One of the most eagerly awaited films, in recent times, (not if one was to peruse the opening collections..a shameful 30%) where the lead ‘jodi’ had set the media ablaze with their impending ‘marriage’ rumors, a sure shot, tried and tested modus operandi to woo in crowds.
Apart from the hype of its budget, the ‘promos’, the advertised painstakingly carried out execution of the finer nuances of the original story written by ‘Rusva’, an expected buzz surrounded the release. That J.P. Dutta was the creator of this Umrao Jaan, as he had vociferously proclaimed time and again in his press interviews, to be differentiated from the earlier Muzaffar Ali saga, was hardly a cause for major excitement. His previous couple of films had not just failed miserably to strike gold at the box office, but had been panned by viewers and critics alike.
The wide disparity of opinions on this film had truly managed to put me on tenterhooks. I had to see for myself how a film could be so loved, and simultaneously hated by some, or rather the majority. Being cognizant of the ways of the masses where sometimes rare creativity fails to capture their imagination, I was willing to disregard the pathetic box office collections and view it with an open mind, stripped of pre conceived notions.
The first five minutes, provided ample clue to the fact that the Director, was in no mood to make this film with an effort to excel in his craft. It was at best a shoddy, compromised , version of a brilliant story. It angered, appalled and saddened me to witness how a film maker who at one time had given us a film like ‘Ghulami’, had now resorted to perhaps creating a hoop-la about his film, content in the fact that he will recover his money , no matter what, and had therefore planned to complete the task with as little pain, and maximum gain.
There was not a SINGLE shot or scene in the film which spoke of a technician at work. Except for when it was absolutely essential, the film had been shot in ‘immovable block-like close ups’..totally unexpected from a magnum opus of this kind.
It was not just the technical aspect which lacked noteworthy mention, but the story telling, despite being an inherently moving tale, it failed to rouse sympathy for the character of Umrao Jaan ada…mainly since it is debatable if the maker felt any, himself.
A barrage of songs, flawed screenplay, where the shift from past to present comes in sometimes at the emotional peak of a scene, speaks of an amateur director at work and not someone who has a string of big budget, star spangled films to his credit.
Umrao jaan, for me is the story of a woman who despite being a ‘tawaif’ was loved deeply by three men..but that was her misfortune. They loved her to such an obsession that they destroyed her. Not once in the film is this sense of a woman having got it all , to lose it forever, three times over, been brought out in its potency. It makes one wonder therefore whether, the maker had in fact noticed this slant to the story..or was he too busy skimming the surface of a ‘prostitutes life’ or then ensuring that the beauty of Aishwarya Rai, is captured for the camera, even if, devoid of pain.
That the film was made at a leisurely pace, with complete facilities available, and the luxury of having the two foremost stars co-operating whole heartedly is more than obvious. This is what enrages as well. With nothing lacking, what was brought forth? A faulty script, watered down emotional quotient, unexploited locations, un focussed attention to detail in the tapestry of characters and their motivations, a grim reminder of what it could have been and what it is not.
In no uncertain terms, this is a failure of the director.. no pernetrating insight into the plight of his characters, beyond the obvious, a lack of enthusism to employ techniques that could translate into lavishness of scale, a paucity of in depth analysis at the editing stage to snip off scenes which went on endlessly without taking the story forward..case in point when Nawab sultan, after being disinherited, comes to Umrao for refuge, and ended up calling himself her ‘Ghulam’..that went on for 12 minutes..Blasphemy in cinematic ethics.
Aishwarya Rai, followed instructions..that is all one got to make of her performance..no more no less. She had been shooting for this intermittently alongside ‘Dhoom2’ is more than apparent seeing the drastic weight loss which is most unbecoming in the clothes of 19th century Lucknowi tradition and that too in the character of a ‘tawaif’ lusted for by men of the city..she was painfully thin.
Abhishek Bachchan, I believe is the man who will outlive most stars of today.. but for that he will have to spruce up his physique, body language and posture.. he was lanky and ‘loose’ in his carriage..definitely not the ‘Pathan’ he portrayed.. what was the director doing whilst looking at the monitor” In a daze or busy congratulating himsef at the scoop!
Shabana Azmi has once again proved that she needs no director.. though her performance and character might have touched dizzy heights in the hands of more competence. She lived the role of ‘Khannum Saheb’ with an honesty and sincerity , her forte and trademark as an actor..her histrionics on fabulous display.
Puru Raaj Kumar was wasted..wasted..wasted and so was his character. The pathos of a man deliriously in love, reduced to a ‘pimp’ and then resorting to rape the woman he worships finally,was as if dismissed in a ‘time nahin hai’ kind of attitude as was most of the film. The complexity of human emotions, character and behaviour was as if of no concern to the director of a film which hinged on pain, pivotal to the evolution of the story.
Music was ineffective, except for the theme song and ‘Salaam’. Cinematography was unimpressive, as were the other technical departments, editing, art and sound.
What a terrible carnage of filmdom money and star dates..see if you must.