Shyam Benegal's film Mandi was set in a similar set up, narrating the gritty tale of a madame of a brothel (played brilliantly by Shabana Azmi) trying hard to make ends meet and protect her proteges . But then the similarity ends there. There's a world of difference between that delightfully poignant classic film and this trying so hard to be deep and meaningful mish mash of a film.
The film is set at a time when the country has just tasted independence and then the traumatic phase of partition begins. A promising plot, but the narrative is so burdened with unnecessary melodrama and jerky self indulgent moves that it neither moves you nor convinces you about the goings on.
One of the early scenes between two officials, one Hindu (Ashish Vidyarthi) and another Muslim (Rajjit Kapoor), who are assigned to evacuate people residing on the border of the proposed line between India and Pakistan. Half their faces are out of screen and one is left wondering if this is a technical glitch or the director's idea of being poignant about how partition affected the common man. The director then goes on to add some heavy duty cliches sinking the film further into the ground.
Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan)'s kothi is fatefully right on that line. When asked to leave her kothi, Begum decides to put up a fight with the help of her loyalist bunch of sex workers, a tough looking guard and two dogs. However, her valiant effort falls short of protecting herself or her girls.
Vidya Balan is fantastic as a fiery lioness out to protect her cubs. As a cynical madame who expects the world to just exploit and abuse, she spews fire so convincingly that one wishes she was a part of a far better film. The other performances are also pretty decent. But then the movie does no justice to their performances.