By Murtaza Ali Khan
Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews
Begum Jaan is the latest in the series of disappointing films starring Vidya Balan in the lead role. It is a trend that started in 2013 with Rajkumar Gupta’s Ghanchakkar and continued with films like Shaadi Ke Side Effects, Bobby Jasoos, Hamari Adhuri Kahaani, Te3n, and Kahaani 2.
Begum Jaan, directed by Srijit Mukherji, is the remake of Mukherji’s Bengali film Rajkahini (2016). Begum Jaan costars Rajit Kapoor, Vivek Mushran, Chunky Pandey, Ashish Vidhyarthi, Gauahar Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, and Pallavi Sharda.
It wouldn’t be outrageous to describe Begum Jaan as cinematic disaster of epic proportions that not only lacks purpose but also is devoid of entertainment that viewers seek in commercial movies. Let’s look at the various factors that make Begum Jaan a colossal failure.
1. Vidya Balan’s failure to deliver an effortless performance
Over the years Vidya Balan had managed to carve a niche for herself with her effortless acting as evident right from her very first major film Parineeta. She continued the trend with memorable performances in films like Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Ishqiya, Paa, The Dirty Picture, and Kahaani. In all these films she portrayed her characters with a sense of serenity and calmness. Many even started calling her ‘female Aamir Khan’. But last few years have been terrible for Balan. She has been getting meaty roles in films purely on the basis of her reputation. But for how long can she continue like this? With Begum Jaan she seems to have hit the rock bottom. It is really heartbreaking to see someone like her struggle so desperately to prove her worth as an actress and that’s precisely where she falters. The end result is a performance that looks rather forced and unnatural.
2. Waste of two superb actors Ashish Vidyarthi and Rajit Kapur
Ashish Vidyarthi and Rajit Kapur are two of the finest character actors working in the industry today. Both are capable of playing a wide range of roles. Both have proves their worth time and again with remarkable performances across various media: be it film, theatre, or television. Alas, Begum Jaan fails to do justice to their acting talents! Here they are merely made to look like dummies that just talk placidly without managing to convey any emotions reflective of the tumultuous times they live in. The situation is made worse by strange camera framing (probably an artistic choice made by the director and the DOP) wherein we only get to see less than half of their faces during important conversations.
3. Vulgarity and profanity just for the sake of it
Begum Jaan is replete with vulgar and offensive content that would turn off most family viewers. Occasional vulgarity can be overlooked but when it's done deliberately it can often be a turn off as is the case with Begum Jaan. We do get it that it’s an A-rated film but even then offensive content shouldn’t be there for the sake of it. Also, it is always better to be more subtle and implicit rather than being too straight and explicit.
4. Srijit Mukherji’s poor direction
Srijit Mukherji’s direction appears to be colorless and purposeless at times. The screenplay is certainly not bad but the way he directs his actors reflects a sense of uncertainty on his part. It is quite possible that the nerves got to him, given this happens to be his Bollywood debut! But in a medium like cinema the approach that a director adopts to direction can make all the difference in the world. Sadly, that’s exactly where Mukherji falters.
5. Chunky Pandey’s over the top villain act
Chunky Pandey's over the top act in Begum Jaan not only looks phony but also annoying. Apparently, he is trying to imitate Sanjay Dutt's Kancha Cheena from Agneepath but what he ends up delivering is nowhere near to it. Pandey is certainly better off doing his one off comic acts in comedy films. But, if he wants to try his hands at serious stuff he must first be ready to do some homework.
6. Desperate attempt to make it look artistic
The makers of Begum Jaan try really hard to make it look artistic. The director ought to take a leaf or two out of the world of Shyam Benegal (it is to be noted that Begum Jaan is loosely inspired by Shyam Benegal's 1986 film Mandi’) to get an idea of what artistic feels and looks like. Color palettes, costumes and set decoration alone cannot make a movie look artistic. The process works inwards as well as outwards. In a desperate attempt to look artistic, Begum Jaan somewhere seems to have lost its entertainment edge.
7. The movie runs for too long unnecessarily
Another major area of concern with Begum Jaan is its runtime. It runs for at least 20 minutes extra than necessary. Tighter editing could have given the movie better pacing and structure. Certain sections of the movie appear to be completely incoherent and useless and could have been easily done away with.
A version of this review was first published in Wittyfeed.
Begum Jaan Trailer (YouTube)
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