncle’s daughter.
Umrao is heart-broken. But more distress awaits her, first when the brothel is forced to disperse due to the British invasion in Lucknow and then, when she is turned away by her own mother and brother when she goes to meet them.
Ultimately, she lives a forlorn, reclusive life and wonders why she had to be so unlucky.
Umrao Jaan is then a commendable effort, with at least half a douzen scenes that are applause worthy. The mujras are a delight to watch and the film’s only hit number Salaam is absolutely spellbinding. How one wishes this movie had a couple of more chartbusters. While the music stays fair throughout, it is actually the rich lyrics that save the day. Laudably, the mujras are not just item numbers here and invariable take the story forward and give expression to their characters’ feelings.
As for the look of the film, no movie in recent times has felt so beautiful. A definite clutter breaker! Bijon Das Gupta. Full marks!
The only big disappointing in the film is Suneil Shetty. In a totally mis-cast character, Shetty just doesn’t look like he belongs to this film.
Also, while Dutta amply demonstrates his skill with storytelling, there’s no excuse for stretching a film for three plus hours. While the first half is riveting throughout, the tempo falls in the second fall, with Suneil Shetty in the picture. Also, the ending is a rushed one.
Ultimately, Umrao Jaan is still a must-watch. It’s an intelligently told story, deftly handled and emotionally power-packed. Yes, it could have scaled some more heights and become even more memorable but nevertheless, a film that deserves to be seen.
Subbash K Jha Review
In one of the countless visuals of stunning resonance, Aishwarya playing the doomed and poetic tawaif Umrao Jaan Adaa, passes through a burning field of crops. “The crops have been reaped, Now the fields are being burnt for good luck next year,” explains a helpful co-passenger.
That one gloriously revealing moment captures that strange and sublime ethos of pathos that coloured the life and times of the 19th century Lucknowi poetess who in her words is a badnasibi ki misaal(the classic example of misfortune).
We’ve seen Lucknow and the… … rest of Uttar Pradesh in several Hindi films ranging from Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan to Chandan Arora’s Main Meri Patni Aur Woh . The city and its surrounding topography has never looked more vivid in its evocation of a crisis of cultural poignancy.
Perched between a world of the kotha amd the outer world of growing deceit and betrayal the story of little Ameeran’s journey from her quaint and happy family life to the lonely pride of the Kotha , is mapped in lucid vivid sometimes-flamboyant sometimes-muted colours of utter enchantment.
J.P. Dutta’s locational luminosity and visual vitality have never been questionable. Along with cinematographer Aynanka Bose he takes us on a pilgrimage through Umrao’s inner and outer landscape creating perfect visuals to exteriorize her poignant yet poetic predicament as a Fallen Woman forever rising above her destiny.
What lifts this Umrao Jaan far above the other 1978 version is its sense of imminent historicity. Whereas the old Umrao stopped short in its tracks just after the doomed woman returns to the comforting and yet ironically damning life-defining space of the kotha, J.P Dutta’s narrative moves bravely forward, carving a socio-historical perspective for his memorable protagonist in a Lucknow going through a bloodied turmoil, as its cultural legitimacy is questioned and mocked the British rage…sorry, raj.
The film’s most memorable sequence occurs after the kotha’s avaricious practical and yet emotional Madame packs off her endangered girls and stays on in the brothel, a solitary figure standing over the looming architecture in imposing isolation as an emblem of unaccompanied bravery.
In many ways Shabana at that moment, reminded me of J.P. Dutta himself—battling a cynical contemporary cinematic world that has no patience with old-world cultures.
Umrao Jaan must not be allowed to be a victim of cynical readings Its statement on the woman’s heart as a railway station where any man can stop to while away time , has a resonance way beyond the time-zones Dutta creates within his lengthy but finally greatly satisfying work of restrospective art.
The kotha ambience is superbly re-created(art director Bijon Dasgupta proves his worth) . Shabana’s Madame-Mother Hen act is an awe-inspiring piece of overt histrionics eminently comparable with her mother Shaukat’s performance in the same role in Muzaffar Ali’s film.
But Vaibhavi Merchant’s choreography(a mainstay in the Mujra-motivated mellow-drama) lets down the tawaif’s tale. It fails to evoke the sensuous grace that Rai is capable of . Too much of Javed Akhtar’r evocative lyrics are expressed in hand movements. It’s like using just the toes for a swimming competition where the contestant knows every move of the game.
There’s a great deal of warmth in the crosscross of relationships that the screenplay creates…I specially loved Umrao’s rapport with her surrogate-father in the brothel(played by Dutta’s lucky mascot , that chameleon-like actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda).
Aishwarya imbues a sense of lived-in luminosity into Umrao’s all-giving no-receiving nature. As Umrao she’s remarkably vulnerable and gentle , like a wounded deer running through a forest of dangerous species, somehow safeguarding her interests emotionally rather than instinctively.
Her two key romantic sequences with Abhishek Bachchan convey a feeling of bridled anxiety but are felled by their inordinate length. The two sequences, filmed as one long shot, needed to be curtailed and streamlined…..The same applies to the plethora of Mujras, all capably and gracefully performed by the resplendent Rai, but monotonous for their frequency and genre-specificity.
Though Anu Malik and Alka Yagnik are no Ghulam Mohamed and Lata Mangeshkar (Pakeeezah ) their compositions and singing go a long way in evoking the poetic tragedy of a woman who craves to break free of her destiny.
Umrao Jaan is remarkable for recreating the rhythms of a charming though lost culture through the pacy movements of the tawaif’s feet. Lamentably the choreography restricts the swan-like agility of Rai….The gallery of performances topped by Shabana’s regal Madame’s act , also gives space to lesser-known actors like Puru Raj Kumar who’s splendid as Umrao’s roguish in-house suitor at the kotha, and Divya Dutta melting your heart in that one important sequence that the script allows her.
Abhishek Bachchan as the tormented torn and yet restrained Nawab is a portrait of bridled intensity. That little smirk in the corner of his mouth or that almost-invisible twinkle in his eye….these nuances show how far this young Bachchan has evolved .
For creating an Umrao who stays in our hearts and for giving Aishwarya Rai her fifth memorable role(after Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, Chokher Bali and Provoked ) J.P. Dutta must take a bow.
