JP Dutta is known for the length of his movies . His last movie (L.O.C) has the distinction of being one of the longest Hindi movies ever made . A running time of 4+(F-O-U-R) hours . 2 intervals. The longest song shown on-screen ( 13 min!!) . So it was not without some apprehension that I went to see his latest , Umrao Jaan (UJ) . Not that I have anything against long movies . Border . Hum Aapke Hain kaun . Khakee . Completely different movies . Different Directors . Different themes. All of them 3+ hours in length. But they’re engaging movies , which held your attention till the end. It just goes to show that even though a movie may be 3+ hours in length , it doesn’t mean that the movie is boring .
The verdict ? Not by any stretch of imagination is UJ a bad movie . In fact , it is one of the better movies to come out this year . But a movie 3+hours in length needs the little extra-something ( “je ne se quoi” as the French call it ) to keep the viewer engaged . And sadly that’s missing in this movie .
Since the movie is based on the novel of the same name , the director already has a good storyline to work with . He had already made it clear the he was not going for a remake of the 1981 movie . In case you didn’t know , it’s the tragic story of a girl who gets kidnapped form he village as a child and is forced to work as a twayif (courtesan).
The movie belongs to Aishwarya Rai . She looks absolutely stunning throughout the movie (reviewer bias? Sorry about that ladies. ) and has a air of grace , confidence and elegance about her ( You can easily see why she was Miss Universe ) Her acting throughout the movie was superb and is surely one of her better performances . She manages to convey the pathos of her (overly)tragic character with aplomb. But I felt that she was unconvincing in some of the scenes though ( She seemed quite happy to be chosen by the Nawab for her “services” , which I found a bit hard to digest ) Her dances were also quite good .
Abishek Bachan was good in the role of the Nawab (Her main love-intrest) . He has that mixture of arrogance and confidence that’s required of a nawab. Although I found the scene where he stabs a another customer after declaring himself as a genuine Pathan offspring quite hilarious(Not what the director intended , I’m afraid) .
Most of the supporting cast is competent . But the one who stands out the most is Shabana Azmi , who as the Madame of the brothel , dominates every scence that she appears in .
A period movie demands attention to detail and authenticity . In this aspect , I found the movie to be a bit underwhelming . The costumes were perfect and suitably extravagant . The outdoor sets conveyed the feeling and ambiance of 19th century , nawab-infested Lucknow quite nicely . The indoor sets , although looking quite good , weren’t good enough . They looked a bit lackluster and really could have been much better .I felt that throughout the movie the peripheral characters and extras were not used properly…somehow the extravagance , over-indulgence and thezeeb of the era was not brought on to the screen as it should have…
Anu Malik has composed some of the best music of his career for this movie . The songs and the accompanying mujras are excellent, with fine choreography , although Ash looks a bit stiff in some of the steps . This brings me to one of the major drawbacks of the movie. Though the mujras form an integral part of the movie, they are over extended and too many of them . Most of them could have easily shortened. The same thing happens in other parts of the movie.( More on that later. )
A movie based on a novel ( especially a tragedy like UJ) reqiues some deft direction to bring the story on screen and characters to life ( And not end up Like Sanjay Leela Bansali’s Devdas ) . Most of the scenes have been handled quite well by JP Dutta , with minimal melodrama and liberal use of obvious poetic imagery throughout the movie . Most are quite good , but some of the scenes and dialogues (very few ) seem straight out of an Ekta Kapoor soap opera. The liberal use of esoteric Urdu also makes following some of the lines a bit difficult .
But unfortunately he remains oblivious of the length of the scenes . The one with a drunk Abishek trying to argue with Ash being a case-in-point. Just like the Energizer Bunny , it goes on and on , and what sounded like a good idea on paper comes out quite flat on-screen.
Like an over-indulgent parent, JP Dutta just doesn’t know when to say stop. With some better editing , I really felt that 30 minutes could have been easily removed from the movie without affecting it much and giving a dramatic improvement to the pace of the movie .
I’d have to say that UJ is a fine effort . This is not the kind of movie that will be liked by everybody . It’s quite bleak and depressing . It’s definitely not a time-pass or masala movie . I f you liked morbidly tragic movies like Chandni Bar or Omkara , you’ll probably like this movie too . The biggest drawback is it’s 3 hour running time .There aren’t simply enough really interesting moments to fill up those 3 hours. How ever if you’re patient (and stoical) enough to sit throughout it , you’ll find it a somewhat rewarding movie. Don’t watch it expecting another UJ(1982) or Memoirs of a Geisha ( a movie with a similar plot. . Quality and in artistic accomplishment in commercial Hindi movies does not exist anymore…