compare/contrast: Umrao Jaan and Bethelein

Abby and I saw Umrao Jaan today. I thought it was very pretty and not as bad as various reviews had led me to believe. I only looked at my watch once, and that was partly because I had to leave town not long after the end of the movie and was trying to figure out if I would have enough time after it finished to grab a quick bite to eat. It was sad, but not excessively so; it had a leisurely pace, but not excessively so; it had gorgeous costumes, excessively so, in a good way; it had footage proving why Abhishek deserves any and all "sexiest XYZ" list titles, and I can always use more of those.

[Pause to think about Abhishek. Damn.]

I don't have anything else in particular to say about it. As Umrao began her courtesan training, I found myself thinking, "Wow, I'm sure glad I wasn't taken away from my parents' house and plonked down in a school for companions of the rich and powerful." (Good thing, too; the instructors would never make back their investment.) And so began an idea for the usual post-film conversation with myself, one that, without this idea, would have been very brief indeed, consisting of me writing that Umrao Jaan was a not unpleasant three hours but I'll probably never watch it again.

Please know I mean no disrespect to the movie or its subject matter. I just didn't find it terribly interesting, apart from the visuals. I feel like this is a story I've heard a zillion times before in a variety of settings; this was an acceptable but uncompelling treatment of said story. I thought the performances were fine but not noteworthy. My favorite thing in the whole movie was Kulbhushan Kharbanda, whom I always enjoy.

compare/contrastUmrao Jaan*me
general arc of life storyMainly downward, with a few short-lived upturns and positive points. While not a conventional happy ending, she maintains her talents, creativity, and allure.In progress; mainly upward. To date, not kidnapped, sold into prostitution, or accused of infidelity by bloodthirsty nawab.
love interestCharming, handsome, absolutely irresistible, slightly cheeky Indian nobility with melt-your-heart smoldering stare.Ditto.
sidekick(s)/friend(s)Generally supportive parental stand-ins; generally supportive but occasionally jealous colleagues; helpful but secretively self-serving sidekick who turns rapist and then somewhat redeems himself by dying a freedom fighter.Oooh, I've got her there! 1) My real parents still love me and support my career choice. 2) My friends have never expressed any envy issues and are superwow companions in all endeavors, and some of them even watch Bollywood with me. 3) None of my male friends has grumbled about being a go-between for me and aforementioned love interest.
villain(s) As demonstrated, a sad and unlucky fate cannot be trumped.If present, any villain in my life is ill-defined - or maybe just really, really subtle. In high school I did have a largley unspoken rivalry with someone over class rank, but I think we've both moved past that. Plus I won.
careerHighly-paid but risky and volatile work as courtesan depends on the whims of pampered playboys. Staggering highs but wretched lows. Formidable work wardrobe. Strict but loving boss.Underpaid but ethically clean work as musuem educator entails hours staring at copmuter screen and keeping twelve-year-olds' grubbly little hands off of exhibits but promises vast spiritual rewards of encouraging learning and making the world a more interesting place. Can wear jeans to work but very rarely pearls, gold, or sparkly fabrics. Inspiring and sympathetic boss who has never encouraged me to hang out with armed robbers.
dialoguesClear winner. Poetic and poignant, if sometimes a teensy bit overly dramatic.Despite efforts to learn and usurp new vocabulary as often as possible, considerable room for improvement. Very few professionally-written Urdu lines in my life. Yet, anyway.
musicWhat was there was enjoyable.I've got the edge here, due to variety; while none of the songs in my life has been written specifically for me, I have a lot more of them at my disposal, drawing from a much greater span of geography/cultures, time periods, and styles - even though Umrao did have three hours' worth.
dancingVery compelling and expressive.At a major disadvantage due to not being professionally choreographed; also untrained. She looked much better dancing around to Hindi film music in her living room than I do.

As always, mucho thanks to my local art theater for showing Umrao Jaan and all the other Hindi films this year. Word on the street is that we'll get Dhoom 2 over the holidays.

* As portrayed in the 2006 version of the film. I have neither seen the earlier version nor read the book.


Aparna said…
Trust you to take a serious film and write an ejoyable and hilarious post on it...the comparisons!!! God!!!!
babasko said…
Damn, I wish I could remember the exact words of what Kulbuhushan said to Umrao when she helped him improve his poem. so i´ll stick with: Vah, vah, beti. Shabash.

I´m especially happy for you that your boss never made you hang out with armed robbers. though in the case of sunil here it might even be nice (that is without the whipping and torture part)
Anonymous said…
The Rekha version is the one movie my Mum ever cried over (keep in mind that my mum makes Grey's Anatomy's Dr Bailey look soft and cuddly )*I* watched it, and was totally unmoved. I attribute this to my being a robot. :S

and OMG, there was whipping? and torture? :O there's a guantanamo joke in there somewhere, i know it :D
Maja said…
Great idea for a post! :D
Anonymous said…
Umrao 2006 isn't fit to carry your, um, dupatta, that much is clear.

I didn't hate this movie, but I didn't really like it - it pains me to know that I'll probably buy the DVD just for purely superficial reasons - I have no desire to see the movie again but dayum! Shabana looked utterly smashing in it. It almost makes me wish I had the Abhishek gene so that I could get more than ten minutes of fan-girl swooning out of the film.
Hans Meier said…
Interesting table comparing you and Aishwarya Rai. Why isn't there a comparison of "looks" though?
Ha! It'd be a VERY short entry. :)

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