This is a film that does the Movie Moghul and Hindi cinema proud.
It is an unfortunate consequence of an age addicted to popcorn entertainment that when a ‘real’ film with an authentic narrative shows up the critics and often the audiences are unequal to the task of absorbing it. The seductions of ‘cinema as joyride’, increasingly prevalent in all parts of the globe render the space for a proper filmic effort that much more constrained most of the time. The ethical responsibility on the viewer who truly desires quality cinema is therefore to patronize products even when these might turn out to be less than perfect. There are honorable failures that one must subscribe to in every field of artistic endeavor if one does not want cinema to simply resemble a system of stimuli. But if this choice has no made one really has no right to complain about the medicority that is dished out day after day even if often in… … big-budget extravaganza form.
Umrao Jaan has received stunningly unfair reviews and is a perfect symptom of the situation I’ve been describing. J P Dutta has made a beautiful film that for all the indulgence of the director in terms of length nonetheless remains engaging throughout and demands a patience and even a certain stamina from the viewer as a prerequisite for the proper ‘encounter’ with this remarkable tapestry. In other words one must go to the film with a certain mindset expecting not just an enjoyable period piece but a rich cinematic experience that will often be challenging and will reveal its pleasures cumulatively.
I should state here that for those complaining about the length I do concede that 20 minutes could very easily have been edited if not more without upsetting the flow of the film in any way. Having said that I don’t believe that those who really dislike the film as it stands would love it if it were somewhat shorter. Also I simply do not buy the argument that one can love the original and hate this one. Not because the films are similar (they are not at all so except skeletally) but because whatever ‘boredom’ one witnesses in the newer film is something that one will as easily experience from the far slower, far less dramatic, far more offbeat older version of the film. Very candidly I doubt most people who indulge in this exercise remember the original very well if at all they’ve seen it!
But even the length is not an issue to the extent that there are no ‘unwanted’ plot elements here. It is true though that sharper editing would definitely have served the film in important ways.
Dutta is in great control here and his strengths are myriad from the visual qualities florabundant in the film to the performances of most of the actors to the subversive elements of the story. The last especially are much more profoundly delineated than these were in Muzaffar Ali’s version. The music is not just an element within the story but often a way of enhancing and advancing the narrative. One would have to be rather tone deaf and in fact a quite poor reader of visual cues to not appreciate everything that happens in the numbers from the marvellous color coding of the sets and costumes to the awesome though often subtle gesturality of the central dancer as well as the moving lyrics at most points.
Among the great achievements of the film is the remarkable ambience of Lucknow and some of the adjacent locales dealt with in the film. I think this is easily one of the most remarkable Hindi films ever made in terms of evoking this kind of ‘feel’ and atmosphere. Dutta is always disciplined enough to reveal only those aspects of the culture that are intrinsically relevant to his story and characters but so strong is his sense of detail that a whole world is captured from the privileged perspective of the brothel. It is a sort of ‘home and the world’ story and both in time open onto each other in significant ways.
I have made a brief reference to ‘subversion’ in the narrative and Dutta is very good at calibrating the obvious gender politics of the subject, marrying it to larger moral concerns, and ultimately providing a wider political canvas to everything that refracts the story using different outlines. Towards the end there is even an element of the ‘didactic’ here but it is quite welcome and it certainly is more suggested than over-bearing in any way.
The performances in the film are generally very appropriate. Often the actors are good but equally they have been well cast. Shabana Azmi needs no plaudits this late in the day yet I must say that this is one of her very good acting jobs in a commercial vehicle. Dutta’s choice of Azmi to fulfill what is a central role in the film is an inspired one and Azmi brings exactly the right sneer and attitude to the role. An actor who gives a rather better account of himself that one might have believed looking at his other outings in the past is Puru Raj Kumar. Sunil Shetty in a limited part manages to suggest the ‘figure out of hell’ quality that Dutta presumably requires him for! In the rest of the cast there is no one who is necessarily noteworthy in these terms but everyone is quite adequate to the task with the ironic exception of the gentleman who serves as a stand in for the novel’s author and who in postmodern form gives us the film by way of being the only auditor to Umrao Jaan’s narration of the film. And who seems to admit far more failure with ‘words’ than his courtesan-heroine. It is perhaps appropriate that he should be so affected and so much of a caricature in his representation of the author!
This brings me to Abhishek and Aishwarya. The former continues to dazzle as an actor and really commands attention in every scene he occupies. This is yet another ‘different’ role for him and he has just the right gravitas for the part, just the right subtlety for the role, just the right pitch for all the key moments. His is the most intriguing performance in many ways and he has a great moment where he is able to best even the formidable Azmi in the one meaningful scene they share.
But this is quite obviously Aishwarya’s film and possibly her greatest performance. I say this with the full knowledge that she is not a ‘pure’ actress but also with the understanding that cinematic expressiveness is not only about performance in a naturalistic sense but also about the iconic and the actor who can be more star than actor and yet be as effective on screen (often moreso) as the pure actor. This is easily the most ‘affecting’ role Aishwarya has ever done. She has often been termed ‘plastic’ with some justification but in the process what has been ignored is the enormous progress she has made since her early days in the industry. In any case this charge would be rather unfair if not outright dishonest if used for her performance here. She easily holds this film together in the title role and lends an enormous dignity to the character. While the story of a suffering courtesan might seem a bit of cliche at this point in time Aishwarya prevents the character (and by virtue of this the film) from ever descending into the maudlin (and here of course the other actors like Azmi and Abhishek must be credited as well as the director). As a viewer I always found myself ‘with’ her in the film. She also offers a remarkable foil to Abhishek, not least because of the contrasting acting styles of the two. And while this wasn’t very evident to me in the pair’s earlier outings here she makes a very charismatic pair with Abhishek. There is genuine chemistry on screen here. She is also helped by the fact that Abhishek is possibly more effective at conveying a certain sexuality than just about any other Hindi actor I can think of.
