Vidya Balan A Bitchy Brothel Owner In & As ‘Begum Jaan’

Thriving in diverse and assertive roles, Bollywood actress Vidya Balan has curated a smart mix of lucrative blockbusters that grossed more than $15 million and acclaimed independents in a career spanning over a decade.

After having done films such as Ishqiya, Dirty Picture, Paa, No One Killed Jessica and Kahaani, Balan will be seen playing another strong character, tailormade to prop up her as a star,  in hard-hitting drama Begum Jaan this Friday. 
Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of the 1947 partition of the British Indian Empire, which led to the creation of India and Pakistan, Balan plays a madam of a brothel that finds itself divided — falling exactly on the border of the two nations. Her fight against the officials to displace them, leads to tragic and violent consequences.

A Hindi adaptation of National Award-winner Srijit Mukherji’s critically acclaimed Bengali film Rajkahini (2015), it’s a story of survival of 11 fearless women in a brothel. Apart from Balan, the ensemble cast who will be seen in significant roles include Pallavi Sharda, Gauahar Khan, Ila Arun, Flora Saini, Ridheema Tiwari, Raviza Chauhan and Poonam Rajput.

Recently, on a TV talk show, Balan, hinting she reveled in pain, loss and above all, the rage playing the role, said: “I wanted to unleash that (violent) part of me… I wanted to give an expression to my anger, I have a lot of anger…” Her enthusiasm is warranted: it is a hell of a role — imperious, sexually vigorous, and vulnerable to the emotional whims of her fellow women. And, for Balan as an actor, that’s the opportunity.

Lived as whores, fought as queens! The official trailer of Begum Jaan click here

Balan has had an undoubtedly strong career run, spanning 22 feature films. Despite never having been paired with any of the Khans, she’s proved herself to be one of a kind. Because of her acting prowess, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap once called her “the female Aamir Khan of Bollywood”. 
She made her debut with Parineeta in 2005, and acclaimed roles followed in quick succession, playing opposite Sanjay Dutt in the quirky comedy Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006). She has racked up a National Award and five Filmfare Awards, considered as Bollywood’s Oscars.

Vidya Balan received National Award for Best Actress for her role in Dirty Picture in 2012. (Photo courtesy AP)

Last year, she played the lead in Sujoy Ghosh’s thriller Kahaani 2, which raked in a $4.5 million. She was praised for portraying a single mother to a paralyzed 14-year-old girl, who goes about determinedly, showing messy, unpretty emotions. Unlike other Bollywood actresses, Balan, completely without vanity, doesn’t fit into neat boxes: the flaky, clumsy rom-com heroine, the insufferable wife, the idealized saviour. In other words, she’s a character who flies into action when threatened. That sounds familiar.

Apparently, Balan was asked to play the titular role in Rajkahini by Mukherji in 2014. “Srijit came to me for the original which I couldn’t do at that point. So I was glad he came back to me… I didn’t want to give it (the Hindi adaptation) a miss,” she said in an interview with IANS.

Produced by Vishesh Films, Begum Jaan’s trailer that shows kohl-eyed, fierce-looking Balan leading the rebellion of female sex-workers against government officials has attracted much curiosity. In six days, the trailer got almost 18 million views.

Lived as whores, fought as queens! The official trailer of Begum Jaan click here

Mukherji remains at the helm here as well — making his debut in Bollywood as a director — but the setting has moved from Bengal in Rajkahini to the India-Pakistan border in Begum Jaan. 
Made with a modest budget of $1.2 million, it’s a revival of sorts for filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s Vishesh Films as well, which has only churned out content running high on cheap thrills.

While continuing the tradition of historical fantasy that Bollywood favors to sell tickets, if Begum Jaan still manages to explore divisive politics, the caste system, moral hypocrisy, injustice, the position of women in society and the bold themes of inter-personal relationships, it will lead to more movies for and about women, not to mention richer depictions. All assured, Balan will give a moving performance as a woman pushed to the wall.  If Begum Jaan becomes a hit, it will not just be a comeback for Balan but also for the producer and the director.

Will the Hindi version improve on the Bengali version, which suffered from poor dialogues, stagey performances and failed to capture the scale of the tragedy during the partition? Only Friday will tell.

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