When you watch the trailer of ‘Begum Jaan’, you will be filled with hope — mostly for Bollywood. And then, you’ll watch the movie and it’s all downhill from there.
‘Begum Jaan’ isn’t just a disappointing movie. No. It is an absolute travesty. It is so wrong on so many levels that you find yourself oscillating between intense anger and unbearable boredom.
Unlike what the trailer would have you believe, ‘Begum Jaan’ is not a tale of courage in the face of life-altering forces. It is, in fact, a tale of unbelievable stupidity that keeps reinforcing many a stereotype often attributed to women. But more on that later.
For now, here’s a laundry list of the many questions that keep popping into your brain even as you’re watching this yawn fest:
What is wrong with Vidya Balan?
Why would an actor work so hard to establish herself as a no-nonsense, serious actor, only to throw all of it out the window? Vidya Balan is not good in this movie. One would even go so far as to say she is bordering on terrible. It’s such a shame when good actors start phoning it in!
She is supposed to be this matriarch-figure brothel madam who runs her business outside the confines of morality, and therefore, outside of the restrictions said morality would impose upon one. Presumably, Begum Jaan runs her brothel without shame and with an iron fist and her character is supposed to have the kind of personality that makes grown men tremble in their boots.
Sadly, none of this is true. She comes off as a mean-spirited has been who pines for the attention of one Raja saheb (played by Naseeruddin Shah), who never really gives her the time of day. She goes from a bold, trash-talking woman to a simpering git as soon as Naseer makes an entry. She then goes on to fall further in one’s esteem by serenading Raja sahab while he sleeps with one of the other girls from her brothel.
So, in a nutshell, Balan is little more than some 1947 version of Viagra. Yeesh!
Why was this movie ever made?
During the many many boring scenes, you might find yourself wondering why they ever made this movie. Your guess, if you have one, is as good as mine!
They’ve taken the very serious, very emotionally-wrought, topic of the Partition and diminished it. They’ve tried to package as a brave fight put up against the establishment by a bunch of women, and prostitutes at that. And all they’ve really managed to do is look really stupid. When Balan isn’t busy making oblique references to her menstrual cycle, or when Gauhar Khan isn’t busy giving her pimp lessons in biology, all these women are really doing is screaming at each other or at invisible forces just outside their gates.
Why must they insist on showing women as stupid, brainless creatures?
Then there’s this empowering moment when the women decide to learn how to fire rifles in order to protect themselves when the time comes. There’s a lot of oohing and aahing about the guns and their kickback (recoil) and such. And when the time comes, these women stand and fire hundreds of rounds into the air without ever really hitting anyone. Flustered and angry, they then abandon their posts, step out into the open courtyard, scream like banshees, and get killed like the sitting ducks they are. Wah!
The absolute hero in this film is the house they’re fighting for. It’s made of brick and mortar and still catches on fire as if it were made of wood. The doors, which are made of wood, are, strangely enough, the only things in the house that do not catch fire. So when most of the girls have died because they were just too stupid to stay alive, Balan marches into the burning building with her remaining entourage, and closes the not burning door. Amazing!
I’m guessing we’re supposed to assume they choose to be burnt alive inside the house rather than ever leave it. Uff! Indians and their obsession with material things!
Why did cut only the one lesbian kiss from the movie?
In the middle of odious dialogue and visuals about everything sexual — from camera movements that would put you off sex for a good long time, to rather questionable biological descriptions of the female body, in Hindi no less — ‘Begum Jaan’ has it all. The only thing the Censor Board thought was a BIG no no, was one tiny lesbian kiss. No no! We’ll talk about vaginas and penises till the cows come home, we will even show a cop undressing in front of ten of his men just so he can rape a couple of the prostitutes when the opportunity arises, but Lord forbid we show two girls kissing. Ghor anarth!
And we never heard a peep from the film fraternity about it. Because, who cares, right?!!
What is wrong with the Bhatts?
The Bhatt family has given Bollywood some truly great films in the past. In the past being the operative words in that sentence. Because it looks like everybody one could have expected anything from in this film seems to have decided to phone it in instead. What a pity!
Why has it been dedicated to Chughtai and Manto?
Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto will be turning in their graves for having had such a terrible, backward, story dedicated to them. Chughtai and Manto wrote about stuff that still has the literary world in thrall. Taking the name of Chughtai’s character from ‘Lihaaf’ — Begum Jaan — and turning it into a joke is hardly a tribute to her, or her work. If anything, it’s a slap in the face of everything Chughtai and Manto stood for! More’s the pity!
Why, God? Why?!!
The last, and perhaps most important, question of all is this. Why?!! Why have so many good actors been wasted in a movie like this? Why didn’t they find a better tailor for raja sahab’s sherwaani? Why do they think one woman undressing (as in, getting totally nude) is a deterrent to rape? Like, seriously?!! If a woman is in danger of being raped, some woman near her should shield her and then drop all her clothes? Because rapists would never think of raping anyone other than the one they were going for in the first place? Really? Aargh! My brain hurts from this “logic”. Yours will, too.
So, do yourself a favor, don’t watch this film.