What must also be mentioned with respect to Aishwarya’s performance is her exquisite grace as a dancer and he extraordinary command on the gestural from the use of her eyes to the movements of her fingers. There is clearly a complex choreography at work here that does not only focus on the dancer springing around on her feet but almost more on the language she employs by way of her gestures. And this of course is the essence of a classical courtesan. I think that people far more trained in classical dance forms would appreciate Aishwarya’s skills even more than I was able to in my impressionistic way. And the music about which enough has been said already in in my judgment as good a soundtrack as good be expected in these poor musical times for this sort of subject.
In a related sense I was very impressed by Dutta’s command over the tones and undertones of sexuality throughout the film. And these are often laced with the sordid. There is sometimes a sense of unpleasantness to the proceedings, sometimes for obvious literal reasons. But even when the lovers are together there is an element of strangeness. This is partly so because Dutta never loses sight of the unequal power relations and these are implied at every turn of the narrative. But also because for all the romantic aspects of the love story, for all the comfortable sexuality that is so evident in the intimate moments the lovers share, the director never quite lets the viewer forget that for each lover ‘possession’ is implied in different ways. It is key to understanding the relationship that the romantic impetus from each side is very different in some ways. And this creates a sense of tension in the scenes which adds to the seductive quality of these moments.
I have indulged in such a detailed review because my interests are partly polemical. I think that this is yet another example when the media has simply not been educated enough to be able to adequately analyse the extent of Dutta’s achievements. Or even read these in any meaningful way. But also because I hope to persuade people of any ilk that this is a film worth visiting, worth engaging with, worth thinking about. My review should not be taken to mean that I consider this a flawless film. Far from it. But I certainly do not see a serious one here. It is clearly not a film for everyone. But it will certainly reward those who are willing to give themselves over to a proper film experience as opposed to a ‘night at the movies’. I will certainly be watching it again…
Mirza Ruswa’s good old novel continues to breathe new life into our ailing filmmakers. Some 25 years ago Muzaffar Ali adapted it so beautifully to the silver screen that he came to have a life-long association with “Umrao Jaan”. It did for him what “Mughal-e-Azam” did for K. Asif, “Pakeezah” for Kamal Amrohi; a never-before, never-again essay for a secure place in the annals of Hindi cinema. Now J. P. Dutta, not exactly in the prime of professional life following “LoC”, adapts the novel to the big screen for the fourth time.
This is a much more ambitious venture, and Dutta takes some cinematic liberties with the text and context of the novel: there are some oversights as in gumboots for the hero, a hand-pump in the 19th Century for the heroine. Some inadequacies of research: his courtesan shows more skin in 2006 than Rekha did in the early 1980s, and some of the costumes are stereotypes for period films. The much talked about kimkhwab, the age-old ghararas, are replaced with shararas in many sequences. The haath phool with four rings is tampered with too. As is the mehndi which used to stretch well beyond the wrists then but is reduced here to just a dab on the tip of the fingers, a little mound at the centre of the palm. And Anu Malik’s music is too fast-paced for the not so fast era.
But wait: do not write off Dutta’s “Umrao Jaan”. There are these blemishes, yes, as indeed is the length of the film: some dispassionate editing could have lopped off some 20 minutes. But these are mere asides. At its soul, body, even content, this “Umrao Jaan” is as beautiful as its leading lady, the one who once had the world at her feet.
Hosannas to her beauty might sound like weather bulletins now, but here Aishwarya Rai undertakes the difficult job of doing Rekha’s role. And manages to hold her own. Despite the obvious repetition, isn’t she beautiful! If in “Devdas” she teased the moon for being more beautiful, she was right. The moon has its blemishes, Aishwarya her glow. Eyes with the depth of the sea, tresses with the darkness of the night, and fingers extending an invitation her lips won’t voice. Here she shows two dancing eyes in her opening mujra, “Salaam karne ki aarzoo hai, idhar jo dekho salaam kar lain… .” The camera lingers on her face, taking note of each twinkle in her eyes, paying a tribute to those dimples, now backed by the virtue of spending a few years in spring!
Never the greatest of actresses, Aishwarya makes a valiant attempt to bring the angst, the anguish of the woman rejected by all: her family, her lover, her buyer. Yet having the magnanimity to forgive each of them. It is the story of a girl who dared to love on the streets where lust is bought and sold in lieu of love. But Dutta goes beyond the hackneyed, courtesy a novel that left many with a heavy heart and brimming eyes. Aishwarya does an adequate job in most sequences, reserving her best for the final showdown with the hero – Abhishek Bachchan. In those fleeting minutes she reminds you of Rekha. Then settles to be Rai, happy with her beauty, working within her limitations. Those, incidentally, include her pronunciation, with Aishwarya mixing her `khh’ with `kh’. Urdu certainly is not her forte.
Talking of performances here, there is none better than Shabana Azmi’s. As Khannum, the livewire Madam at the brothel, she is superb. With her, the film goes up a notch or two. She creates her own canvas. While Aishwarya uses her eyes to communicate, Azmi uses every part of the body. Her shrugging of the shoulders, her simmering anger, her mischievous glances all lend an unmatched depth to the film.
However, the film suffers on other counts beyond foibles of research. Its male characters are second fiddles: Abhishek is a misfit as a nawab. Come on, Farouque Sheikh was just so good in Ali’s film. Puru Rajkumar is not even a shadow of Naseeruddin Shah as Gauhar, the man who loved Umrao. And Sunil Shetty as Nawab Faiz does the role with the same indifference he shows in countless potboilers where he arrives and departs in all fury. Pity, they reduce Dutta’s film to just a female show.
Never mind. “Umrao Jaan”, all dressed up and beautiful, is still fetching. The story has feeling; the narration is not inadequate. And between Aishwarya and Azmi we get some moments when we forget all the debate whether Umrao Jaan Ada was a real-life woman born in Faizabad and now buried in Varanasi, or just a figment of Ruswa’s imagination. Never mind. As a poet said, “Ishq fanaa kaa naam hai ishq mein zindagii na dekh… ” She is still a dream. Book your date with “Umrao Jaan”. The graces, the ada, the haya, the nazakat, the nafasat are all there.
The film re celebrates the role of a woman doormat. We could debate the nuances of the film but beyond a point the glorification of a woman abused by time and men also needs to be thought of. The subject of an artist is his privilege. It is the treatment that should concern a critic. True.
