Cast: Vidya Balan, Guauhar Khan, Ila Arun, Naseeruddin Shah, Chunky Pandey, Pallavi Sharda, Mishti, Flora Saini, Ridheema Tiwary, Pitobash, Rajit Kapoor, Ashish Vidyarthi, Vivek Mushran
Director: Srijit Mukherji
Producers: Mukesh Bhatt, Vishesh Bhatt
Writers: Srijit Mukherji, Kausar Munir
What's Yay: Performances, Hard-hitting dialogues
What's Nay: Half-baked plot that doesn't help one in connecting the dots in few scenes
Popcorn Refill: Strictly Interval
Iconic Moment: One of the most striking scenes appear early where Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) keeps slapping Shabham (Mishti) hard to snap her out of a shocked state.
The story opens with a disturbing incident in Connaught Place, New Delhi in the year 2016. Cut to, the film rewinds 70 years back where India is in a midst of facing the bloody aftermath of a partition post gaining independence. Sir Cyril Radciffe has been entrusted with the task of dividing the nation into two.
However this line of partition threatens the existence of a brothel owned by Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan). Soon, things take an ugly turn when they are slapped with a notice by the government which says that the 'kotha' must go away to make way for India and Pakistan. With no other option left, Begum Jaan and her group of prostitutes choose the rebellious path to defend the place which they call their 'home'.
Srijit Mukherji, the man behind the National Award winning Rajkahini ventures into Bollywood with its Hindi adaptation. He weaves a tale which mainly focusses on the impact of the Radcliffe Line on the lives of eleven women situated in a brothel during the partition period.
While the concept is quite bold and deserves to be applauded, what doesn't work for the film is the fact that Srijit majorly misses out giving us a little backdrop about every character other than Vidya. Thus, there are instances when you fail to feel for the character and reach out to him/ her simply because you never 'knew' them in the first place. The narrative tends to get abrupt and a bit high on melodrama at times. That's probably why it falls short of being a piece of cinematic brilliance.
Right from the unibrow to the crude abuses, Vidya Balan wears Begum Jaan like a second skin. She plays the koel-eyed, hookah puffing madame who means strict business and doesn't care a damn about independence and wordly political affairs. For her, her whorehouse is the palace and she is the reigning queen of the hookers. She may not mince her words but beneath her tough exterior lies a caring heart which shows up when instances permit. Vidya plays her role to perfection and you just can't miss the intensity of a scene where she mutters a dialogue which goes, 'Mahina humein ginna aata hai sahab..har baar saala laal karke jaata hai!
Next comes Pallavi Sharda aka Gulabo, a prostitute with a traumatic past. The actress too shines in her role and holds her own when it comes to sharing screen space with Balan.
Guauhar Khan as Rubina impresses. Watch out for the scene where she describes her life to the man she loves! It leaves you completely stunned even though it is abruptively placed in the narrative.
Mishti, Ridheema Tiwary and Flora Saina too essay the role of brothel inmates and put up a good show. Ira Arun adds layers to the plot.
Naseeruddin Shah plays a tricky character with shades of a ruthless predator. We wished we could have got to see more of him in the film! The track involving Rajit Kapoor and Ashish Vidyarthi doesn't look convincing.
Pitobash who plays everyone's companion and Guauhar's love interest holds your attention. Vivek Mushran's Masterji does what is expected out of him. Unfortunately the twist to his character towards the end looks forced.
Chunky Pandey suffers from a half-baked role. He starts off as a cold-blooded, menacing bad guy hired to whisk off Begum Jaan and her gang from the brothel. But sadly towards the end just ends up being a mere caricature!
Begum Jaan relies more on building up moments rather than the written material. Gopu Bhagat's cinematography effortless captures the camaraderie in Begum Jaan's world.
The first half of the film moves at a sluggish pace but post interval there are several heart-thumping moments that keep you invested. Monisha Baldawa and Vivek Mishra should have had a tighter grip on the editing scissors.
The songs of Begum Jaan are well-placed and help in taking the story forward. Out of all, 'Aazaadiyan' and 'Holi Khelein' stand out the most.
Begum Jaan isn't an easy watch. It makes you squirm at the double standards prevailing in the society. At the same time, it comforts you with a hope that 'woh subah kabhi toh aayegi'. Watch it for Vidya Balan whose piercing eyes and firebrand dialogues gives you ample of goosebump-inducing moments!