If there is any male director alive who made the authentic portrayal of Indian women focusing on all its flesh and blood of individuality it’s Shyam Benegal. . Benegal is always interested in human stories and exploring complexities in them, but not provides judgments and answers. His most of the films have a strong individual and unconventional woman who breaks patriarchal and irrational social conventions and embrace her fate with struggle of life.
The film is an autobiographical account of once famous now extinct thumri singer named Sardari Begum. The film shares a lot of similarity with Benegal’s earlier masterpiece ‘Bhumika in its subject of professional performer woman. Benegal remains experimental in his narration techniques. The film shows us the accidental death of Sardari in first scene which is its end part and than we witness the journalist’s various encounters with the people associated with her life. Narration of Sardari’s early life portrayed in certain non linear flashbacks told by the people who remained part of her life as thumri singer from her early days in Agra to later life in Delhi. The second half becomes too dark and melodramatic one and that’s makes it less preferred one compared to Benegal’s early refined cinema.
Like most of his films, it is a film relatively with new cast and made on a tight budget.
The film had remarkably strong performance from Smriti Mishra and Kiron Kher, who played the younger and older protagonist in the film. Mishra received the National Award for Best Supporting Actress.
May be Benegal knew right from the beginning of his career that the root of Indian acting is theatre and not cinema and that’s why his films almost have flair casting as actors. Look at the list of these actors whom he theatre actors he ensemble for supporting casting of the film- Amrish Puri, Rajit Kapoor, Rajeshwari Sachdev, S. M. Zaheer, Jawed Khan, Shrivallabh Vyas, Ravi Jhankal, Surekha Sikri (fine natural actress who is currently showing her talent on television as Dadisa in “Balikavadhu’).
Only few directors of India gave such an authenticity to the prevalent cultural part in his films and this film is again shows the detailing. Northern Muslim culture, characterization, dressing and over all outlook of the film is so specific about time and space. The film also got the Best Urdu film of the year. The Indian semi- classical music is the heart of this film for the connoisseurs of purist who loves thumri, ghazal, dhrupad or dadra. Vanraj Bhatia almost remained long term composer of Benegal and it’s definitely has tunes whom you love to listen if you like soundtrack of ‘Umrao Jaan’ & ‘Bazaar’. The film bears so many fine artistic elements of expressions of Hindi cinema now almost extinct.
Recommended to all Benegal fans like me.