Having said this, when the subject and the treatment overlap the critic is sometimes justified in asking questions a trifle beyond his apparent jurisdiction.Of the three remakes in recent times- Devdas Don and Umrao, the last perhaps is the nearest to its original and in that context the best in the trend of remakes.
The known story line dates back to Lucknow (19th Century) where a young girl Ameena is kidnapped by Dilawar (Viswajeet Pradhan) to get even with her dad (Parikshit Sahani). The child Ammena is thus taken to a brothel headed by Khanum Jaan (Shabana) who leaves the rearing of Ammena now Umrao to her foster parents (Himanshu Shivpuri and Kulbhushan Karbanda) Umrao’s latent talent as a poetess adds to her calling and soon she is the talk of the town.
Madly in love with her first customer Nawab Sultan (Abhishek) the challenges begin. Other suitors in line are a dacoit: Faiz Ali ( Sunil Shetty) and Gauhar (Puru Raaj Kumar)Exploited and drained emotionally through her experiences she journeys through various relationships only to be rejected and judged. She takes it all without bitterness and makes a virtue out of her sorrow.
The narration is a biographical dialogue with another writer of her times: Mirza Mohd Ali Ruswa.A historic film is never too easy and the challenges are one too many. In this department it must be said to the credit of the film maker that he goes about his job reasonably. Dealt independently and not in the context with the original film where does it stand? JP Dutta gives it his signature sincerity and doggedness.
Some important choices fall apart. For instance what is Sunil Shetty doing in the film? He lacks the punch of a dacoit or the soft feel of a lover. Puru Raj Kumar in love with Aishwarya is as realistic as Rishi Kapoor beating up Amjad Khan. Come on, give us a break!! The support cast is good enough. Our cinema has never given them respectable space.
It is for them to salvage what they can from out of the script and the likes of Kulbushan, Ayesha Julka, Divya Dutta, do just that. Abhishek Bachchan said he would do anything for JP Dutta. That substantially explains his presence in the film though his presence on the sets may have other reasons. Yet the guy manages his moments. He can smile with his eyes.
Aishwarya Rai is a very gifted person. She gets one too many of them .I mean. For her talent she has had amazing opportunity. From the role played by Suchitra Sen to one by Rekha she stamps them all with her brand of success. She dares where many others would surely fear to tread. In all fairness to her she should not be compared with Rekha. Rekha herself in the original beyond a point was no great shakes.
Hindi cinema had (sic) only one actress who could be ideally Umrao Jaan – Waheeda Rehman. Having lost to opportunity to time, Rekha did her best. So does Aishwarya. Only it is woefully inadequate. She walks on the roads of Lucknow as if it were her favourite ramp. She looks gorgeous and called upon to act she is as pale as porcelain. Her lines at best are well recited.
In contrast Shabana is awesome. Even in a miniscule role ( a salute to Mama I suspect) she shows what Woman Power is all about. Ever so often people believe that Shabana delivers because she has powerful roles . See this for a change. Lost in the background how compelling she makes it all. In the final scene she proves that a consummate artist looks for but one moment in a script and turns that into eternity.
Anu Malik starts with a great disadvantage- his reputation. The next: he is called upon to translate good Urdu into soft melody. Worse- he is called upon to live up to the standard of Khayyam. Realistically he chooses a path unconcerned with most of the challenges and does his best. It is all very fine to blame poor Anu Malik for not coming up with a score that can match Khayyam.
Let us not forget many of his contemporaries suffered in comparison. This cannot be a case of comparison. Yes we can resist a study in contrast. Despite this all JP Dutta gives his best. But will some one tell him to please get a professional editor with some guts to edit his films. Every film of his for sheer length is of epic proportion. It gets too tedious.
“Worth the wait” (Mouthshut Review)
The wait is finally over as J.P Duttas magnum opus finally makes its way onto our screen. UMRAO JAAN is without a doubt one of the years most anticipated films from its story, acclaimed director to the brilliant music. The movie has generated a buzz among movie goers like never before and the hype for the movie was immense.
The question on everyones mind-does UMRAO JAAN live upto expectations? Does it match the classic of the same name?Friends-though UMRAO JAAN doesnt quiet match the brilliance of Rekha starrer, the movie is no doubt one of the most brilliant films to come out from Bollywood in recent times!
For those who aren?t aware with previous film , the movie revolves around UMRAO JAAN(Amiran,Aishwarya) The movie begins beautifully in the Faizabad with Ruswa getting to hear Amiran’s Story by Umrao Jaan Ada. Amiran’s childhood in the region to her being sold in Lukhnow is beautifully portrayed. The part is really commendable. Her first experience in a brothel (kotha) with Khannum and Bua is elderly at one time, cruel at other and human at some. She tries to run from the place only to be with her parents and brother once again unknowingly that the reality of her new place is something that must have been her foremost reason to escape from the place.
Screenplay writers O.P Dutta/J.P dutta have done a remarkable job as the the story is true to the original classic for the major part. A theme like this can be a rather boring venture but the team of writers have brillianty merged drama in the narrative .
J.P Dutta as the captain of the ship is a genius! With UMRAO JAAN, he proves that he is one of the BEST story tellers we have in Bollywood today. One must envy him for his vision bringing something nostalgic like on screen which is by no means an easy feat yet Dutta for the most manages to achieve this with success! Right from the look and feel of the movie, the poetic visuals are all sheer magic.
Dialogues are excellent and applauseworthy .At this juncture I would like to mention the pre climax when Aishwarya visits her old house yet again which takes the graph of the film to another level.Technically the movie is award worthy. Never before Lucknow looked so beautiful!There are many sequences which leaves the viewer with a lump in their throat and tears in their eyes.
These include *The scene where Amiran is kiddnaped * The scene where Aishwarya and Himani both are lieing in bed and she tries to escape from her *The salaam song *When Aishwarya visits Guj along with Sunil shetty *Also Aishwaryas scene in the pre-climax where she goes to visit her house is simply outstanding. *Climax with old Vishwajeet pradhan lying on the ground is a master stroke .
Musically the movie is a masterpiece and after the watching the movie one appreciates the soundtrack much more. This ranks as the best soundtrack of the year.
