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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Does Heeramandi deserve the hype?

Heeramandi captivates with stunning visuals and strong performances, but its storyline and inaccuracies are hard to overlook

Update : 18 May 2024, 11:13 AM

When Heeramandi’s teaser dropped last year, it immediately grabbed the attention of the audience. The significant hype was largely due to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s involvement, the stunning and unique cast, and the striking visuals.  Perhaps this explains why, even after 18 days of its release, the series continues to hold the top spot on Netflix in many countries, including Bangladesh.

But does Heeramandi truly deserve the hype? Set during the Indian independence era, the series focuses on the lives of tawaifs in Lahore’s red-light district of Heera Mandi. A tawaif was a prominent courtesan or dancer, who entertained the nobility of the Indian subcontinent.

Bhansali, known for his breathtaking sets, does not disappoint in Heeramandi in this regard. A few years ago, an OTT series with a ₹200 crore budget would have been unimaginable. Yet today, we watch Heeramandi in the most striking set and visuals, that even most film and filmmakers could only dream of. 

However, the visuals seem to hide an inconsistent storyline that fails to do justice to its characters. The series begins as a battle for power within the tawaif community, showcasing the characters’ complexities, but abruptly shifts into a patriotic show, expecting us to forget the build-up from the first six to seven episodes.

As nepotism is a hot topic in Bollywood, Sharmin Segal’s (Bhansali’s niece) performance as Alamzeb was criticized heavily by the audience, especially attributed to her expressionless acting. Her romance with Tajdar falls short due to its inconsistent and rushed development, as well as its absolute lack of chemistry between them.

The makers chose to give significant screen time to this lackluster romance, yet they failed to develop a meaningful relationship between them. This resulted in a missed opportunity to explore deeper into the more compelling and intricate characters such as Bibbojaan, Waheeda, and Lajjo. 

Despite the wobbly storyline, the majority of the characters on the screen made Heeramandi so captivating that audiences were forced to binge-watch. Manisha Koirala’s return to the screen as the unpredictable and morally questionable Malikajaan particularly deserves all the praise. At the same time, Sonakshi Sinha’s portrayal of Fareedan marked a refreshing departure from her typical roles of loud and somewhat obnoxious female leads, proving that some actresses simply need the right role and director.

Heeramandi’s greatest strength is its almost all-female cast, which celebrates women in all their complexity, whether weak or strong. This goes on to show that women-driven stories in Bollywood are on the rise and capable of generating both significant hype and substantial revenue. 

Yet, the performance, direction, set, and costume design can’t possibly justify the historical inaccuracies of the show. While movies or series inspired by real events or communities often take creative and dramatic liberties, Heeramandi is glamorized to the point that it strays far from its inspiration, failing to stay true to its historical context and creating a world that barely resembles the original. 

The show talks about the historical erasure of tawaifs, ironically failing to represent them authentically. Instead, Heeramandi presents a romanticized version with extravagant costumes and lavish settings, which is later on used as the main marketing strategy of the series. Tawaifs wouldn’t have had access to such luxuries. Their living conditions were likely much more modest and full of financial struggles, rather than humongous mansions with courtyards like the “Shahi Mahal.”

Netizens have taken to social media to highlight several inaccuracies. These, coupled with the poor casting of Alamzeb and numerous other flaws, put a big question mark on Bhansali’s work. Despite the significant investment, financial success, and holding the audience’s attention, it ultimately fails to tell the story right.

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