In my interview with her, Vidya Balan had told me that it’s her who has played Begum Jaan on screen, but a Begum Jaan is there in every woman. The film, which has been directed and released by Sirjit Mukherji tells the story of a group of women sex workers. And the ones who are completely unabashed and confident about who they are and where they belong to. They don’t belong to a particular state or community, but to their own land, which they refuse to give away.
It’s a no surprise that Begum Jaan is a strongly disturbing film. From the vivacious cruelty of the ones in power to the never-dying spirit of fighting for what’s yours, the film shows the shades of partition which no other Hindi film ever tried to. This saga of partition looks real, because it directly shows its repercussions on women, an evident marginalised section of the society. While the film questions the very survival of the values of religions, communities and the decisions by the state, what it also hits upon is the gruesome reality of treating women nothing more than sex objects.
Vidya Balan, in and as Begum Jaan is, unnecessary to mention, is the soul of the film. She might be a sex worker, but she can never be slut-shamed. She has that blunt, on-the-face attitude of giving the naysayers the taste of their own medicine. So when a Police officer comes to her and calls her a r***i, a pride-filled Begum Jaan says ‘r***i ko r***i bolna gaali nahi hai, agar police bol diya hota, toh shayad lagta ki gaali hai.’
Her kotha (brothel) is her home, the place where she has been selling her body to earn her living. For Begum Jaan, that’s the place where only she has got the right on her body, she will give her body to whoever she wants to. This is the place where she has nurtured these women to be the fighters of their own kinds, a place which is most secured and boasts the colours of happiness and magic. How can she let such a place to bend down in front of those who divide and rule? She decides to fight with all what she has and with all what she can give. Her fight is not against a few who are forcing her to leave her land, but against patriarchy, for her rights, for equality and for freedom.
Vidya, undoubtedly excels, in what she does. She has perfect intense expressions when she talks to the officers and perfect pain in her eyes, but pride on her face when she senses what’s the end. Characters like Begum Jaan make an actress feel powerful and Vidya has made sure she radiates this power on screen, like she did in The Dirty Picture or in Kahaani.
Another quite prominent characters in the film are that of Gauahar Khan and Chunky Pandey. For Gauahar, Begum Jaan is a film which carves out the actor in her and present it without any filter. Her character Rubina is all sensible but subtle at the same time. She is in love with a man, but in more love with her freedom and aggression to get the justice. There’s a scene where Gauahar tries to explain what a sex worker’s body means to her. Here, each word conveys a lot of sense.
Chunky Pandey, in his character of Kabir, is a ghost. He is more horrid than the words can ever describe. In fact, a few scenes which leave the most impact on you when you leave the theatre are the ones which feature him. More power to director Sirjit Mukherji for seeing this ghastly human being in Chunky and offering him a character that nobody would have ever imagined Akhri Paasta doing.
Begum Jaan‘s story, for most cinema lovers, is not a surprise. The film is a Hindi version of Bengali film Rajkahini and is strictly built on the same lines, except that the land of partition this time is based in north India, unlike the north west India in the previous one. Begum Jaan has some stupendously impactful scenes. So much so that you feel immature, not enough educated to gasp this kind of cinema. People die, in most films based on wars or conflicts, but here, a death shows the dearth of humanity. The film talks about aspirations of prostitutes. It talks about the social nonacceptance of such women. It highlights that what they have chosen to do is courageous and like all others, they are doing a job sacredly, and nobody has any right to snatch away the right of being human from them. However, in the second half, you get distracted from the narrative by back-to-back songs, which have beautiful lyrics and stunning music. The film seems little scattered, when the writer tries to merge too many issues all together one after the other. However, the intention and the depth of the ferocity take Begum Jaan to a level where no Hindi films has been able to reach so far.
Begum Jaan, is a film which might not be made for everybody, but should be watched by one and all.