Although the 2006 version of Umrao Jaan starring Aishwayra Rai is a far cry from the original, I still really enjoyed this film.
For those of you who've read some of my earlier posts, you may remember that both Umrao Jaan films were a couple of the first Bollywood movies I'd seen. This one in particular lost me a little halfway through, as I felt it dragged. However, after re-watching it nearly a year and a half later, I liked it a whole lot more. I know, I know. I say that a lot about some of my earlier Bollywood experiences(Devdas, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the old Umrao Jaan and now this), but it's so true! Perhaps I'm more accustomed to reading the subtitles now. Or maybe, with this version of Umrao Jaan, I'm more familiar with the story and less taken aback by Aishwayra's beauty...She's still gorgeous, but the first time I saw this I was so in awe of the woman I think I found her beauty a distraction from subtitle reading.
Even though J.P. Dutta's version is extremely long (189 mins), when compared to the 1981 version (145 mins), it's my understanding that the director intended to portray the original novel instead of remaking the older film. Keeping that in mind, I'm beginning to think Umrao Jaan Ada is a whole lot of story to try to cram into a movie. I'd really like to get my hands on a translated version of the novel at some point, because I get the feeling there's quite a lot I'm missing here.
Aishwayra's Umrao was a far cry from Rekka's riveting performance, but she still held her own. It's just really, really hard not to compare the two. If you look at Ash's work by itself, she had some powerful scenes where she showed an appropriate amount of pain and sadness in her crystalline eyes. She looked amazing throughout the entire film, particularly in "Salaam", where I had to laugh out loud at how ridiculously beautiful she was. But when you hold this up to Rekka's Umrao, Ash pales in comparison. Rekka was beautiful, but in her own not-quite-so-perfect way, and she had tons more sex appeal. She cast the seductive spell a real courtesan would, as men were drawn to her soft "bedroom eyes" and demeanor as smooth and warm as maple syrup. Ash, on the other hand, was like a porcelain doll...if I was a man in her brothel, I'd be afraid to touch her, lest she'd break.
And while Rekka seemed subtly unaware and a bit surprised by her ability to bewitch Naweb Sultan, Ash appeared almost cocky when she pranced right over to him and assumed he'd be enamored with her beauty just like everyone else was (and, of course, she was right).
Abhishek did a pretty good job as Naweb Sultan, but lacked the elegance and maturity in Farooq Shaikh's performance. However, I think Sultan had quite a different storyline in this film...his character, in my opinion, was supposed to be a little bit immature (he couldn't handle a woman supporting him when he lost everything, so he left) and spoiled (seemed lost once Daddy kicked him out and went on a drinking binge), as the story called for him to let his ego get between his ability to love Umrao (couldn't deal with another man taunting him over his territory). I'm thinking Abhishek was probably a good choice for the role, though, because he didn't upstage Ash(as perhaps Shahrukh's fame or Hrithik's own pretty face would have done).
I realize it's probably not fair to compare these performances, but as I stated above, how can you not? Rekka, Farooq, and Naseeruddin Shah made those roles their own. I didn't even grow up on the classic and can see that!
Of course, this statement does not apply to Shabana Azmi. Her performance as Khannum was flawless, and uncannily "spot on" with the original (which I discovered was played by her real-life mother-Cool!)--if not better. The only unfortunate thing for me is that I have yet to see a Shabana Azmi film, and I can't really count this one since her role was so small. But since I read a lot of Bollywood blogs and magazines, it's clear just how respected she is as an actress. I can't wait to experience her in a more substantial role!
There were a few directional choices I really appreciated. Perhaps exclusive to my copy (a pirated DVD given to me as a gift from the fam), I thought the movie had a very beautiful yet "bleached out" kind of feel, like an Indian or Pakistani soap opera. Nonetheless, I liked that vibe, as it reminded me of watching television in Pakistan as a child.:) Another thing that was cool was the scene were Lord Sultan and Umrao consummate their relationship, a conclusion we draw by the pressure in their clasped hands. And, finally, I thought the scene where Umrao returns to her childhood home only to be shunned away was heartbreaking and effective. As Umrao walks away from her birth family, her brother slams the gate, which stops her in her tracks, a symbol of a closed chapter in her tragic life. Her eyes are glassy, but she's been through it all at this point, so she's almost unfazed. However, as we then get a close up of her seemingly cold hearted brother, we see tears budding in his own eyes as well. Powerful.
I liked this movie more than I thought I did. While it's far from perfect, it's still a good watch featuring some pretty people and sets. If you're going to enjoy it, be open-minded and try not to compare it to the original (like I did through this whole post!). Otherwise, you may be disappointed.
Text © Copyright 2008 Nida Nazir Bitten By Bollywood
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