For the first time in the approximately 125 Hindi films I've watched, I wanted the movie to be longer. I didn't quite get on board with Umrao and Nawab Sultan's love. I don't know the book at all, so I don't know if they're supposed to be tragic lovers on par with those in Devdas (sorry to keep referring to that), but I didn't quite see it. Of course, the movie is fairly understated in some ways, with a lot of emotions implied rather than expressed (and certainly not verbalized), so maybe I was supposed to assume something about their passion. I found him to be a bit of a wet blanket, and while I don't know if it's useful to compare this movie to the recent remake, I thought Abhishek Bachchan was much more powerful - and just plain interesting to watch - in this role.
At least, that's what I thought until I talked to Filmi Geek, and (to paraphrase) she proposed that the recent Umrao Jaan is a romantic-trauma-drama spin on the story and the earlier one is much more feminist, with Umrao's romance as just one component of her life. I like that assessment of the two versions of the story - and would love for someone to tell me about the book (my reading list is too long to add it at the moment) - and I think it can explain, or at least classify, a lot of the differences. As I did with Don, trying to view these as two unrelated movies is going to save me some headaches (if in fact I care about the differences, and I'm not sure I do).
Everyone talks about Rekha - whom I have actually seen very little of, and I know I'll have this performance in the back of my mind as I see more of her - but I want to put in a good word for Naseeruddin Shah, who in my opinion makes even the most unwatchable junk fun (Asambhav, anyone?). What were we to make of Gohar Mirza and Umrao's relationship, I wonder? I liked that they at least had some real affection for each other, even if it was more sibling-y than romantic. This was the element I had a hard time not comparing to the 2006 version (which I saw first, by the way), because that version of the character struck me as full-on creepy.
I'm not sure I actually enjoyed watching Umrao Jaan. Despite its beauty, it hurt. Her pain was not the type I empathize with it's impossible not to feel for her.
Aside to people who have seen this several times or have good memories: d