Bangalore Film Society

An Arabian mosaic, a female voice doing an ‘aalaap’, an Urdu script and ambience filling the screen, the scene is ready for remaking Umrao Jaan! Cheers!

Enters an old dreamy realistic uncle (‘Bole to’ he can’t act cus he is not supposed to) who seems to have just woken up from a 60 year hibernation and the first thing he notices is the mellifluous voice coming from the spires of darkness in the middle of a sleepless night (no, this is not meant to be a screenplay!). Wearily and unexcitingly, he asks, “ye awaaz, ye purkashish mousiqui….and goes on further(ending all his lines with Nawaazish Nawaazish) till you enter your first nap comfortably(the man will remove all sleeping pills from the world one day, trust me!).What follows is anybody’s guess.

The bio-pic of an unknown singer who entered the scriptures of history because…..

We are subjected the privilege of how Ameeran becomes Umrao Jaan Ada, a quick roundup of her dance trainers, music teachers, doodhwaala, papaerwaala, sabzi-waala and the likes, her friends(read deprived of their 15 seconds of fame stars turned junior artists), her abba(if you think of anyone else then Kulbhushan ‘constipated speech is my USP’ Kharbanda, then I will change my name to JP Dutta, wow that rhymes!), ammi(ditto for Himani ‘aaaye haaye what other role do I get to play anyways’ Shivpuri), and the ‘period drama’ quintessentials read people in bad costumes and makeup pretending to be from the last century. You would never have waited so desperately for the interval in any Hindi film till date, it seems light years away!

So you thought I go to movies for the fun of writing a review?

Shabana Azmi rises above the pitiable goings-on to pitch in a well-textured performance. One does not get a Mandi[1], but she makes up for the bad taste in your mouth on being subjected to yet another unapologetic remake with all the clichés in the book (including the comments at the back).

Aishwarya Rai is surprisingly good, in fact top class in some of the scenes. She exudes a rare mix of accepted-pathos and anticipated hope for the memorable lead role. Check out her scenes with Kharbanda or Shabana Azmi and you will not regret seeing the film.

Abhishek Bachchan is third best, but looks half involved and half interested, may be it was what the character demanded. Again, I am not JP Dutta. He manages the get the only applause in the entire 3.5 hrs film. He gives a new dimension to the character of Nawab with his body language, suppressed pre-Raj chauvinism, contained diction and delivery of Urdu lines, the now-evolved gaze and underplay.

Suniel Shetty provides the much needed laughs (though not meant to!), well attired in a ‘Pirate of the Arabian’ do, and well accompanied by a kahaani mein twist character.

The music is a refresher and one of the few reasons why you could stay till the much awaited titles roll. But you might want to listen to the score (one of the finest works of Anu Malik) a couple of times to appreciate their placing and lyrical finesse. However, some pieces, like Agle Janam mein, main na mil sakoongi, could be brilliantly done, in sense of technique and direction.

Salaam, Dekha hamein kuchh aise, poochh rahe hain, jhoote ilzaam are well shot, placed and choreographed beautifully.Especially Aishwarya carries them with an elan and range of emotions.

All things said and done, it is NOT a bad film, but not a classic either. I would give it a 6.5 on 10. JP Dutta is better from Refugee and subsequent films, he has an eye for continuity and making the whole film look good in spite of all the million flaws, he treats music well, and generally has a ‘levelling’ technique which elevates the film from being a nobody to somebody; it’s only sad that it doesn’t become an everybody.

Moreover, if you are used to seeing the period-portrayals involving Urdu poetry like Mirza Ghalib, Sardari Beghum, the old classics like Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan, and the likes, you might appreciate the flow of the film despite the length. Because it is not easier to present such a theme in the mainstream flavor.

JP Dutta belongs to this in-between category of film-makers who have an eye on both the schools-arthouse and mainstream (at a loss of better nomenclature). But a sparkling aspect of his films, especially this one, is his controlled self-confidence to make something from the heart. He gives the film the requisite, right amount of dignity, and also makes a decent though unsuccessful attempt at social commentary. His Umrao Jaan is expressive of her emotional transitions and laughs and cries at a failed love. A lot is left desired but….

Here[2] and here[ ] are some better reviews of the film.