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

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Divya Dutta as Bismillah

As Khanum's daughter, Bismillah grew up with Umrao Jaan amidst the tingle of ghungroos and fervor of kathak dance steps. The bond of friendship between the two girls formed the warmest corner of Khanum's sprawling Kotha. However, despite being the enigmatic Khanum's daughter, Bismillah never quite carved a distinct niche as a courtesan. A fact that was reflected in her telling eyes and subdued body language...

Ayesha Jhulka as Khurshid

The friendship of Umrao and Bismillah had a third angle in the form of the fragile Khurshid. The three childhood friends formed an alluring triumvirate. A courtesan herself, Khurshid made a habit of something that a courtesan ought not to dare - falling in love. Yet she was unable to find true love. Thus, she combusted, self-destructed and was ever heart-broken, ever lovelorn...

Puru Raaj Kumar as Gauhar Mirza
He was the pet boy of all the courtesans.

In the form of Gauhar Mirza, Umrao Jaan has an in-house paramour. Having grown up together, they shared many interesting moments. But was it true that Gauhar Mirza would one day show some unknown, unforeseen colors ...?

Himani Shivpuri as Bua Hussaini
She helped Umrao forget her home and family.

When fate cruelly snatched from Umrao ,her mother's shelter , it was in Bua Hussaini maternal arms that Umrao Jaan found a comforting nest. Although a maid-in-waiting in the kotha, it was she who took Umrao under her wing and brought her up, offering her a rarity called unconditional love....

Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Maulvi Sahib
A man of refined tastes and steadfast in his affection

Maulvi Sahib imparted to Umrao the greatest wealth in the form of education and the art and craft of poetry, both of which went a long way in shaping Umrao's immortal persona.

Mukhtasar Kahaani (Synopsis)

" Luft hai kaun si kahani mein...
Aap beeti kahun ki jag beeti"

("What story will be more absorbing...?
How the world in which I lived, fared
Or what fate hath held in store for me.")

- Umrao Jaan Ada

A courtesan and a poetess in her own right, Umrao Jaan was a name to be reckoned with in any description of life in Avadh. If Lucknow was the heart of Avadh, Umrao was the heart beat.

When she first came to Lucknow, she was Amiran, the eight year old daughter of a lower middle class family. Her father was a Jamadar at the 'Bahu Begum ka Makhbara' in Faizabad. A pious and simple man, he gave evidence in a case against Dilawar Khan, a habitual offender. Dilawar was sentenced to jail for ten years. After finishing his sentence Dilawar came out, only to kidnap little Amiran, cart her to Lucknow and sell her to a kotha owned by the astute Khanum Sahib. This was the vengeance and a few rupees as bonus. "Let her suffer a death worse than a death," he said.

A kotha in that age, especially that of Khanum was not only a cultural hub known for excellence in performing arts but also a temple of learning - learning the art of living. As an inmate of the kotha, little Amiran benefited the most. Khanum gave her the name 'Umrao', Bua Hussaini brought her up in style, Maulvi Sahib imparted education, Khan Sahib initiated her into the world of music while the great Kathak Acharya made her feet move to rhythm. In the company of Bismillah, Khurshid and Gauhar Mirza, Umrao developed varied skills including poetry. The pen name "Ada" was ample proof of the proficiency in writing and presenting poetry that she went on to acquire.

Graduating in years, Umrao became a rage in Lucknow. A beauty that was stunning, a manner that was enticing and words that were soul stirring, made the name of Umrao Jaan mean sheer joy of watching and listening.

Stepping into youth, she had to seek the love of her life. His name was Nawab Sultan. With the whole of Avadh at her feet, Umrao craved for Sultan's company. Somewhere deep inside her being, she had a dream of a husband, a family and a home. She chased her dream from one end of the rainbow to the other.

Would she realize her dream ever? Would she come face to face with Amiran once again? They say the child in you never dies...Just as hope never dies....

- O.P.Dutta

Khaliq (Director's Note)

The lucid narration of the famed yet doomed courtesan Umrao Jaan written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa in his Urdu Novel Umrao Jaan Ada has inspired many creative minds to capture it on celluloid. My father, writer- film maker O.P.Dutta had also scripted & started work on a film based on Umrao Jaan way back in the 1950's .However he soon found out that a film based on the same subject was already being filmed. So to avoid any controversy, he decided to shelve his ambitions project.

When I read the novel, I noticed that many relevant aspects had not been touched by the earlier film-makers. I felt a strong urge to portray Umrao Jaan's story in my way. Adapting from a novel is an interpreting Art. One has to interpret from one's own experiences, aesthetics and understanding and thus the scope of capturing one's innate vision is tremendous. I shared my thoughts with my father who asked me if I wanted to read the script that he had written. When I read his script I was completely floored. I said to him, "We will make this film!" But at that time Muzzafar Ali's film had just released, so we felt we should wait for at least a generation to pass before making our version. Incidentally, last year marked 25 years since Ali's film and I felt that the time had come! Umrao Jaan is my way of thanking my father for being there and realizing a dream that we both shared.

- J P Dutta

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