Monday, November 13, 2006

Umrao Jaan (2006)

This is clearly not a movie for everyone – based on just the genre’s that it straddles. First, it’s a period movie, set in mid-nineteenth century Lucknow, which I think cuts the total potential viewers in half straight away. Next, it’s a tragedy, and I’m not giving the story away as the movie is told in flashback and you know this from frame one. This probably reduces the remaining viewers by another half. Finally, it’s a slow paced movie, with a pace more akin to a test match (if Australia is not playing – they only seem to play at one pace !) rather than a one-day international. This probably knocks off another half of the remaining viewers.

Those potential viewers / current readers left though, are probably going to enjoy it!

If you’ve not seen the previous Umrao Jaan (1981 / Rekha)
The movie is set in mid-nineteenth century and relates the tale of a courtesan – her rise and fall, her search for a life outside her profession, her attempt at finding true love and also her search for her own identity and her roots. It is a story told quite beautifully – the settings, the dresses, the bright colours stand out as a nice contrast to the sorrow unfolding in front of us.
It’s a very real story – there are no mercies given nor asked. There are no sugary characters, no cloying sweetness, no fake lovey-doveyness – but real emotions. Its quite a change from the normal Bollywood movie, where only good things (at least eventually) happen to the hero / heroine.

If you have seen the previous Umrao Jaan
The newer version tells the story better – the older one in parts seem a bit disconnected / fragmented. The characters, apart from Umrao Jaan herself, are also fleshed out better.
Also, the Rekha movie shows a very bleak side of Lucknow / Faizabad – the houses are very dark, the building dilapidated. This movie, on the other hand, shows beautiful palaces, rich people, a cleaner, more prosperous city.

However, the earlier version was more authentic – the urdu / language was better, more ‘true’. In some places here you feel the language is a bit forced, not natural, the characters are being forced to speak urdu.

For all
Finally, I think the biggest difference is the quality of songs / the lyrics. In Rekha’s movie, the songs are classics, they give soul to the movie, and are popular even 25 years later. I seriously doubt any of the songs of UJ’06, with one exception, are going to be played even 25 months later. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good songs, nicely sung, beautifully choreographed, lovely sets etc but they’re just not in the same league. I was actually shocked to find Javed Akhtar is the lyricist, since I expected more from him – but things became clearer when I read his comments on the official Umrao Jaan website – he claims he was trying to bridge the gap between the nineteenth century and the current generation. I feel he would have been better off being authentic and staying with the era the movie is set in!

The one exception though, is the haunting, heart-rending ‘Agle Janam’, excellently sung by Richa Sharma, and poignantly used as background music during the latter half of the movie.

Aishwarya is very good, stunningly beautiful in some scenes (as you would expect) and also very emotive, fitting the role (as perhaps you would not expect) and doing justice to it. Abhishek is nice to look at but some how his expressions, his demeanour does not fit the movie – I feel he needed some more gravitas in his role, his body language some how still comes across as a 21st century playboy, rather than a nineteenth century Nawab. The real jewel, though, in the movie is Shabana Azmi – she is brilliant ! Here there is no artificiality, no forced urdu. She is effortless and imparts a very human edge to her role as Khanum, the owner of the brothel.

Net, if you enjoy the genres that this movie straddles, you will enjoy it. However, it is not a classic, as Rekha’s Umrao Jaan was. This one is more beautiful as a spectacle but lacks the soul !


Anonymous said...

I have been born and brought up (well almost :)) in Lucknow. This is probably one of the reasons why I could not relate to the new Umrao Jaan. Surprised? Well let me explain. The entire set up, the backdrop, the dresses, the artifacts, and the jewelry (which looks fake to me) is just not Lucknow. To make things worse (like Apurv has already pointed out) the language and the mannerism is also not Lakhnawi. As for the lyrics and the music, quite rightly pointed out by AN, they just don't match up. Of course you can't expect Anu Malik to be any better.

