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By: Taran Adarsh, IndiaFM
Saturday, November 04, 2006
J.P. Dutta is one of the finest storytellers around. Right from his directorial debut Ghulami to his last release L.O.C., J.P. has had the courage to narrate stories that excite him first and foremost. Some films worked, some didn't. But J.P. continued with his practice of choosing subjects that not many dream merchants would dare to dream.
Quite obviously, Umrao Jaan, his latest outing, evokes tremendous anxiety. Sadly, it's bound to meet with diverse reactions/feedback...
Umrao Jaan has sensitive performances, it is visually rich with the bygone era captured beautifully on celluloid and the stamp of a master storyteller is visible in crucial scenes. But there's a flip side too. It's not a enriching, satisfying and fulfilling experience, it's toooooo long [20 reels; 3 hour + duration], has too many songs and lacks the power to keep you hooked in entirety.
In fact, it wouldn't be wrong to state that the lethargic pacing coupled with the unnecessary length make Umrao Jaan a bejaan experience!
A courtesan and a poetess in her own right, Umrao Jaan [Aishwarya Rai] was a name to reckon with 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 [Parikshit Sahni] 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 [Vishwajeet Pradhan]. 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 [Shabana Azmi]. 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 [Himani Shivpuri] brought her up in style, Maulvi Sahib [Kulbhushan Kharbanda] 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 [Divya Dutta], Khurshid [Ayesha Julka] and Gauhar Mirza [Puru Raaj Kumar], 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 [Abhishek Bachchan]. With the whole of Avadh at her feet, Umrao craved for Sultan's company. Somewhere deep inside her, 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.
But there were hiccups in the form of a dacoit Faiz [Suniel Shetty], who was smitten by Umrao. Subsequently, the misunderstanding with Nawab Sultan takes place. Later, the war of independence makes her homeless. And much later, her mother [Maya Alagh] and brother disown her. Amiran is forced to become Umrao Jaan again.