I didn't go to see Umrao jaan with the comparison issue in mind. Having said that to compare it to the Muzaffar Ali version (1981)would be blasphemous.
If Umrao jaan with Aishwariya Rai had any hopes of being half successful, they seem to have been cruelly dashed by Ms.Rai herself.
Where does one start? With her wooden unemotional dialogue delivery, her terrible diction, or the fact that that there are HIJRA'S (eunuchs) in Lucknow even today, who are far more feminine in their dancing than her. She has lost so much weight that she looks like a toothpick inserted into foil paper.
The chemistry between her and Abhishek is ZILCH, unless they were Laurel and Hardy in which case its hysterically funny.(Maybe they should have learned their lesson from KUCH NA KAHO!)
I cant remember when I laughed so much in a movie, or so loud.
Umrao Jaan( for those who do not watch indian movies) is an adaptation from a novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa about the life of a famous courtesan in Lucknow. (Think: Memoirs of a Geisha).
Courtesan's or "TAWAIFS", as they are known, through their arts were part of a culture, where the upper class (Nawabs) went to hear poetry being recited, sung, and danced to by a beautiful woman. These dances were known as "MUJRA'S and the place was known as a KOTHA.
It begins in 1840, when a young girl (Ameeran) is kidnapped and sold off to a KOTHA. This belongs to Begum Khanum Jaan, and here Ameeran is rechristened as Umrao, and is taught the art of becoming a tawaif.The book then documents her life, her poetry and her unrequited love for the Nawab Sultan.
There was a version made in 1981 by the director Muzzafar Ali, and the actress who played Umrao Jaan then (REKHA), did such a phenomenal job, that she went on to win many Awards for her performance. The direction itself was rich, textured, layered and the characters fleshed out so to leave an indelible impression on ones mind.
The current adaptation may have chosen one of the most globally known faces, but as far as her histrionic abilities go there was never any question. She has none.
The only saving grace was undeniably Shabana Azmi, who's performance was reminiscent of the Brothel keeper in Mandi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as the Maulvi, and Himani Shivpuri as the carers for Umrao.
The two courtesans (Divya Dutta, Ayesha Jhulka) chosen as Umrao Jaan's companions were such a dissapointment, but no doubt chosen for their equally bad diction and scratchy voices.
Surely such a renowned "KOTHA" belonging to Khanum could have done been better.
Very little homework seems to have been done historically on the film itself. As too often the jewellery is not authentic Lucknawi and ranges from Hyderabadi to Rajasthani styles. The sets too apart from her chambers ( and that too at times BLUE beyond belief) are heavy on the cardboard cutouts and styrofoam.
The music is not bad, but once again given the subject, needed more of a classical/ghazal flavour.
What a waste of time, of an otherwise good weekend.