Posted: 03 November 2006 at 11:36pm
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Saturday November 4, 02:19 AM Hindustan Times
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Abhishek Bachchan,
Aishwarya Rai, Suniel Shetty
Direction: JP Dutta
Rating:** and amp; 1/2
Salaam Salaam Ash my jaan, you most gorgeous woman on this planet. As the burqa veil rises, hearts go aflutter. You can almost sense the skip-a-heartbeat collective all around the audi: It's not just Abhishek Bachchan as Nawab Sultan whose breath she takes away. Then again, put Ash on screen with Taj Mahal in the background as JP Dutta does - that's pure beauty being redefined for cinema.
Celluloid perfection? Here's the catch. Like the posters of the film itself, you sense Aishwarya Rai is gorgeous perfect as long as she is a still frame. As the ghagra twirls, as the ghungroos ring, all those ghosts of Rekha come pouring into your mind's eye all over again. The bitter truth dawns: You need raw screen presence to obliterate what Rekha did 25 years ago. And, Ash jaan, you don't have it in you. It's one thing, babe, to strut your stuff in itsy-bitsies for Dhoom 2 (we l-o-o-ve that, koi shaque?). Nazaqat and plastic however don't go together.
Still, Aishwarya is the best thing about JP Dutta's Umrao Jaan. At least she regales with her looks. Which brings us to one vital lesson the veteran filmmaker should learn from this experience: Stick to your boys-and-their-war-toys flicks, JP saab. Macho movies are fine, let all this poetry-shoetry be for Muzaffar Ali.
Umrao Jaan 2006 is Dutta's three hour-plus glossy shot at poetry-shoetry that simply doesn't end (I was actually, warily checking if my nails had grown substantially by the time the film ended). It is the story of Amiran, based on Mirza Mohammed Hadi Ruswa's 1904 novel, Umra-O-Jaan-E-Ada.
As a child, Amiran is kidnapped and sold to a kotha. She will, in the years to come, become the beauteous courtesan Umrao Jaan. The film traces her love for Nawab Sultan, and dacoit leader Faiz's (Suniel Shetty) pining for her. There is, of course, a tragic conclusion to the tale.
If the film's snail pace was not bad enough, Dutta's lack of historic authenticity stands out like thorns in the scenic set-up. Abhishek's headgear, for instance, doesn't look Awadhi at all and most of the palaces are distinctly Rajasthani havelis. All this, in a film that was meant to recreate bygone Lakhnavi grandeur.
While on Abhishek, he is grossly underutilised - to the point that it makes one wonder if he agreed to do the film just because Ash is in it.
Shabana Azmi as Khanum Sahib, owner of the kotha, takes the acting honours - with Azmi, did you expect anything less? Still, Shabana's prop act is not enough to save Umrao Jaan from being bejaan affair.