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J.P. Dutta on <i>Umrao Jaan</i>

By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, November 06, 2006
Making a new film on the life and times of the legendary Lucknow tawaif Umrao Jaan Adaa hasn't been an easy task for Movie Moghul J.P. Dutta. And just days before the release of Umrao Jaan was comes the news that the Shia section of Lucknow feel JP's film does injustice to that city and its prized tawaif.

According to a report, Maulana Yatoo Babbar (who's apparently a descendent of a Nawab family) and Nawab Mir Jaffar Abdullah( apparently of royal lineage) are unhappy that the film hasn't been shot in Lucknow and that not enough attention has been paid to period details and other research. Incidentally Nawab Mir Jafar Abdullah was not only part of Muzaffar Ali's Umrao Jaan , he also desired to be in the cast of J.P.Dutta's Umrao Jaan.

J.P.Dutta, neck-deep in release hassles takes time off to laugh at the allegation. "It just goes to show how much research these guys have done before making such accusations against my film. I shot two long schedules in Lucknow stretching into nearly sixty days. In fact Umrao Jaan is dedicated to the city of Lucknow and its people. They co-operated so much. I had heard about the unruly crowds of Lucknow. On the contrary the local crowds were there." As for the research, J.P. explains, "We had a gentleman and scholar named Yasa Rizvi with us from the start. He's an authority on that period. What's more I had a 70-year old lady named Zarina Parveen who's the last of the tawaifs constantly on the sets. She was there to instruct Aishwarya on the adaas." JP not just contributed considerably to the choreography of the Mujras, he also shot Ash's dances with three cameras. "That's a scaling-down. We had nine cameras for LOC," quips JP.

As for the unhappiness of the Shia community over Umrao Jaan, JP shrugs. "The Shiates of Lucknow told me they were very happy to co-operate.' Hum par aapka bahut badaa karz hai. Aap Husaini Brahamin hain.' You see the Duttas fought a war with the revered Husain. If the Shiates are today pointing a finger at me they're pointing a finger at the Husaini Dutta." Why the constant attack on Umrao Jaan? Explains JP," Umrao Jaan is the first big-budget mainstream Hindi film shot voluntarily in Lucknow. Other films like Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Shyam Benegal's Junoon and Muzzafar Ali's Umrao Jaan were shot in the city because they couldn't afford to shoot on elaborate ostentatious sets. I chose to shoot in Lucknow because I owed it to the city and Umrao's memory. I chose Lucknow not because of lack of choices, but because it was my only choice. No one demanded any money from me for shooting in Lucknow. When I first landed in the city to meet the parents of a dead soldier for LOC, I had decided I had to make a film in Lucknow. I shot almost sixty days in Lucknow for Umrao Jaan." Dutta continues, "This isn't a small manageable arthouse film. It's a big film on a legendary poetess and courtesan. So far such films were seen to be the creative property of avant-garde filmmakers. The myth might be broken now. As for the questions about Aishwarya Rai's ability to portray Umrao, they'll be answered in ample measures with the films release."

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