NRI Pulse


Movie Review

Manisha Koirala and Sonakshi’s powerplay lights up Heeramandi

By Durga Chakravarty

From adab, adaa and aiyashi to power, love and the spirit of freedom blended with an eye-watering star cast plus Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s trademark opulence and period music has ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’ ticking all the right boxes for a binge-worthy watch.

Some may love it, some may find it a tad complicated because of the number of parallel story lines, but the magnum opus series just cannot be ignored. The cast led by Manisha Koirala, yet another industry veteran who has made a spectacular comeback, and Sonakshi Sinha breathe life into the script and resurrect the place (Lahore’s notorious red light area, the melting pot of the British, the nawabs, the courtesans and freedom fighters), the period (the 1940s), and the transitions that make the series a snapshot of a time of ferment.

Divided into eight episodes, each an hour long, the series takes off from the time when Manisha Koirala’s Mallika Jaan becomes the ‘huzoor’, the madame of the courtesans and Heeramandi’s reigning queen. Her antagonist is a feisty Fareedan, played like a tigress by Sonakshi, who’s out to wreak revenge on Malika Jaan for having murdered her mother, Rehana, also played by Sonakshi. And Rehana just happened to be Mallika Jaan’s elder sister.

The spotlight of the series is on the scheming Mallika Jaan, who rules over a house of elite courtesans called Shahi Mahal, where young nawabs come of age and learn about the ways of the world. But Fareedan threatens to change all that, even as the fight for freedom outside gains momentum.

Love and betrayal are an integral part in the series, giving it its moments of high drama, with Richa Chadha’s character Lajjo leaving an imprint as a delusional tawaif immersed in love with Adhyayan Suman’s Nawab Zulfikar, who leaves her to marry a “memsaab”.

And Aditi Rao Hydari, who essays the part of Bibbojaan, looks every inch stunning both as a courtesan and as a rebel fighting for ‘azaadi’ in her own secretive way, relaying the intelligence that she gathers from her British patrons to those fighting for the nation’s freedom. Her acting prowess contributes to the qualitative heft of the series.

But it is the power struggle play between Mallika Jaan and Fareedan, and their chess moves to outwit each other, that keeps the viewer glued to the screen.

It adds that tension to the script, which does show up some loose ends in the later episodes. Every moment Mallika Jaan and Fareedan are on screen, they just own it.

Then there is Sanjeeda Sheikh’s character Waheeda, who has a Midas touch but with a twist — everything she touches doesn’t turn into gold but dust. Right from the beginning, when she fights to become the ‘huzoor’, to wanting her own mahal named ‘Khwabgah’, to seeking revenge on Mallika Jaan or wanting to make an English high-ranking officer her ‘sahab’ — nothing ever works out for Waheeda.

The intertwining stories of the conflicting ambitions of Sharmin Segal (Alam Zeb), a courtesan dreaming of becoming a poet, and Taha Shah Badussha (Tajdar Baloch), a nawab and hotelier’s son torn between ‘ishk’ and ‘inquilab’, between his destiny as he sees it and the destiny chosen for him by his family, starts as a beautiful watch but slows down later.

In their star-crossed story, the adorable and ageless Farida Jalal, who plays Tajdar’s grandmother, Qudsia Begum, will make you fall in love with her all over again.

Bhansali’s debut OTT series is worth your time, with Manisha and Sonakshi, looking resplendent in their period outfits as they sink their claws into each other, making it clear that they are here to stay and take their crowns back.

There’s talk of a second season in the works and the scene moving to the transition of the courtesans into the world of Hindi cinema. The season that has just unfolded does certainly amp up the anticipation for it.

SHOW DETAILS

Web Series: ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’.

Streaming on Netflix, eight episodes.

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Cast: Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Sharmin Segal, Shekhar Suman, Adhyayan Suman, Fardeen Khan, Taha Shah Badusha and Farida Jalal

Rating: ***

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