The trailer of Vidya Balan’s upcoming film Begum Jaan is here and the 3-minute gripping video is sure to remind you strongly of the movie it has been adapted from: the original Bengali version Rajkahini. And if you have watched the original movie, you know what I’m talking about! The trailer is a ditto copy of the original film minus the full rendition of the national anthem by Tagore.
Here are some facts that you should know about the critically acclaimed Bengali movie which was released in 2015 is set in the backdrop of partition and tells the tale of a brothel owner and depicts the struggles faced by the sex workers’ community.
The first scene of Srijit Mukherji’s Rajkahini will take you back to Saadat Hassan Manto’s short story Khol Do. The film starts with a scene at a make-shift hospital where a distressed father comes in to identify his missing daughter, who was dumped near the medical camp after being brutally raped by a group of men who went out to search for her. Staring blankly at the roof, the young girl doesn’t respond to her father’s plea and only reacts when the doctor, standing at the end of her bed instructs the ward boy to open the window. “Jalna ta khule de,” he says, to which the girl slowly tugs the strings of her pajama ease herself out of it mechanically as the three men in the tent stare at her horrified. The scene leaves the viewers horrified as well as numb with its brutal rawness.
The film stars Rituparna Sengupta as the central character Begum Jaan. She runs the brothel which falls right on the border that is to be created to divide Bengal: one-half will remain in India and the other half will be called East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The film shows Begum Jaan’s fight against the official who tries to evict her from her land. However, Rituparna’s character will remind you of Shabana Azmi’s character in Shyam Benegal’s Mandi and so does Rajkahini.
Though many films have been made on the subject of the partition before as well, most of them tell the brutal tales of the scars that it left on the people of both the countries. From leaving one’s property and resettling in an unknown land to the horrifying riots that broke out, the partition left a deep scar on many generations of the victim families. Rajkahini too narrates one such tale but of those who are the most sought after and yet the most ignored section of the society- the prostitutes. This is not just a story of Bengal’s partition and doesn’t only talk about the violence. It also talks about the hypocrisy of our society and the helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness and the insecurity of those whom people turn to when seeking pleasure.
Mukherji has used several metaphors in the film brilliantly. A storm brews as the officials break the news to Begum Jaan and her girls about the partition of the brothel. The storm gives an indication that the sex workers are about to be uprooted from their homes.
In another such metaphor, the protagonists of the film who are prostitutes belonging to different castes and religion, live in the same house and ultimately fight to their death for each other. This clearly shows how the religious division is a man-made phenomenon. And if this was not convincing enough, a character called Kabir claims how he became a Hindu or a Muslim as per his own convenience!
The film is full of moments that is sure to bring a lump in your throat and leave you perturbed with its realism. Rajkahini creates a dark numbing impact mainly because of the superb performances of both Rituparna, who stands out for her strong performance as Begum Jaan and actress Sohini Sarkar, who managed to outshine Rituparna as the loud Duli and its unhesitant raw narrative.
Despite its several flaws and Rituparna’s forced husky baritone, Rajkahini left its viewers both awed and disturbed at the same time. Now, it remains to be seen if Vidya Balan’s Begum Jaan will be able to create the same magic on-screen.