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Heeramandi Review - Sanjay Leela Bhansali is now a genre and his poetic grandeur stands unparalleled

Heeramandi is not bulletproof, but Bhansali has the power to sabotage the shortcomings with his grandeur, and he does that quite well.

Heeramandi Review - Sanjay Leela Bhansali is now a genre and his poetic grandeur stands unparalleled
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Heeramandi Review

Last Updated: 12.30 PM, May 01, 2024


In pre-independence India, the Tawaifs rule Heeramandi in Lahore. Nawabs are under their thumbs, and the British are on their doorsteps. However, the women there cannot love because love always brings doom for Heeramandi. But one woman decides to fall for a man, and another falls in love with the idea of her country's independence. Doom walks to Heeramandi’s doorsteps, and now the Tawaifs must rise again.

Heeramandi: Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s art transcends the confines of genres. He is not claiming the accuracy of his historical facts, nor does he promise to give you the most authentic tales of the times his films are set in. His stories are fragments of his imagination, and how even a sheet of plastic manages to float with the wind aesthetically, looking beautiful, is what is fascinating. It is how he looks at this world with its pros and cons but also a lacing of opulence where even a golden thread obeys him. The women in his world dare to go against the grain and fight for their rights. His mastery at finding a warrior in every woman and surrendering to feminine energy is the root of all his stories. He delves into the muckiest corners of his stories to find the most beautifully blooming flower and shows you the grandness of that surroundings. Remember when a half-cut plastic Fevicol container was a flower pot in Gangubai Kathiawadi but it still looked more expensive than art pieces?


Now, with an army of spectacular actors, a story like Heeramandi, where women are viewed as nuisances, but for themselves are the Queens of Lahore, Bhansali has a playground of his dreams, a canvas he ever craved for, and a scale no one can imagine. Heeramandi, which is Moin Beg’s concept, written and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Vibhu Puri, Mitakshara Kumar, and a team of directors and writers, sets out to tell the stories of the courtesans who once ruled Lahore in pre-independence India. It is a place where tragedies are normal days and normal days are a luxury. It opens with a woman selling a newborn boy to a Nawab because if he stays in Heeramandi, he will either have to become a pimp or a eunuch. Bhansali begins his magic from this first frame.

He tells you this is not just his grandeur but now he is also open to incorporating violence in the narrative. The Bhansali of yore, who would dial down the notches when a violent turn came, is now okay with storylines that enter that territory. He embodies this in Malikajaan, a woman so complex that while being a dreaded madame to a kotha, she is also a woman who tells another woman that she respects her love for a spoiled Nawab. She is a woman who has seen the rise, the shine, the flicker, and the doom of Heeramandi firsthand. She now reigns over it and makes the dark side of it her face. She is okay selling a woman to compensate for a lost pearl but is also humane enough to keep them all safe. Manisha Koirala is a stunner. A performance everyone will remember for a long while. Each note is done to absolute perfection and panache. How did no one see this before in her?

There are so many layers that Bhansali attempts to create and even succeeds in most of the places. Heeramandi is certainly not an easy show to make. There is detail in every corner of this world. He is trying to teach you the culture of Tawaifs, what Mehfils meant to them, who were Nawabs to them with his grandeur. The poetry of pain that lurks in Heeramandi is a very interesting leitmotif. These women love their Nawabs, but for most of these Nawabs, they are just pawns to pass the time before they find a wife. Richa Chadha gets the most heart-breaking character as she craves affection. The actor steals the show in a very limited role and this is the Richa we have been craving to see. An absolutely stellar performance that is perfect. But I wish she had more and her arc doesn't contribute much to the story after her absence. It all feels like a filler.

Heeramandi is the Bhansali magic stretched to 8 hours, unlike the 3-hour limit we have witnessed for the past three decades. And to consistently keep the poetry alive for 8 long hours is not easy. It flickers and you can see it. It does the most when it focuses on the central love story of Tajdaar and Alamzeb (Sharmin Segal). The love story strays far from the poetry and is more of tokenism to advance the narrative. It is also because of a restrained performance from Segal, that feels more like someone trying to be a Bhansali heroine rather than organically blending into the surroundings. There's a long way to go. 

But that isn't the only problem. You can see the makers avoiding topics that will consume more time. The women are introduced in haste, men are not given screen presence beyond the women. Fardeen Khan is supremely underused, Malikajaan abruptly accepts the rebel, the change in heart in many characters is too sudden, and the show comes to the fight for freedom too late and wraps it up in haste. You can see it all.

But the magician Sanjay Leela Bhansali is also aware of all of this as he very cleverly sabotages it all with his opulence and good performances. Sonakshi Sinha as Fareedan is devilish and so fun to watch. She does the most heinous of things but unapologetically, and Sinha plays the part so well. Aditi Rao Hydari is now a patent Bhansali heroine as she gets everything perfectly and does that with a very effortlessly grand screen presence. Sanjeeda Shaikh gives a very nuanced performance as Waheeda. The tragedy around her makes her such a layered part. Sanjay Leela Bhansali also goes the Vishal Bhardwaj way where he places two maids to the Tawaifs as the characters who serve as a perspective to the show (Remember Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah in Maqbool?). Taha Shah Badussha is a surprise package as Taajdar. The actor takes his job seriously and gives a very heartfelt performance. I am excited to see what he does next. 

The music of Heeramandi might not be received as other popular albums by Sanjay Leela Bhansali but is more rooted in the culture than ever. There are thumri, Dadra, lyrics that are deep in meaning, and tunes that will grow on you with time. The costumes are impeccable, the choreographies are immaculate. Richa Chadha’s mujra is the highlight, and you must watch it only for the range this woman can bring to the table. Do we need to discuss the sets?

Heeramandi Review: Final Verdict

Heeramandi is an opulent and wild ride where Sanjay Leela Bhansali goes a couple of steps closer to violence. The show is not bulletproof, but the man has the power of sabotaging the shortcomings with his grandeur, and he does that pretty well.

Heeramandi reelases on Netflix on May 1, 2024. Stay tuned to OTTplay for more such reviews and everything else from the world of streaming and films.


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