The depiction of a brothel Madam who dictates the life of her family of sex workers during partition torn era.
Director Srijit Mukherji shows us the emotional side of the world’s oldest profession where the business of feeding sexual pleasure to customers has always been one of earning for the woman’s livelihood & survival. Begum with her family including an aged mother (Ila Arun) & a young girl conduct their business in a huge Kotha that coincidentally becomes the dividing line area per the Radcliffe commission report that partitioned India & Pakistan. What follows later is Begum Jaan’s utter obstinacy & self pride in refusing to move out despite humble requests & formal eviction notices served by the partition working committee & local police. Harshvardhan (Ashish Vidyarthi) as the INC rep with his Muslim League friend Ilias ( Rajit Kapoor) frustrated by her taunts & challenge solicit the help of the local goon Kabir ( Chunky Pandey ) to evict her out. The gristly climax where Begum Jaan with her family sacrifice their cause though poignant & tragic sadly fails to stir any humane connect. The fact she herself a few months earlier forced a young woman who sought shelter from her torrid past to the hungry demands of the local Raja Saheb ( Naseerudin Shah) seems to have been an acceptable deed indeed for the honourable Begum .. probably in the name of making her masters happy.
Cinematography of the Punjab border town is a treat , Lyrics by Kausar Munir are redeemed largely by the Climax song “Woh Subah” a superb rendition of the 1958 famed ” Phir Subah hogi” . The “family” of women perform their supporting cast with conviction. Vidya Balan enacts a powerful Begum Jaan character- head strong, arrogant & business like with a buxom figure & bold cleavage revealing character that the role demands and extracts from her with aplomb. But if you expect the movie to highlight the recent trend of feministic themes then you may be a tad disappointed. A 4/5 for me .. kudos to Balan Jaan !!!!
– By V BADRINARAYAN