Aishwarya delivers an extraordinary performance as Umrao jaan! Her powerful screen presence dominates every screen she is in and her use of his body language and eyes is outstanding here. Abhishek is reasonably good in his part. Shabana is great. She delivers a towering performance and one that is truly award worthy! Sunil Shetty is reliable as ever in a negative role
To sum up UMRAO JAAN is one brilliant film that is indeed a must-see! Some will like it more than others no doubt, but the movie is one of the most satisfying movie experiences I have had in a long time.
“Aiswarya Jaan all the way…” (Mouthshut Review)
If you want to know the story of an ill fate, listen to this story of ’Umrao’ Jaan. When we are dreaming for tomorrow, we do not know what the fate have in store for us. In this story, one can find the merciless play by the fate on human dreams.
The film begins where the author Mirza Haadi Ruswa of the famous novel “Umrao Jaan Ada” meet “Umrao” in her house in Avadh, Lucknow. A courtesan and a poetess in her own right, Umrao Jaan is singing the songs of her ill fate.
Ameeran was a sweet girl, lived with her parents and a little brother. Her father told witness against Dilawar Khan in a case and he was jailed. After the jail term Dilawar Khan is looking for an opportunity to revenge Ameeran’s father. Knowing that her father loved her so much, he decided to kidnap her and sold to a brothel run by Khanum Sahib (Shabana Azmi). Khanum give the name “Umrao” to Ameeran and from there she became Umrao. Eventhough Khanum was the owner of “Umroa”, Bua Husseini [Himani Shivpuri] took Umrao to her house with permission and bought her up with the help of Maulvi Sahib [Kulbhushan Kharbanda] she got good education. She learned music & dance. Finally the day has come where she has to perform “Mujra” to the request of Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bhachchan). Umrao liked Nawab Sultan in her first look itself and Nawab Sultan was impressed by her performance as well. Love blossomed and Umrao known as “Umrao Jaan” from the next day. Nawab Sultan used to visit her everyday. Nawab inherited his son Nawab Sultan and he is a helpless fellow now. Enters the main villain in the form of decoit Faiz Ali (Sunil Shetty), knowing that Umrao is Nawab Sultan’s sweet heart to the kotha. He has scores to settle with Sultan’s uncle, who wish to marry his daughter Saba to Nawab Sultan. What we see now is the play of fate which took the light out of Umrao’s days with its black hands. Will Nawab Sultan return to Umrao? How Faiz Ali take his revenge? Will Umrao meet her parents? What was the fate of Diawar Khan? “Umrao Jaan” tells the answers for these questions.
The story itself was a classic and it has converted nicely to screenplay by OP Dutta. The Director who no introduction in Bollywood, JP Dutta did his job neatly in part, especially in the second half. The film is 20 reels and just over 3 hours, but the script is not sufficient to hold the audience attention throughout. The director lost the battle within the first hour itself where the narration lagged support from the writer and the director. However, he tried to make a come back in the second half. I would say, the last 45 minutes of the film is done extremely brilliant and applauds to JP for such fine moments. However, the damage has been done already. Another minus for the film from the part of Director is the film in the first half looked very much 70s.
Umrao Jaan belongs to Aiswarya Rai. After Tamil Film “Iruvar” by Mani Rathnam & “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” this is the best performance by Aiswarya Rai. Abhishek Bachchan did his role neatly, though his performance could have improved. Sunil Shetty plays the cool villain, his selection really helped to keep the suspense for more. The little girl Bansree Madhani did a good job as well. Shabana Azmi justified her role with performance and rest of the cast rose to the expectation. Overall performance ranges from ordinary to Brilliant.
The music of the film is so monotonous, giving the similarity of the occasions. Having said that, the song ” Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya ” stand alone in the crowd and it really intruded to one’s heart. The ” Salam ” song was also good. Javed Akhtar need special mention as well on the meaningul lines.. The back ground music doesn’t support the proceedings most of the time and sometimes it gives a negative feeling as well. In brief, Anu Malik has no good news from this film, though his efforts are noted.
Cinematography is average plus. The lights and colours are mixed well, eventhough improvement looked possible. Sets are extremely good in occasions and good in many places. Choreography is brilliant, though repetitive at times. Two songs, especially the one using the sky blue colour and the one where Aishwarya performs her first mujra, are extra brilliantly shot.
Editing is simply bad. The film could have or should have trimmed by 30 minutes, if not more to keep the pace in place.
There are three scenes which needs special mention. 1. Where Umrao goes back to her house and the reaction of the family. 2. Umrao meets Dilawar Khan at the end. These two occasions are really heart warming if not heart breaking.
Overall, Umrao Jaan is a well attempted movie, but failed to reach to the expectation. The film is worth a watch for Aiswarya Rai, Aiswarya Rai and the story in the second half. The lyrics of Javed Akhtar touches my heart…”In my next birth don’t give me this fate…don’t bring me as a daughter again”. If you are patient enough, there is a good story to follow in this film which is presented nicely by JP Dutta.
“A rare gem with eternal shine” (Thestar Review)
It is little secret that cinemagoers would rather go for a commercial Bollywood release over a period film on any given day.
However, JP Dutta’s remake of Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan (1981) is a magnificent film worth watching. The period saga is based on the Urdu novel Umrao Jaan Ada (1905), written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa.
For three hours the audience is left spellbound as Umrao Jaan (Aishwarya Rai), who was born Ameeran to a lower middle-class family, narrates her heartbreaking life story in flashbacks.
In 1840, eight-year-old Ameeran (Bansree Madhani) is kidnapped outside her home by Dilawar Khan (Vishwajeet Pradhan), who is bitter about her father having given evidence against him in court that led to his 10-year imprisonment, and that of his accomplice, Peer Baksh (Javed Khan).
The two decide to take her to Lucknow, where Ameeran is sold to Khanum Sahib (Shabana Azmi), who educates and trains courtesans to charm wealthy men. Khanum takes a shine to the fair-skinned, blue-eyed young girl and renames her Umrao.
Raised by Bua Hussaini (Himani Shivpuri) and her husband Maulvi Sahim (Kulbushan Kharbanda) since then, Umrao grows into a ravishing beauty who is a polished poetess and a graceful dancer.
She soon becomes the envy of Khanum’s daughters, Bismillah (Divya Dutta) and Khushid (Ayesha Jhulka). Also unbeknown to Umrao, Khanum’s son Gauhar Mirza (Puru Raaj Kumar) is in love with her.
