Srijit Mukherji’s ‘Begum Jaan’ is a remake of the director’s own ‘Rajkahini’, a Bengali film based on India-Pakistan partition. While Rituparna Sengupta played the central character in the original, Vidya Balan steps in to enact the role of a influential woman running a brothel in the Hindi remake produced by Vishesh Films. Producer Mahesh Bhatt has reiterated in interviews that with ‘Begum Jaan’, he is trying to bring back the kind of cinema he was associated in the 80s. The producer-director, who made some of his finest films like ‘Arth’ and ‘Saaransh’ during that decade, had veered into making musicals or horror-thrillers as they made money for the company. However, in recent times, with the failure of several of their films, the Bhatt brothers probably thought reinventing themselves would be a good idea.
Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) lives in a huge mansion which doubles up as a brothel where several women, who have no family or home to go to, work and live. With the support from a king (Naseeruddin Shah), Begum wields influence on Government officials and nobody creates any hindrance in running her brothel. One day, some policemen and Government officials arrive at her doorstep and inform her that she would have to leave her house and set up business elsewhere as it is placed right on the border that divides India and Pakistan. Begum makes it clear to them she would not leave her house at any cost. The officials (played by Rajit Kapoor and Ashish Vidyarthi) representing India and Pakistan respectively approach Kabir (Chunky Pandey), a notorious criminal and ask him to drive Begum and all the residents of the house away from it.
‘Rajkahini’ was a critical and commercial success but was not as agonizingly painful as ‘Begum Jaan’ is. When one is watching a film in a theatre, the option of turning down the volume does not exist – the screams and hollers, the audience was subjected to throughout the film, are unnecessary. The subject and plot of the film should have given the writers enough scope to incorporate several dramatic moments in the film. Why did then Srijit Mukkherji find it necessary to underline every dramatic moment loudly spoken dialogues, bizarre camera movements and other gimmicks?
Despite the core idea being promising, he fails to conjure it all up in a film that would is not even remotely interesting. One fails to undertand why Begum Jaan, who is fully aware of the dire consequences, can’t insist on staying in the same house which she has been asked to vacate. Setting up business elsewhere should not have been a big problem for an influential, powerful woman like her. In a bid to draw a parallel between Begum Jaan and other brave women from the history, Vidya Balan is seen portraying the role of these women in short, badly edited snippets. Editing also turns out to be one of the biggest problems here. The narrative does not have a seamless flow to it. Even different shoots comprising of a particular scene are clumsily put together. The camerawork (Gopi Bhagat) is far from being impressive. The way some of the scenes featuring Ashish Vidyarthi and Rajit Kapur were shot in oddly framed extreme close ups leaves one flummoxed.
Vidya Balan is impressive as the sturdy, foul-mouthed Begum Jaan. The supporting cast consists of competent actors from which Gauahar Khan, Vivek Mushran and Pitobash Tripathi leave the maximum impact. Pallavi Sharda gets a few scenes to shine as an actor. Mishti, the girl who played the titular role in Subhash Ghai’s ‘Kaanchi’ a couple of years back, does not have a single dialogue in the film. She gets some opportunity to express through her eyes though.
With the kind of subject (and reference) Srijit Mukherji had in hand, he could have made a gut-wrenching and evocative film. ‘Begum Jaan’ is a pointless, boring film that does not have decent technical prowess to boast of. In the film, Vidya Balan is always shown holding the hookah pipe to her lips but never does one see smoke emitting from her mouth. It serves as a metaphor to what the film is. Promises a lot, delivers nothing.