Begum Jaan: What went wrong with Rajkahini's Bollywood counterpart?

If you’re a Bengali living in Mumbai, chances are that you watch Bollywood movies in theatres, and almost all Bengali movies on Hotstar.

Don’t you? Well, I know I do.

I watched Srijit Mukherji's Rajkahani exactly a week back, given Mukherji is quite a favourite in the Bengali film industry. Baishe Srabon, Chatuskone, Hemlock Society, Autograph – he’s made movies that have effortlessly connected with his audience.

Why, then, was a movie like Begum Jaan not able to hit me hard enough? Wasn't it supposed to be a 'hard-hitting' film?

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Vidya Balan in Begum Jaan. Rituparna Sengupta in Rajkahini.

Why didn’t it connect with me as well as Rajkahini?

I’m a little inclined to saying – Bollywood.

You don't have to watch both movies to make a comparison here, just the trailers would be enough for you to spot the difference.

The finesse in each of the frames, the casting, the dialogues, the music – everything felt a lot more powerful and impactful in Srijit’s Bengali version of Begum Jaan, a film that depicts the fightback of 13 female sex-workers at the time of India's partition.

Rajkahini was one of 2015's blockbusters. The National Award filmmaker’s movies come with expectations, and Rajkahini strikes a chord right from the get go.

But there's no easy way to say this: as a Bollywood remake, Begum Jaan fails to rebuild the same essence and portray the tragic experience countless families faced at the time of partition. And it's so hard to fathom why.

With Vidya Balan playing the lead character, you’d have expected a little more on the performance front. For me, however, Rituparna Sengupta was a total win. Be it smoking the hookah or slapping the women who work under Begum Jaan as prostitutes, Rituparna had most certainly triumphed the role.

The movie was supposed to evoke a feeling of horror, disgust and tragedy, but unfortunately, at no point in Begum Jaan could I feel any of those emotions.

Not Rajkahini, though.

Every character played by each of the actors in the Bengali version had a kind of mannerism you'd expect from an actor playing the role of a prostitute. It really let you sink into its story.

However, none of the actors in Begum Jaan could match that. Vidya Balan and Gauhar Khan came close but it's not a splotch on the prolific Bengali actors.

Pallavi Sharda does not do justice to the role of Gulaab (Golaap), as against Parno Mittra.

It makes you wonder if Bollywood is afraid of being cast in a film that champions prostitution and sex work. The only surprise from the second half of the film was Chunky Pandey.

Also, let's talk about the elephant in the room – Begum Jaan was really loud. Those complaining about the loudness of the film should know the Bengali version was no different. It was a lot better executed and didn't seem jarring.

One of the many off-chords in the Vidya Balan starrer was also its music.

Poster of Begum Jaan

Poster of Begum Jaan

After you've listened to Indradeep Dasgupta's music in Rajkahini, Anu Malik’s music will fail to make an impression. It sounds inadequate and can hardly be even compared to its Bengali counterpart.

If you haven't watched Begum Jaan yet, I'd suggest you watch Rajkahini first.

Try letting a Bengali movie's magic take you over. You might just be surprised.


Published Date: Apr 17, 2017 10:19 am | Updated Date: Apr 17, 2017 11:08 am

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