Friday, January 25, 2008

Umrao Jaan (starring Rekha)

Umrao Jaan was one of the first Bollywood movies I'd seen, so I decided to revisit it the other day to see if my opinion had changed a year (and several Bollywood films) later.

Two things came out of this experience. First, I realized I didn't remember much about it all, because I sort of felt like I was viewing it for the first time. Second, I actually enjoyed and appreciated the film much more.

During my initial viewing of Umrao Jaan, I lost interest towards the middle of the movie. Not so this time. In fact, I was quite absorbed in Umrao's woeful life, from beginning to end. I don't know, maybe I wasn't used to the length of a Bollywood movie back then, because this time I actually thought the movie flowed together pretty well...the script stuck to the story and the ending wasn't dragged out. That's something to applaud in Bollywood!

And although I must have thought Rekha was a natural as Umrao Jaan, this time I was actually mesmerized by her performance. Technically, she's not one of my favorite actresses, but I definately have a girl-crush on her! She was Umrao Jaan...Every bat of her long black eyelashes, every alluring glance, every purse of her ruby lips...she had it down to a science. Rekha made the perfect courtesan as she bewitched men with her charm, drawing them deep into her web of seduction.

Naweb Sultan illustrates this for us with this smitten stare...

Wow, look at the intensity in his left eye! How could Umrao resist?

But all jokes aside, Farooq Shaikh portrayed Sultan appropriately. He was refined and composed, yet had a weakness for Umrao he was unable to shake. His role was minor in comparison to Rekha's, but his entrance in the film was a relief because I was beginning to fear her love interest would end up being Naseeruddin Shah's annoying character. And thank God it wasn't.

Besides the performances, I also couldn't resist taking a bunch of screenshots for this blog's banner...there's just something about the look of the film. So classic yet not forced. I could watch the movie just for the visuals alone.

I'm aware that Umrao Jaan's music is considered timeless in Bollywood. Since I don't speak Hindi, I have no right to argue, but I really only enjoyed them because of Rekha's dance moves.

Poor, poor Umrao Jaan. She had such a tragic and lonely life, and my heart just bled for her. Yet her character seemed so human to me because she was longing for love more than anything else. I'm so glad I decided to watch her story again, because I literally saw it in a whole new light. Note to Bollywood: Give me more stories with a female at the center!

Text © Copyright 2008 Nida Nazir
Bitten By Bollywood


bollywoodfoodclub February 2, 2008 at 4:55 PM  

I just love Rekha as Umrao Jaan! In my mind, they are one and the same.

BTW, how far are you with nursing school? I'm in my 2nd year of dental school and find myself devoting more time to Bollywood than pharmacology.

- Nandini

Filmi Geek February 3, 2008 at 7:42 PM  

I'm sorry that the music didn't do anything for you - it's one of my favorite soundtracks. I hope it grows on you with time! :D

Sanket Vyas February 3, 2008 at 9:58 PM  

Nice review - this movie was one of those 'instant' classics that was a hit with both critics & audiences. Alot of my Indian friends don't understand Hindi/Urdu so don't feel too alone but as Filmigeek said - give the songs another listen as they are quite beautiful.

As an aside, Rekha did not speak any Hindi until well into adulthood when she came into the Bombay film industry. Her command of Urdu (very similar to Hindi but much more poetic & difficult) is simply astonishing as her pronunciation and diction are just pitch perfect.

Have you seen the modern day Ashwariya version? Not bad but can't really hold a candle to the original.

Nida February 4, 2008 at 3:14 PM  

Nandini--I'm in the same boat as you are! Also in my 2nd year...I get sidetracked all the time when I'm supposed to be doing my homework... I wander onto a Bollywood site (like I'm doing right now!).

Good luck--We'll have to keep each other motivated!

Nida February 4, 2008 at 3:32 PM  

Filmigeek- You're probably right--Things in Bollywood do tend to grow on me with time, so perhaps I'll give the soundtrack another whirl and see if it grabs me!

Sanket--That is very interesting! I love hearing about details like that because there is no way I would have been able to appreciate Rekha's speaking Urdu without understanding the language myself. To be honest, I didn't even know the movie was in Urdu!

I did see the Aishwayra version, but it was literally my second or third Bollywood film ever, and it was over a year ago. I remember liking parts of it but feeling that it dragged out the story. Now, having this newfound understanding of this version, I'll have to watch the newer one and compare. I'll do it soon!

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