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The elegance of <i>Umrao Jaan</i>

Abhishek Bachchan as Nawab Sultan

A pathan - a rebel with a passion for beauty and poetry.

With his penchant for good poetry, it was not long before the Nawab Sultan found himself magnetized towards Umrao Jaan's heartfelt renditions and ghazals and of course her awe-inspiring persona. It was an attraction that bowed down to the intensity of the feeling of two beautiful people. In Nawab Sultan's eyes Umrao dared to see a mirror of her desires. In Umrao Jaan's heart, Nawab Sultan sensed a reflection of his passion. The heavens made them meet but would the world allow them to become one....?

There was definite background to the character of Nawab Sultan. When one is a Nawab, there is a framework of dos and don'ts set to it. There had to be inherent sophistication to the character where the upbringing showed. The way Nawab Sultan tackled situations and combated problems had to be laden with dignity. This was very reflective of the Nawabs at that time. In terms of performance a lot of attention was paid to the body language and speech of Nawab Sultan. And it was offset with his passionate side to accentuate that not only was Nawab Sultan a refined gentleman, but also an intense lover. Great emphasis was given to the passion between Umrao Jaan and Nawab Sultan so that the pain when their love is not fulfilled, is accentuated.

Suneil Shetty as Faiz Ali

"He was a bandit who looted and victimized...
And one day, it was he who was robbed of his most precious possession."

Faiz Ali, the hardened outlaw; the feared dacoit; the compulsive gangster! The tags were many. But behind the tough exterior lies a soft heart. A heart that beats for the enchanting Umrao Jaan. Weary from the demands of his existence, it was in the confines of Umrao Jaan's kotha that he got respite like never before.

'Ever- dependable' is an adjective Suneil Shetty has deservedly earned .He is known to have an ultra -vulnerable heart behind his well- structured frame. With an aura that is sometime soft, sometime hard, he has managed to give life to ever so many significant characters. A victim, a victimizer; a loser, a winner; the proverbial funny guy, the hopeless lover; a he-man ,a spineless one...he has played it all ! The swash- buckling character of Faiz Ali was an invitation to Suneil Shetty to reveal his expertise yet again.

Shabana Azmi as Khanum Sahib

"Life for her was like the game of chess.
With the kings, the queens and the pawns.
The pawns were many, the queen just one - She! "

Khanum was the high priestess of a high class kotha, which aristocrats and cultured nawabs frequented. It was a world of brocaded shawls and rich embellishments, witty conversations, poetry recitals, tobacco and paan, trading of feelings and breaking of hearts. A world created by Khanum with astuteness.

Khanum had love and luxury to give, but at her own terms. To the world she was the perfect courtesan: as she put her heart on ice, never allowing feelings to overpower her sensibilities. At once caustic, at once charming; at once commanding, at once cajoling; at once shrewd, at once smooth ......indeed there was none quite like Khanum. It was Khanum who christened Amiran as Umrao. With that she also gave her nothing that Amiran had bargained for. Unfortunately for Umrao, Khanum's coffers were never too full; her cup of greed, never too empty.

Khanum is given incredible flesh and blood by one of cinema's brightest luminaries Shabana Azmi. She says , " I think J.P.Dutta really loves the character of Khanum. He was very clear in his brief to me. He said that Khanum is an aesthete. People were sent to her to imbibe manners. She had to have the charm, etiquette and vile of a sophisticate but sometimes one had be able to see the coarseness. To me there is a certain artifice about Khanum but there is a core that is real and that is what I kept in mind. J.P.Dutta has really lifted the character of Khanum by adding one particular sequence at the end of the film which was not there in the novel. This has taken the character to a different level."

As Director J.P Dutta and Shabana Azmi team up professionally for the very first time in Umrao Jaan, it is the union of two pathological cinema lovers whose sheer talent has added immense dignity to cinema history.

Indeed, in her world Khanum the courtesan commanded. In her world Shabana Azmi the artiste commands. And when the twain meet, the latent fire is enough to leave blazing trails.

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