When you have a big banner, a groundbreaking director and an amazing set of high-rank actors and people rushing to the cinemas to compare it to the previous film it has been a remake of...who isn't going to expect big numbers at the box office? Big numbers...so be it, but sometimes weak films weave magic at the box-office and Umrao Jaan Ada is one of them.
Eight year old Ameeran [Aishwarya Rai] is kidnapped by Dilawar Khan, an ex-criminal who was sent to prison with the help of Ameeran's father and does it to seek avengance. Dilawar takes her to a brothel owned by Courtesan, Khanum Sahib [Shabana Azmi] who takes young Ameeran with the small amount of a few rupees. Khanum Sahib names Ameeran Umrao and gives her away to Hussaini who teaches her good manners and educates her. When Umrao comes of age is time for her to perform her first mujra in a wedding, where she meets her love Nawab Sultan [Abhishek Bachan], the two of them embark on a relationship until Nawab Sultan is disowned by his father and is forced to leave Lucknow for Ghadi. Faiz Ali, a dacoit, comes to the brothel and sets eyes upon Umrao and falls in love with her. He promises to take her to Ghadi, where Umrao's Nawab is. She accepts and journeys to Gadhi only to find her intentions shattered by Faiz's schemes. Nawab sends Umrao back to Lucknow, but as they pass through Faizabad, Umrao's old home, she visits her folk's home, only to find out that they too have forgotten her. Umrao is forced to go back to being Umrao again and is doomed to live as Umrao, the courtesan forever.
The way the film starts with the old man being carried to Umrao's brothel by her voice and then being told the story by Umrao herself is excellent. This idea works and J.P. Dutta scores points while thinking out such a great way to narrate the film. However, the film from there becomes slow, uninformative and exceedingly long consisting of annoying songs which only add to the slowness of the film and the dialogues, although poetic are too self-explanatory. for example:
"Aap se bhetar ye kaun jaanega, kyon ki aap khud ek mashoor shayar hain," What is the need for that, J.P. should have though of another way to develop the characters rather than other characters doing it for him. The film works but only in patches, Ameeran's arrival at the brothel, Umrao's accounts with Khanum Sahib and the mujras are all glorious to watch, but the music and lyrics are nothing but annoying.
Cinematography, locations, dialogues, choreography, costumes and acting are all very well done, giving Umrao Jaan that very glossy look, but apart from that there is nothing there. Aishwarya's performance is probably her best, finally the woman has learnt how to gain the label of an actress and has shown the world that she isn't just a beauty queen. Abhishek is good too, but we all know he can do much better. Shabana Azmi is excellent, the film is shared between her and Aishwarya equally. Suniel Shetty is really annoying with his drunken attitude and the constant buzzing around Umrao makes you want to slap him. The rest of the cast are ok.
Overall, Umrao Jaan again sounds and looks good on celluloid but going into the film deeply shows you there is nothing there but a slow, unprovoking and long affair which is completely opposite of what Umrao Jaan should've been.
A lackluster film from J.P.