What caste does Aishwarya Rai belong to
A journey into Indian history
A film review by Mike Swain
Umrao Jaan belongs to a genre that has almost died out in European cinema: the melodrama. But above all, the film is a vehicle to stage the enchanting Miss World from 1994 Aishwarya Rai. The fact that the main male role is played by her husband Abhishek Bachchan will only delight Bollywood fans even more.
Umrao Jaan is based on a classic of Indian literature, the novel Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa from 1904. In 1840, 8-year-old Amiran was kidnapped in Faizabad and sold to the brothel owner Khannum Jaan (Shabana Azmi) in Lucknow. Khannum Jaan names the girl Umrao Jaan and trains her to be a courtesan. Umrao Jaan learns the art of conversation, poetry and - very important for an Indian film - dancing and singing.
Even at her first public appearance, the nobleman Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan) falls for Umrao's perfect beauty. Anyone who has a little knowledge of Indian culture already knows that such a relationship across class and caste barriers simply cannot last despite all the oaths of love. Nawab Sultan is disinherited by his father and leaves Lucknow to seek his fortune in neighboring Grahi. But Umrao has another admirer, the dark and very rich Faiz Ali (Sunil Shetty). Faiz Ali asks Umrao to accompany him on a trip. Umrao, who has no interest in Faiz Ali's advances, agrees as she hopes to find Nawab Sultan. When Faiz Ali realizes that he will never be able to win Umrao for himself, he does everything in his power to bring her misery.
Director J.P. Dutta dares to come along Umrao Jaan a luxurious and romantic excursion into the history of the Indian subcontinent. Mostly shot on original locations in Lucknow, the interiors and costumes are reminiscent of a fairy tale from 1001 nights. The music is also very different from the usual Bollywood pop. The songs penned by Anu Malik are deeply rooted in Indian folklore and support the contemporary color of the film. Only the scenes in which Umrao and Nawab Sultan swear eternal love for minutes will put some viewers to a test of patience. And fewer close-ups from Aishwarya Rais, admittedly very beautiful eyes, would have been good for the film as well.
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