When Khanum is asked to send her best dancer to perform at a gathering attended by the wealthiest men in Lucknow, she chooses Umrao.
At the celebration Umrao captures the attention of Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan) and soon after he becomes a regular visitor of hers and they fall in love. However, their relationship leads to a falling out between Nawab and his father and he promptly is disinherited.
Despite the many obstacles the couple face, their love remains strong, with the promise that they will eventually be together forever.
In the interim, Faiz Ali (Suniel Shetty) starts pursuing an uninterested Umrao and his efforts ultimately eclipse Umrao’s one chance at happiness and freedom from life as a courtesan.
Wearing the hat of producer, director and editor, Dutta has done an outstanding job with Umrao Jaan. It is obvious that meticulous detail was paid to recreating the era, from the set, costume, music and jewellery. The narrative is dexterously penned and laced with lighthearted and emotional scenes.
That Rai was best suited for the title role goes without saying. She is graceful and mesmerising in her dancing and delivers an equally praiseworthy performance in the poignant scenes.
Bachchan shines in his role and delivers an impassioned performance.
What is most remarkable about this versatile actor is the fact that he never fails to impress.
Other actors who play their respective roles with Ã©lan include Azmi, Shivpuri and Kharbanda.
Umrao Jaan is a well-crafted, absorbing tale that is beautifully executed and tugs at the heart.
“How love can ruin your life” (kilburntimes.co.uk Review)
Umrao Jaan is one of those rare gems that would shine as brightly even after a million years.
It is a movie that takes art to a celestial level. It is a movie in which JP Dutta has used the fascination of poetry to portray the pain a courtesan goes through in her life.
He has used music to captivate the viewer, and there comes the biggest flaw of this cult classic – its music.
In a three hour long movie the director has used too many songs to fill the narrative. The only positive factor of the films music comes in form of Aishwarya Rai who plays Umrao Jaan.
On many occasions she outshines the mesmerizing music but on the other hand, music tames this wonderfully emotive actress into submission despite her subtle yet powerful expressions.
Amidst those treats to the senses in the form of enthralling lyrics and delicate dances, the director carves a melancholic story of a young girl Ameeran, who is kidnapped and sold to a brothel.
Ameeran is rechristened to Umrao, thanks to Khannum Sahib played by Shabana Azmi who comes second best as far as the performances are concerned.
Umrao is then taught singing, dancing and poetry by her mentor Moulvi Sahib played by Khulbhushan Kharbanda. Her interest in poetry, coupled with her dancing and enchanting voice makes her a popular choice for the rich to visit her, who comes in form of Nawab Sultan played by Abhishek Bachchan, and there comes the second minus point of this film.
Junior Bachchan for some reason didn’t fit the role of Nawab and a Pathan but lover, Yes, his love and lust didn’t stop him to visit Umrao Jaan everyday. On the contrary he lost all his wealth, home and family, and to top it up, even Umrao.
The story drags along at snails pace. Meanwhile, Umrao picks up the pieces and tries building a new fort everytime her dreams come down crashing, but her spirit is crushed repeatedly by those surrounding her and her tale of woes never seem to end as she gets rejected by her own family in the climax scene.
Umrao Jaan is a unique blend of poetry and pain and if viewers are in for pleasure, they are seeing the wrong film. It makes the audience leave with a heavy heart.
So what makes Umrao Jaan stand out? The answer is its cinematography, Khannum Sahib and of course, Umrao. The composition of each frame, taking three objects in perspective (faces, chandeliers, minarets, etc) and juggling within the frame brought a maturity to Indian cinematography which makes this film enjoyable by sight.
The screenplay was well written and mature in comparison to most Urdu – Hindi films. Melodrama was reigned in. The melancholy thread in the film is developed right up to the dried leaves in the final scenes knitting together a very feminist tragedy by JP Dutta.
In many respects, this film was a major movie from India in the 80s but certainly not in today’s time.
Aishwarya Rai simply takes acting, dancing and expressiveness to a level only she can create and stroll comfortably, a level unknown to and unheard of by her fellow artistes.
Be it a depiction of joy or pain or love or any emotion one can think of, Aishwarya comes out with flying colours. Abhishek Bachchan touches a heart or two with his controlled performance and Sunil Shetty is usual versatile self, but they all look like pygmies against the towering personality of Aishwarya.
The actress finds competition only from the not so captivating music except the track ‘Salaam.’
Shabana Azmi is amazing and does what she does best. Puru Raj Kumar, Ayesha Jhulka and Divya Dutta fill the gaps in. For JP Dutta, this was his swansong – he might never make a film that doesn’t flash his brilliance after this effort but he must take a bow for giving Aishwarya Rai her fifth memorable performance (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, Choker Bali and Provoked).
In one of the countless visuals of stunning resonance, Aishwarya, playing the doomed and poetic tawaif (courtesan) Umrao Jaan Adaa, travels through a burning field of crops. “The crops have been reaped, now the fields are being burnt for good luck next year,” explains a co-passenger.
That one gloriously revealing moment captures the sublime pathos that coloured the life and times of 19th century Lucknow’s famed courtesan, who in her words is a “badnasibi ki misaal” (the classic example of misfortune).
We’ve seen Lucknow and Uttar Pradesh in several Hindi films ranging from Muzaffar Ali’s “Umrao Jaan” to Chandan Arora’s “Main Meri Patni Aur Woh”. But the city and its surrounding topography have never looked more vivid.
Perched between the world within a kotha (brothel) and the outer world of growing deceit and betrayal, the story of little Ameeran’s journey from her quaint and happy family life to the Kotha is mapped in lucid, flamboyant and sometimes muted colours of utter enchantment.
J.P. Dutta, along with cinematographer Aynanka Bose, takes us on a pilgrimage through Umrao’s inner and outer landscape creating perfect visuals to portray her predicament as a ‘fallen woman’ forever rising above her destiny.
What lifts this “Umrao Jaan” far above the 1978 version is its sense of imminent historicity. While the original stopped just after the doomed woman returns to the comforting yet claustrophobic space of the kotha, Dutta’s narrative moves forward, carving a socio-historical perspective for his protagonist in a Lucknow going through a bloody turmoil, as its cultural legitimacy is questioned and mocked by the British Raj.
