Umrao Jaan – Movie review

Rating: 2.5/5


Director: J.P. Dutta


Producer: J.P. Dutta


Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Divya Dutta and Suneil Shetty.


Umrao Jaan is an adaptation of Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s novel Umrao Jaan Ada. Based in 19 century Lucknow, the film is about a young girl Ameeran who belongs to a lower middle class family. She is kidnapped and sold in a brothel run by Khanum Jaan (Shabana Azmi). The little girl now wears beautiful clothes and jewelry, eats good food, she learns to read, write, dance, sing and grows into beautiful the Umrao Jaan, who became a rage in Lucknow.


Stepping into youth, she had to seek the love of her life. His name was Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan). Gradually what took off as mehfil and sangeet, developed into love between the two. Somewhere deep inside her, she had a dream of a husband, a family and a home.


But as every love story faces hiccups, so does this. Nawab is left homeless for he loves Umrao and chooses her over his father’s kingdom. So now he has no money to pay at the brothel in order to spend time with her. Just then Nawab Faiz (Suniel Shetty) who was smitten by Umrao comes to the brothel and insists on being with her.


But this Nawab is actually a disguised dacoit who will not let the love of Umrao and Nawab bloom. Subsequently, Umrao’s misunderstanding with Nawab Sultan takes place. Later, the war of independence makes her homeless. And much later, her mother and brother disown her due to her tainted profession. At the end of the film, Umrao is left alone, with nothing but her profession and her poetry.


This can undoubtedly be vouched for as amongst Aishwarya’s best performance to date. She fairs exceptionally well in the emotional scene in the climax. Abhishek too is good and emotes well except in the scene where he is drunk and goes over board. Aishwarya and Abhishek’s chemistry comes out extremely well in the film.


Shabana Azmi is remarkable in her performance and lives every bit of her character.  Although Suniel Shetty has a small role in the film, he is effective. Divya Dutta as Bismillah (Shabana’s daughter) lends good support especially in the emotional scene when Umrao returns to the brothel and Divya tells her how much she missed her presence. Himani Shivpuri as Bua Hussaini and Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Maulvi Sahib are also good and lend good support to the film. As a matter of fact, the scenes between Umrao and Maulvi have been well executed and are emotional. Puru Rajkumar as Gauhar Mirza is good and lends able support. Bikram Saluja as Nawab’s friend hardly gets noticed and is wasted.


The first and the biggest drawback of the film is its undisputable slow pace. In the first half, there are four back to back songs in forty minutes with an average length of five minutes each. On the one hand, where these help in establishing the chemistry of Umrao and Nawab, on the other this almost tests patience and makes it difficult to sit through. But pace picks up in the second half where Umrao’s life moves ahead and the story too builds up with twists.


Dialogues by O.P. Dutta are commendable and in spite of the rich Urdu dialect will be easy on the audiences’ ears. Some dialogues are definitely worth applauding. For instance the one when Aishwarya tells Abhishekh – “Aap to bewafai karke bhi nawab kehlayenge aur hum wafai kar ke bhi tavaif kehlae jaayenge.”


J.P Dutta’s editing could have been crisper in order to add pace to the otherwise slow film. Anu Malik’s music suits the film well but as mentioned earlier too many songs in the film tests the audience’s patience. But Anu marks a flawless debut by scoring background for the film. In fact the song ‘Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya’ (beautiful rendition by Richa Sharma) has been effectively used in the film, to the extent that draws tears. But the song ‘Pooch Rahe Hain,’ which comes in the climax after Umrao has been abandoned by her family, could have been much better. Alka Yagnik does a fabulous job as Umrao Jaan‘s voice.


Vaibhavi Merchant’s choreography is nice and has been well executed by Aishwarya Rai. Costumes by Anna Singh and Bindiya Dutta are exceptional in a few scenes. The sets by Bijon Das Gupta are good. Cinematography by A. Bose is flawless and is effective in showing Lucknow of the 19th century.       


On the whole Umrao Jaan is a well made film but lacks commercial value. Amongst its niche, the film will go down as a memorable one and a good attempt by J.P Dutta to make a period film. But limited appeal of the subject may mar its box office collections.

Rohini Bhandari

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