Umrao Jaan (2006)

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J.P. Dutta’s adaption of the Urdu novel “Umrao Jan Ada” by Mirza Haadi Ruswa (1905). A film like ‘Umrao Jaan’ is not for the laity. The movie’s setting (19th century Lucknow), its story, its characters and the dialogues they speak, nothing conforms to the cinematic tastes of a contemporary viewer. Yet the heart-rending tale of Umrao Jaan stands out for a sensitive viewer to empathize with.

Based on a book by Mirza Hadi Ruswa (a teacher in mathematics, science, philosophy and Persian), the movie tells the tale of Amiran who was abducted as a child and sold into a Lucknow kotha by Dilawar, a man seeking revenge from Amiran’s father.

There, at the kotha, Amiran is re-christened as Umrao by the chief courtesan Khanum Sahib (Shabana Azmi). Under the tutelage of Maulvi Sahib (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) Umrao learns the intricacies of Urdu language and poetry. She gets motherly love from Bua Hussaini (Himani Shivpuri). She finds friends in Khurshid (Ayesha Jhulka) and Bismillah (Divya Dutta). She learns dancing under the watchful eye of Khanum Sahib.

Umrao (Aishwarya Rai) grows to be a beautiful woman with a natural talent for poetry and dancing. In her very first mujra, she wins the hearts of nawabs of Lucknow, particularly Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan).

A pathan, Nawab Sultan falls for Umrao as she does for him. So strong and irrepressible is their love that Nawab chooses Umrao over the wealth and lineage of his rich father. And Umrao too rebels against Khanum Sahib for her love for Nawab.

But a pauper Nawab is no longer able to fill the coffers of Khanum. Enters Faiz Ali (Sunil Shetty), a bandit disguised as a Nawab. He offers the asked sum for Umrao Jaan. Against her wishes, Umrao is sold to the highest bidder.

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‘Umrao Jaan’ is the story of a woman whose life is filled with one misfortune after another. She is jilted in love, she is raped, she is turned back by her own estranged brother and mother. But Umrao Jaan forgives them all and resigns to her fate.

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