The film’s most memorable sequence is when the kotha’s practical and yet emotional madame (Shabana Azmi) packs off her endangered girls and stays on in the brothel – a solitary figure standing over the looming architecture as a symbol of unaccompanied bravery.
Shabana’s histrionics are awe-inspiring, comparable with her mother Shaukat’s performance in the same role in Muzaffar Ali’s film.
“Umrao Jaan” must not be allowed to be a victim of cynical readings. Its statement, comparing the woman’s heart to a railway station, where any man can stop to while away time, has a resonance way beyond the time-zones Dutta creates within his lengthy but satisfying work of art.
The ambience of the kotha is superbly re-created by art director Bijon Dasgupta. But Vaibhavi Merchant’s choreography lets down the courtesans’ tale. It fails to evoke the sensuous grace that Rai is capable of. Too much of Javed Akhtar’s evocative lyrics are expressed in hand movements.
There’s a great deal of warmth in the crisscross of relationships that the screenplay creates. Umrao’s rapport with her surrogate father in the brothel, played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda, is truly special.
Aishwarya imbues a sense of luminosity into Umrao’s all-giving nature. As Umrao, she’s remarkably vulnerable and gentle, trying to safeguard her interests emotionally rather than instinctively.
Her two key romantic sequences with Abhishek Bachchan convey a feeling of bridled anxiety but are felled by their inordinate length. They needed to be curtailed and streamlined. The same applies to the plethora of mujras (dance sequences) – all gracefully performed by the resplendent Rai, but monotonous for their frequency and genre-specificity.
Anu Malik’s music and Alka Yagnik’s singing go a long way in evoking the poetic tragedy of a woman who craves to break free from her destiny.
“Umrao Jaan” is remarkable for recreating the rhythms of a charming though lost culture through the pacy movements of the tawaif’s feet, though the choreography does restrict the Aishwarya’s swan-like agility.
The film also gives space to lesser-known actors like Puru Raj Kumar, who is splendid as Umrao’s roguish in-house suitor at the kotha, and Divya Dutta melts your heart in the one important sequence that the script allows her.
Abhishek Bachchan, as the tormented, torn and yet restrained Nawab, is a portrait of bridled intensity. That little smirk in the corner of his mouth or that almost-invisible twinkle in his eye – these nuances show how much Bachchan junior has evolved.
For creating an “Umrao Jaan”, who stays in our hearts, and for giving Aishwarya Rai yet another memorable role, J.P. Dutta must take a bow.
Recereating classics seems to be the latest fad in Bollywood. Following the success of “Devdas”, most production houses are recreating old success stories. The recent “Don”, “Shiva”, and the upcoming “Sholay” are classic examples.
Based on Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa’s novel, the film is a tale of Umrao Jaan Ada, a royal courtesan in 19th century Lucknow. Kidnapped and sold at a tender age from a lower class family, Ameeran (Aishwarya Rai), is rechristened as Umrao by the brothel owner Shabana Azmi (Khanum Jaan). Therein begins Umrao’s journey into the magnificient world of elegance and flair, where her job is to entertain regal clients with her dance and poetic skills.
Comparisons to the original adaptation of “Umrao Jaan” starring Rekha are obvious, but this version holds it own and is not a frame-by-frame remake.
However the film does have its share of flaws. J.P. Dutta goes completely overboard with the development of his subplots. Nothing is left to imagination. He has paid a great level of attention to the intricacies of the film, and most of the running time is spent elaborating on those aspects. We have seen films of this grandeur in the past, with “Devdas” taking the lead, and “Umrao Jaan” offers little more.
The film also lacks strength in the editing department (also by Dutta). The first half moves at a lethargic pace with Umrao performing a new mujra every few minutes.
While “Umrao Jaan” is essentially a tragedy that leads to her destitution, we don’t see her enjoying her existence. Unlike the original, there seems to be little to be upbeat about living in those times.
The locales of Lucknow and art direction are perfect. Choreography by Vaibhavi Merchant is a visual treat. However the cinematography by A. Bose appears amateur in certain settings. The constant use of quick zooms to exacerbate emotions detracts from any suggested subtleties in the film.
Notwithstanding some scenes are stellar and noteworthy.
• Umrao’s first major performance where she her meets Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan), who is charmed by her ways, is a visual treat and marvellously executed; • Umrao being reunited with Nawab Sultan and his apprehensiveness toward her;
• Umrao revisiting her parent’s home and their refutable response;
The music, barring ‘Salaam’ and ‘Dekha Tujhe Kuch’, is a little bland and gets repetitive. Alka Yagnik’s high pitched renditions certainly aren’t a treat for Dolby Digital surround cinemas.
Displaying the right amount of poise and beauty, Aishwarya is dazzling and convincing in a role originally essayed by Rekha. Not only is she aesthetically pleasing, but this performance should also clear any nuances of her performances being inert. Her fragile image, mannerisms and dialect – all add to the charm of “Umrao Jaan”. Having played characters of this era before in “Devdas” and “Choker Bali”, Aishwarya exudes confidence yet again.
Abhishek Bachchan performs functionally as the aristocratic Nawab Sultan. His character is underdeveloped and his performance is a little more than a special appearance. His on-screen chemistry with Aishwarya is evident (and it is obvious he was cast to cash in on their current pairing).
Shabana Azmi is as always flawless. Exuding pomposity and dignity, Azmi is caste appropriately as the royal priestess. Her confrontation with Abhishek Bachchan’s character in the pre-interval portion is compelling.
Suniel Shetty as always delivers an underrated performance as Faiz Ali, who is infatuated by Umrao. Divya Dutta and Ayesha Jhulka impress as the competitive sisters. Puru Rajkumar is completely miscast as the brothel pimp, Gauhar Mirza, and frankly his character is unnecessary.
It is not easy to recreate history on celluloid – be it a book or a film. “Umrao Jaan” has everything going for it: a celebrated cast, robust performances, and stunning visuals. But J.P. Dutta’s attempt only partly succeeds.
Note: I have not seen the original, so there will be no comparison of the two films. Rather, I will review this movie as its own movie.