Coming to the characters in the new UJ; Farooq Shaikh as Nawab Sultan fitted the bill of a wishy-washy Nawab much better. Abhishek just doesn't fit the character of a weak soul. Then there were the other characters, the Naseers and the Raj Babbars (he surprisingly acted well).

Muzaffar Ali had spent months in Lucknow interacting with the Nawabi Gharanas, learning the Adakari, he even visited the Khothas in Lucknow to understand the mannerisms of the Tawaifs. He also borrowed jewelry, dresses and decorations from these gharanas to make the sets look real.

As for Aishwarya Rai, there should have been slightly less of her and definitely not the amount of crying that she does. Umrao Jaan was not weak and certainly did not cry at every given opportunity.

Advice to J P Dutta: If you want to make a movie about a certain character of a certain era and place, at least visit the place and learn about the character. Do some research before you make a movie.

Anonymous said...

Just to add to what has already been said, history has it that the reason why UJ became a Tawaif is that she was dark in complexion. Remember her mate at the kotha was chosen over her to be married as she was fair in complexion and UJ was dark...I wonder what made JP see Aishwarya as a dark beauty?

Apurv Nagpal said...

fantastic comments, especially the second one - didnt think of that but that was a key twist in the earlier UJ...

had felt the same way abt the dresses / costumes, especially of Nawab Faiz - he looks like he's going to a costume party...even the others, it looks like someone went to an expensive designer and told them to make some ethnic / sherwani wedding dresses for the family.
however, on the official website, there is quite a bit of detail about how carefully the dresses / sets were chosen / researched to ensure they were authentic. And i decided to give them the benefit of the doubt...
anyways, keep the comments coming !

Samar said...

There were quite a few things I really found annoying in the movie.
First, JP Dutta just seems to have barely got dates with the busy Ash to make this quickie, that's why we don't see any soul from her. It just confirms that she's just a pretty face (i don't even think that about her!) with no soul, no warmth, and hence no emoting ability.

Second, who is Mr Dutta trying to fool? The sets and costumes look much more like Rajasthan to any viewer, than Lucknow. If he thinks he can crowd his frame with the grandeur of Rajasthan in costumes and the sets, and still sell it as Lucknow, he's sadly mistaken. The "look" (if I may say so) of Rajasthan is well-known to most of us, if not the look of Lucknow.

Third, supposedly the love between the lead pair was more about feelings, and less about lust. It seems the other way round in this movie.

Fourth, Ash can't even speak Urdu properly. For all her supposed beauty, her dialogue delivery and voice modulation pales, when you compare her to Rekha. So what's the use of an "exquisitely carved" piece of art? Agreed, it's not totally fair, and that even Rekha in her other movies was inclined to overdo it, but I believe she was flawless in Muzaffar Ali's film. The time when the lady comes to know that man is marrying someone else, compare the reactions of Ash and Rekha. Can we really say that Ash lived the role like Rekha did. I definitely think not. I found Abhishek wooden. After Yuva, he has never impressed me. I hope Yuva is not a one-off, because he himself knows he can do much more.

Fifth, I do like some of Anu Malik's music, but it really cannot be a patch on Khaiyyaam. I do feel Alka Yagnik's voice sounds a little tired.

Sixth and last, while the dances are supposed to be mujras, I don't think those shown in the movie are. I'm still not sure about this, maybe some dance scholars would throw more light on this.

Overall, I was quite disappointed with the new Umrao Jaan, even if I do not compare it with the older one. It would have been a real disappointment for me had it succeeded, though I am no enemy of JP Dutta, and I do admire his Refugee and Ghulami. I just thought he was taking shortcuts this time, and the public deserved and (rightly) expected more from him.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised everybody forgot, the award winning actor Suniel "Al Pacino" Shetty (yes...he did win a best supporting actor award!!!!!)...for spitting and shouting!!

Waise just to make the costume issue a little more is a link -
See the research and creativity that went into all that!!