Umrao Jaan (2006)

It could have become a long post because I wanted to crib a lot about the deficiencies in the movie. But somebody has already done the job. So, I’d just post the link here to this review on The title itself says a lot – “A lot of Ash, but not enough Umrao”. Very true.

Forget about the previous filmi incarnation of Umrao Jaan (1981 Rekha Starrer Movie), this one does not do justice even to the novel. This loyal and unlike-other-prostitutes Umrao is not the Umrao of the novel. I am not putting it in a demeaning sense. Just as a matter of fact. Umaro Jaan of the novel is fairly resigned to her fate and is pretty much like other prostitutes of her kind of upbringing. She does not wait for Nawab Sultan for all her life. She does not go with Faiz Ali to chase Nawab Sultan. That’s a completely independent decision. Nawab Sultan of the novel does not even ask her to wait. They just part. No drama, no emotions, no promises. There wasn’t even much of romance really. Their companionship was more of an intellectual nature. They shared the taste of poetry. This is completely lost in the story. And what with that romance in that house with very British Bungalow style windows and a swimming pool!! Total non-sense. The story of Nawab Sultan refusing to marry and then getting thrown out by his father etc. is actually that of another character in the novel, who was the lover of Bismillah. And he is insulted by Khanam Jaan at the request of his mother who wants him to marry and settle down.But it has the tragic ending of that person committing suicide instead of obeying his parents’ wishes. By the way, Nawab Sultan keeps claiming to be a Pathan!! Mind boggling. Probably that explains his rather Rajasthani style “saafa” in “Unnesween Sadi ka Lucknow”, but I really do not think Nawabs associated themselves with any Pathani heritage… If I am wrong here, please correct me.

When the movie started with Mirza Hadi Ruswa talking to Umrao Jaan, I thought this movie will more closely resemble the novel, but alas, it did not happen! And seeing the kind of distortions that has been brought in the story, all I will say is that even from the drama point of view the original novel had better settings. For example, Dilawar Khan had not directly sold Ameeran to Khanam Jaan. Rather he had sold her to someone called Kareem, whose occupation was to buy and sell girls to the brothels. While at Karim’s place Ameeran had met another girl. At a much later stage of the life she meets that girl again, but as the luck would have it, she found out that she was married to Nawab Sultan – the same Nawab Sultan whom Ameeran could never even think of getting (very unlike what is there in the movie of course)!! She meets Nawab in her presence. Once again, there were silent communications, but no drama, no emotions, no complains.

The life spent at Kanpur and one spent at Lucknow after Gadar is also lost. But all that had to happen because things do not fit in with the loyal, waiting-for-the-hero heroine that Umrao is in the movie. Nothing problematic except that then it is no different from most other dramatized bollywood love stories.

And the way it has been presented, the director has lost the opportunity of presenting a whole era through the movie by concentrating on the Umrao/Ameeran in a very Bollywoodized manner. In the novel, she is the narrator. So, its more a story from her point of view than a story solely featuring herself. It has stories about others, about the situation in the society, about relationships, about poetry and poetry lovers, about the royalty of Lucknow and so many things. But to put it in a typical bollywood situation, there has to be a larger than life hero and heroine. And real beauty of the story is lost – badly. The name “Umrao Jaan” has been misused in the movie.

I see that despite the attempts at not repeating things, the post has become big enough. Yeah, I suppose having read the novel rather recently, I can just go on and on cribbing about what non-sense has been made of the story itself. Rest of the problems are still there. One of which is a bad attempt at writing some of the Faizabad dialogues in Awadhi. Reminds me of some pathetic attempts at writing dialogues for Lalu in his own languages in some of the skits at IITK. The dialogues sound very awkward to the ears. They just do not come in the flow. It seems that while writing in Khadi Boli, the writer was suddenly reminded that it should sound like Awadhi and he introduced some modifications in the verbs here and there.

Anyway – not worth the time/money this movie is. No surprises – actors who are good otherwise – Aishwarya, Abhishek, Shabana Aazmi and some others have acted well for whatever role has been written for them. But a total spoil-sport is the person who has played the role of Mirza Ruswa. Pathetic is the only word that comes to my mind. And given that the opening scene starts with him, and he keeps chipping in every time the story returns from the flashback, you feel like banging your own head at having to see him. I can not recall such dumb acting in any of the Hindi Movies I have ever seen. He does not understand the meaning of anything he says. He just seems to be rattling off dialogues like rhymes narrated by a kid who has learned it by rote but does not know what it means. Its so funny to hear him keep repeating words like “karam” and “nawazish”. Any effect that ever gets created with the normally dumb story falls flat after Mirza Ruswa puts down a dialogue, supposedly in Urdu, followed by “Nawazish”!!

Allah khair kare…

Something I had written after reading the book is here.

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About Jaya

Jaya Jha is an entrepreneur, a techie, a writer and a poet. She was born and brought up in various towns of Bihar and Jharkhand. A graduate of IIT Kanpur and IIM Lucknow, she realized early on that the corporate world was not her cup of tea. In 2008, she started, one of the first print-on-demand publishing platform in India. She currently lives in Bangalore and divides her time between writing and working on her company's latest product InstaScribe ( with a vision to make it the best e-book creation tool. Blog: Twitter: @jayajha Facebook:

6 thoughts on “Umrao Jaan (2006)

  1. Pingback: Umrao Jaan ‘Ada’ « Miles to go…

  2. Your lalu scripts just made me ask: have u heard that song by IIT Kgp students in bhojpuri- “hum kgp aye ni”
    “Duniya iit kgp ke no.1 samjhela hai, lekin most of the janja yahan frust rahela!!!”
    Though i couldn’t understand much, the song seemed to b a good attempt.

  3. I just watched the movie. I haven’t read the original novel, so have nothing to compare it to, but I agree with you about Mirza Ruswa, he was bloody annoying! His urdu was so off, it was embarrassing.

  4. yes that was such an absolute kachra movie. despite all the shareefization of umrao in the oh so loyal interpretation by aishwariya, in terms of her intiha se ziyada bazaari ada in the songs, ash has made umrao into a bigger tawaaif than she ever was. no high-class tawaaif would put on such ‘kajra re’ expressions. terribly bad urdu pronunciation by abishek and in general by most people. whoever wrote the script, the khariboli wasn’t even grammatically correct! watching the movie was such a horrible experience. except for the khusro piece, the other songs were also hopelessly pedestrian.

    agree with your review 100%. except yes many many of the nawaabs were actual pathans but probably weren’t going around essentializing their pathanness and issuing threats like hooligans.

  5. You would be surprised to hear that bulk of nawabs in india were of pathan heritage. Lucknow was ruled by shia persian nawabs though. Their rival nawabs were bangash pathans of farrukhabad who were no less in prestige than those of awadh. Another important line of nawabs in U.P was yousafzai-rohilla pathans of rampur. Sherwani pathans of aligarh were also nawabs.
    Outside U.P, tonkia pathans of rajasthan and orakzai pathans of bhopal were also nawabs. Nawabs of jonagadh, palanpur , malerkotla, saravun etc were also pathans.

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