Remakes are the flavor of the season. Just two weeks after the release of Don, we have yet another remake in the form of Umrao Jaan. JP Dutta takes the challenge of recreating an all time classic. Considering the type of film Umrao Jaan is, it is awkward to see JP Dutta take over this film as he is well known for making guy films with war as the theme. But with the star cast he was provided with, the film had lots of promise to be a fine affair. So the big question is does Umrao Jaan captivate audiences with an enlightening cinematic experience? The answer is a tough one as it is indeed a well made film, but there are factors that will not appeal to everyone. Had these factors been avoided, the film would have been a much more pleasurable experience.
The main flaw that brings down the film is no doubt, the length of the film. The movie is over 3 hours long. This causes the film to be rather slow and it tends to drag at times. The movie has a great concept and story, but the pacing of it really hurts it. The editing by JP Dutta was done very poorly. He could have easily trimmed about a half hour from the movie. Another deterrent is the amount of songs the movie has. They come at times you least expect them and once again slows down the movie. These are the two main factors that hurt the movie. Other than that, this film did not really have that much going against it. I feel that if these two mistakes could have been prevented, the movie would have been appealing to all types of people rather than a selected audience. Nonetheless, the movie does have a lot going for it that makes it a film worth watching. The story is a strong point of the film. But this is obvious, or else the film would not have been remade. You watch the film and listen to Umrao telling her life story and you can’t help but feel for the poor woman and all that she has gone through. It is a story that all people should listen to, even if it is a little lengthy.
JP Dutta is known to be one of Bollywood’s most celebrated directors. But with Umrao Jaan, he is in foreign territory, as it is a film that is totally different from what you would expect from him. As the director, he struggles with the pacing of the film. JP the editor should be blamed for this more because it is surely to put off many people, especially today’s generation. They want to see hip, fast, and cool movies. Classy and contemporary films are not exactly their cup of tea. So making a long and slow film makes things even worse. But JP must be given credit as well for doing things right. He was able to bring the magic of Lucknow to the screen. It looks truly beautiful on screen. The sets and costumes are all something to behold. Props go to all people involved in those departments. He tells the story in a great fashion. You do not feel like the effort has been wasted. He leaves a great impact on you and the most important thing is he makes you sympathize with the protagonist. Even if you feel bored with the film, after enduring the whole film, it will hit you in the head and you will realize what you have just witnessed. Basically JP accomplishes what he set out to do. That is to get people to notice the story of Umrao Jaan the way he wants to tell it. This is a movie that stays with you even after the viewing is over because of the tragic occurrences that take place in the narrative. You cannot help but feel bad and it makes your heart wrench to see such things. It is usually the heartbreaking stories that stay with you longer than the happy ones. This one definitely delivers as promised. A job well done by Mr. Dutta for telling a great story, but we expect better from the editing department.
The music of the film is absolutely beautiful. I am not a big fan of classical music, but these songs are all a delight to listen to. Now as I mentioned before, there are way too many songs in the film, so I am not even going to analyze all of them because I do not even know the names of most of them (like I always say, lyrics don’t mean a damn thing when the music is good). All I can say is the picturization of all the songs are beautiful as we get to see Aishwarya do her wonderful mujras and be enthralled at the woman’s great dancing. The songs with Abhishek and Aishwarya were picturized beautifully as well. The two shared superb chemistry in the two songs. I will speak more on their on screen chemistry later. Anu Malik is definitely back with such a wonderful soundtrack. I must admit, I didn’t think he had it in him, but he proved me wrong. Let us hope he stops being a thief and provides us with more music like this. Truly one of the better soundtracks of the year, and that is saying a lot because this has been a great year for music.
It is well known that Rekha won a National Award for her performance in the original Umrao Jaan. That alone meant that Aishwarya had humongous shoes to fill. Now I have not seen the original Umrao, so I cannot comment on Rekha’s performance. All I can say is WOW after seeing Aishwarya in Umrao Jaan. I have never seen Aishwarya look this beautiful or act this well in her entire career. She looks ethereal and performs brilliantly. She absolutely gets into the skin of the character and not once do you feel you are watching Ash. It is Umrao all the way. This no doubt is a difficult role, and Ash takes to the role like a fish to water. I was speechless while watching her in this movie. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best performance of her career. If there was any justice in Bollywood, she would walk away with all the awards, but there is no justice, so you never know what’s going to happen. Seriously, there is no actress from today’s times that could have come close to what Aishwarya did with the role. All in all a simply remarkable performance that will take away the notion that she cannot act. This is one for the ages folks.
Abhishek Bachchan performs his role well, but it is a role that could have been played by anybody. But it is also a role that needs the work of a dependable actor, and that is exactly what Abhishek is. Obviously in a film dominated by Umrao, everyone else will look small and such is the case with the character of the Nawab. With the stature Abhishek possesses now, this is too small a role for him. Nonetheless, the man is reliable as always, and never disappoints. He just keeps on getting stronger as an actor and, for sure, leaves an impact even when he does not get much of the screen time. As for his chemistry with Aishwarya, well it is nothing short of electric. For those who think they don’t possess the heat and fire of a hot jodi after watching their first two films together, well think again. They looked beautiful together on screen and for sure it will be a delight to see these two together in many more films in the future. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.
Shabana Azmi is amazing as always. This woman never lets you down and she pulls it off again. There was much pressure on her to perform this role as it was the role her mother played in the original, bur she does an apt job. Watching her and Aishwarya together was truly a wonderful sight. She is an actress par excellence and she proves it yet again.
Sunil Shetty looks totally out of place in this movie. There could have been much better options for this role, but he does an alright job still. JP Dutta always brings out the best in Sunil, and does a decent job in this one as well. The only thing that bothered me was the mascara he was wearing. Seriously, take it easy, and don’t over do things man.
Umrao Jaan is a beautiful story that could have been presented better had it been a bit shorter. Even if the length is a turn off for most people, it should still be a movie to check out because of its great story and power packed performances, led by the magnanimous Aishwarya Rai. The movie is a tough pill to swallow because of its tragedy, but it is a pill that should still be digested. It is a good movie that could have been a great movie had it not been for its deficiencies. Watch Umrao Jaan and appreciate the definition of beauty.