Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Sunil Shetty & Divya Dutta
Director: J P Dutta
Note: I have not seen the original, so there will be no comparison of the two films. Rather, I will review this movie as its own movie.
Remakes are the flavor of the season. Just two weeks after the release of Don, we have yet another remake in the form of Umrao Jaan. JP Dutta takes the challenge of recreating an all time classic. Considering the type of film Umrao Jaan is, it is awkward to see JP Dutta take over this film as he is well known for making guy films with war as the theme. But with the star cast he was provided with, the film had lots of promise to be a fine affair. So the big question is does Umrao Jaan captivate audiences with an enlightening cinematic experience? The answer is a tough one as it is indeed a well made film, but there are factors that will not appeal to everyone. Had these factors been avoided, the film would have been a much more pleasurable experience.
The main flaw that brings down the film is no doubt, the length of the film. The movie is over 3 hours long. This causes the film to be rather slow and it tends to drag at times. The movie has a great concept and story, but the pacing of it really hurts it. The editing by JP Dutta was done very poorly. He could have easily trimmed about a half hour from the movie. Another deterrent is the amount of songs the movie has. They come at times you least expect them and once again slows down the movie. These are the two main factors that hurt the movie. Other than that, this film did not really have that much going against it. I feel that if these two mistakes could have been prevented, the movie would have been appealing to all types of people rather than a selected audience. Nonetheless, the movie does have a lot going for it that makes it a film worth watching. The story is a strong point of the film. But this is obvious, or else the film would not have been remade. You watch the film and listen to Umrao telling her life story and you can’t help but feel for the poor woman and all that she has gone through. It is a story that all people should listen to, even if it is a little lengthy.
JP Dutta is known to be one of Bollywood’s most celebrated directors. But with Umrao Jaan, he is in foreign territory, as it is a film that is totally different from what you would expect from him. As the director, he struggles with the pacing of the film. JP the editor should be blamed for this more because it is surely to put off many people, especially today’s generation. They want to see hip, fast, and cool movies. Classy and contemporary films are not exactly their cup of tea. So making a long and slow film makes things even worse. But JP must be given credit as well for doing things right. He was able to bring the magic of Lucknow to the screen. It looks truly beautiful on screen. The sets and costumes are all something to behold. Props go to all people involved in those departments. He tells the story in a great fashion. You do not feel like the effort has been wasted. He leaves a great impact on you and the most important thing is he makes you sympathize with the protagonist. Even if you feel bored with the film, after enduring the whole film, it will hit you in the head and you will realize what you have just witnessed. Basically JP accomplishes what he set out to do. That is to get people to notice the story of Umrao Jaan the way he wants to tell it. This is a movie that stays with you even after the viewing is over because of the tragic occurrences that take place in the narrative. You cannot help but feel bad and it makes your heart wrench to see such things. It is usually the heartbreaking stories that stay with you longer than the happy ones. This one definitely delivers as promised. A job well done by Mr. Dutta for telling a great story, but we expect better from the editing department.
The music of the film is absolutely beautiful. I am not a big fan of classical music, but these songs are all a delight to listen to. Now as I mentioned before, there are way too many songs in the film, so I am not even going to analyze all of them because I do not even know the names of most of them (like I always say, lyrics don’t mean a damn thing when the music is good). All I can say is the picturization of all the songs are beautiful as we get to see Aishwarya do her wonderful mujras and be enthralled at the woman’s great dancing. The songs with Abhishek and Aishwarya were picturized beautifully as well. The two shared superb chemistry in the two songs. I will speak more on their on screen chemistry later. Anu Malik is definitely back with such a wonderful soundtrack. I must admit, I didn’t think he had it in him, but he proved me wrong. Let us hope he stops being a thief and provides us with more music like this. Truly one of the better soundtracks of the year, and that is saying a lot because this has been a great year for music.
It is well known that Rekha won a National Award for her performance in the original Umrao Jaan. That alone meant that Aishwarya had humongous shoes to fill. Now I have not seen the original Umrao, so I cannot comment on Rekha’s performance. All I can say is WOW after seeing Aishwarya in Umrao Jaan. I have never seen Aishwarya look this beautiful or act this well in her entire career. She looks ethereal and performs brilliantly. She absolutely gets into the skin of the character and not once do you feel you are watching Ash. It is Umrao all the way. This no doubt is a difficult role, and Ash takes to the role like a fish to water. I was speechless while watching her in this movie. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best performance of her career. If there was any justice in Bollywood, she would walk away with all the awards, but there is no justice, so you never know what’s going to happen. Seriously, there is no actress from today’s times that could have come close to what Aishwarya did with the role. All in all a simply remarkable performance that will take away the notion that she cannot act. This is one for the ages folks.
Abhishek Bachchan performs his role well, but it is a role that could have been played by anybody. But it is also a role that needs the work of a dependable actor, and that is exactly what Abhishek is. Obviously in a film dominated by Umrao, everyone else will look small and such is the case with the character of the Nawab. With the stature Abhishek possesses now, this is too small a role for him. Nonetheless, the man is reliable as always, and never disappoints. He just keeps on getting stronger as an actor and, for sure, leaves an impact even when he does not get much of the screen time. As for his chemistry with Aishwarya, well it is nothing short of electric. For those who think they don’t possess the heat and fire of a hot jodi after watching their first two films together, well think again. They looked beautiful together on screen and for sure it will be a delight to see these two together in many more films in the future. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.
Shabana Azmi is amazing as always. This woman never lets you down and she pulls it off again. There was much pressure on her to perform this role as it was the role her mother played in the original, bur she does an apt job. Watching her and Aishwarya together was truly a wonderful sight. She is an actress par excellence and she proves it yet again.
Sunil Shetty looks totally out of place in this movie. There could have been much better options for this role, but he does an alright job still. JP Dutta always brings out the best in Sunil, and does a decent job in this one as well. The only thing that bothered me was the mascara he was wearing. Seriously, take it easy, and don’t over do things man.
Umrao Jaan is a beautiful story that could have been presented better had it been a bit shorter. Even if the length is a turn off for most people, it should still be a movie to check out because of its great story and power packed performances, led by the magnanimous Aishwarya Rai. The movie is a tough pill to swallow because of its tragedy, but it is a pill that should still be digested. It is a good movie that could have been a great movie had it not been for its deficiencies. Watch Umrao Jaan and appreciate the definition of beauty.