It is the season of remakes and rehashes, so another of Bollywood's overhyped maestros J.P. Dutta gives us his 3.30 hour long version of the sob story of a 19th century girl who becomes a tawaif Umrao Jaan. Now J.P.Dutta's forte is war movies(Border,LOC) and his cinematography of deserts in Rajasthan. He does manage to get the visual feel of the 19th century and the Lucknow palaces right but somehow it lacks the soul and the kashish of a sob story. And thats being sympathetic.
The first half is hugely boring. It has too many songs and Anu Malik disappoints. Most of the songs sound the same and the lyrics are nothing great compared to the original. Although JP Dutta is making a movie about the 19th century he uses a laborious pace to tell the story. In fact his initial reels look straight out of some NFDC funded Doordarshan serial.
Aishwarya Rai steps into Rekha's shoes and manages to deliver one of her better performances. But Rekha and Tawaif were as much hand in glove as Sanjay Dutt and Munnabhai. Aishwarya does the emotional scenes well but her dancing as a tawaif is too aggressive for its genre. And you miss the sadness or depth that Rekha could convey with her eyes just sitting in ' Aap meri jaan li jiye'. Even in some of her emotional scenes, her natural Miss World aggression spoils it when she speaks dialogues too fast. But she is incredibly beautiful and resplendent through the movie.
Secondly, the romance between Ash and Abhishek is too forced and does not invoke any sparks. It seems more like a professional relationship with lust being a primary driver. JP Dutta could have cut some songs and developed this relationship further. Abhishek finally gets a role where he can justifiably keep a full time beard , but his personality seems a bit rough for some one to get smitten by a courtesan. He does not have a 'shayraana' andaaz, although he is cool in the drunken scenes. And in these scenes he reminds you very fondly of his baap, the god of Sharabi scenes. Genetics how cruel thou art at times..
Thirdly, you have pure comic relief by Sunil Shetty as Faiz Ali a dacoit who masquerades as a Nawab. His Urdu diction is as clear as a Texan speaking French. And he acts as if he is part of 'Alibaba and chalis chor' and not Umrao Jaan.
And JP Dutta can kick himself for casting long lost Puru Raj Kumar as Gauhar Mirza, a role that was played by Naseer in the original. Pathetic.
The movie's saving grace is Shabana Azmi who delivers a knockout performance as the head of the kotha. Her dialogue delivery and acting display her classy calibre. Ayesha Jhulka and Divya Dutta lend good support. Kulbushan Kharbanda another JP favourite is his good old constipated self.
JP Dutta can go back to war and rough terrain movies. He frankly lacks the nazaakat and tehzeeb to make stories with kashish.