Begum Jaan Review: Vidya Balan
Cast: Vidya Balan, Chunky Pandey, Gauahar Khan, Sumit Nijhawan
Director: Srijit Mukherji
Sir Cyril Radcliffe probably didn’t think about the misery the line, which was named after him that divided Indian and Pakistan after partition, would bring upon the people living closer to it. Or, maybe the unethical British Empire saved its most potent weapon for the last.
The Radcliffe Line divided one nation into three parts: East Pakistan, West Pakistan and India. Director Srijit Mukherji’s Bengali film Rajkahini featured a group of men and women living in a house situated right in the middle of East Pakistan and West Bengal.
Now, Mukherji shifts this house to the Punjab-Pakistan border in his debut Hindi film Begum Jaan.
Here lives a brothel owner Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) and her girls. The local king has taken them under his wings and that’s a relationship Begum loves to flaunt. The locals are scared of her, so is the administration. Her crumbling mansion is her kingdom. Nobody dares talk to her in a mocking tone. However, her inner self is much mellowed and benevolent than what she cares to show and she knows what it means to be a sex worker.
Law enforcing agencies find it difficult to dislodge Begum from the line and that leads to a war which is layered, unequal and self-explanatory. At different stages, it showcases various shapes and forms of patriarchy. If it suggests male domination as the root cause of the problem, it also seeks a solution through the same process. But all this will come later.
We first need to understand Begum Jaan. A hookah-snorting, razor-tongued woman with authoritarian air, she is the master of her fate. From Gujarati to Bengali to Awadhi, her brothel has women of every caste, language and religion. Some are riot victims, some are simply thrown out of their houses and some have failed in love. Begum knows all their secrets and saves them from being homeless. New and younger girls are anyway sought in her business.
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