Imagine a bakery where a multilayered cake is being prepared for a grand occasion. Bakers with years of experience are applying the final touches - the icing and the decorations. A layer of butter-cream is first applied. Beautiful designs are then rendered using a pastry bag, and finally decorations made of fondant are added.
And then it is served on the most magnificent platter. With lustful greedy eyes, the patrons of the bakery approach the cake. They take a large spoon and thrust it into the core, the very heart of the cake, trying to scoop-out the perfect bite - all the layers at once. But all they find is a vacuum, an unexplainable emptiness. The base of the cake is missing. Only the icing and the decorations have survived.
Viewers coming out of J P Dutta's Umrao Jaan will be able to fathom that hurt.
Umrao Jaan is an exotic, beautiful tapestry of varied images, but sadly that does not make it a good movie. It is a soulless body, the soul having been washed away by Aishwarya Rai's excessive glycerine-induced tears.
Over the last few weeks, a lot has been written about this Abhishek-Aishwarya starrer. Comparisons have been drawn (and will continue to be drawn) to the 1981 classic namesake directed by Muzaffar Ali. But let us keep all these comparisons aside and try and give a fair judgement of this movie based on its merits (or lack of them).
The movie is based on Mirza Mohammed Haadi Ruswa's novel Umrao Jaan Ada. The novel, first published in 1905, is considered by many to be the first great modern Urdu novel.
The story, set in middle of the 19th century just before the Sepoy Mutiny, revolves around a little girl from Ghaziabad called Amiran who is kidnapped and sold to a madam called Khanum Jaan (Shabana Azmi) in Lucknow. Amiran grows up to become Umrao (Aishwarya Rai), a courtesan so famous that it is said that if Lucknow is the heart of Avadh, then Umrao Jaan is the heartbeat.
In a world where money rules and women are sold for the night to the highest bidder, Umrao does the forbidden - falls in love with Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan), and finds that her love is reciprocated in equal measure.
But a tawayaf (courtesan) is not allowed to fall in love, and destiny's cruel hand separates the two lovers. The breaking of the mutiny and Faiz Ali's (Suniel Shetty) amorous advances add more havoc to her life.
On paper the movie has a lot going for it. Big Bollywood stars, Shabana Azmi, great publicity and a huge budget. But all this to no avail since the director has decided that he wants to make the mother of all tear-jerkers.
He has succeeded. For, at the end of the movie, and during the interval and at several other points, the viewer will feel like crying over the wasted 2 hours and 50 minutes he could have utilised doing something useful - like cleaning his toenails.
Close-ups are a very powerful cinematic device, but only if used judiciously and with restraint. In this movie, though, every second shot gives you an opportunity to count the wrinkles on Aishwarya's face (psst, she is 33 now - it was bound to happen) or see the adhesive used on Kulbhushan Kharbanda's false beard.
The forgettable music by Anu Malik adds to the film's woes.
A few decent performances by veterans Shabana Azmi and Himani Shivpuri save the day (well, not the entire day, just a few minutes). Abhishek Bachchan turns in a controlled and gritty performance. Watch out for the standoff between him and Shabana.
Many years from now, trivia geeks and film aficionados would remember this movie for one thing - Shabana Azmi played the same role her mother Shaukat Azmi immortalised in the 1981 original.
So let's stop the brouhaha and take the party somewhere else. Dhoom 2 is coming after all, and trailers look awesome.