A fictional conversation between Begum Jaan’s director, Srijit Mukherji and writer Kausar Munir, who has been credited for writing the dialogues of the film. The conversation is an attempt to understand what thought or logic went behind making such excuse of a film:
Director: I am doing a remake of my Bengali film, Rajkahini, which is a remake of Mandi.
Writer: But sir we don’t have the rights to remake Mandi.
Director: Who cares? I will set the same story against the backdrop of partition. I don’t want you to watch the original Bengali film. So, come up with your own draft, especially the dialogues. I will adapt the screenplay later and credit you for the dialogues.
Writer: That will require a lot of research and even the budgets will shoot up.
Director: Who cares? I will make two groups of villagers pass through a patch of land along with bullock carts. That’s partition for you.
Writer: And what about the riots?
Director: Simple. Make woman lay unclad before a mob. Place the camera above her head. Take a perspective shot, punctuated or rather accentuated by a loud background score. That way we’d be killing two birds with one shot, hinting at the Nirbhaya episode.
Writer: Sir, how about showing an old woman disrobing in front of the rioters and rapists, hence shaming them?
Director: That’s brilliant! I will use this same technique by showing a teenage girl doing the same towards the film’s end. The idea is to keep repeating things until the audience gets it.
Writer: And let’s have two fine actors like Rajit Kapoor and Ashish Vidhyarthi representing India and Pakistan.
Director: And let’s cut their faces into two halves, symbolizing the two nations.
Writer: Won’t it look odd? And will people understand?
Director: They will. I will employ the same technique 3-4 times until they get it. And add a Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar angle to the story…we can cast someone like Naseeruddin Shah to play an aging king losing it all to the British regime.
Writer: And what about British actors? Most of them look like Bob Christo in our films.
Director: Let’s do away with them.
Writer: How are we going to depict colonialism without British actors?
Director: Who cares? Our film will have enough distractions to keep the audience away from story and logic. We will have an opening narration by Amitabh Bachchan. His deep baritone will ward off all the evils of intelligence.
Writer: And what about the lead role? How about Kiron Kher reprising her role in Sardari Begum?
Director: Sardari Begum…sounds an interesting name. We will cast Vidya Balan playing Kiron Kher and call our film Begum Jaan.
Writer: But why Vidya Balan? Why not someone like Seema Biswas or Nandita Das?
Director: By casting Vidya Balan, we won’t have to worry about paying her extra to put on weight, like Nitesh Tiwari had to do for Aamir in Dangal. Secondly, we can thrust the feminist angle down the audiences’ throats, by casting someone who has already done female-oriented films like Kahaani and The Dirty Picture, which means wider ‘aunty audience’.
Writer: And what about the other roles? Mandi had an interesting ensemble of actors like Smita Patil, Neena Gupta and Soni Razdan…We, too, should have an impressive cast of women working in a brothel.
Director: Who cares? Vidya Balan will rule the three-legged roost in the film and boss around the girls. We can have someone like Gauhar Khan and other obscure girls speaking in different accents. And why are you referring them as ‘women working in a brothel’? Just call them whores. Even our posters will read: Lived like whores, fought like queens. Subtlety is for the art film directors. I am establishing my brand as a ‘commercial art’ film director.
Writer: What will be Vidya Balan’s accent? Since the film is set near Agra so should it be Urdu?
Director: Does the audience really care about such things? Let her talk in different accents, be it Punjabi or chaste Urdu or Hindi. We will add other characters speaking with fake accents of Punjabi, Gujarati and Bihari for those ‘cinema connoisseurs’. Don’t get into silly details like these.
Writer: You also asked for a Holi scene despite the film’s story set during the partition i.e. August…
Director: Did you say something…?
Writer: Okay, I get it…Shall do.
Director: Here’s the DVD of Mandi, go and watch the film again and develop the screenplay. Make sure you underline every scene with additional dialogues, some sex and menstrual references, a clown character, lesbians, etc. and I will take care of the rest to underline it further with loud background score and artistic cinematography.
Writer: We need some goon and traitor who shall evacuate the kotha or kothi whatever…I need to visualize someone while writing these characters…
Director: Chunky Pandey is a star in Bangladesh and wants to do a comeback in Bollywood. We can ask him to shave his head off, blacken his teeth and wear a vest-lungi costume.
Writer: Chunky Pandey? Okay…maybe that will draw the curious audience…And what about the traitor?
Director: Cast an innocent looking guy…Can be Vivek Mushran. The key to the success of any film is unusual casting.
Writer: But what if Chunky Pandey overtakes Vidya Balan with his performance?
Director: Who cares? We aren’t making the film for Vidya Balan. Well, to be on a safer side, we will ask Vidya Balan not to do her eyebrows for few months.
Writer: But since she is into prostitution, shouldn’t she be conscious of her looks?
Director: Let the other aspects remain the way they are…Just the eyebrows will have a ‘realistic touch’.
Writer: But how can she remain oblivious of what’s happening around in the country? She can shift her kotha elsewhere and still thrive…
Director: The kotha is her home, remember!
Writer: But countless Indians and Pakistanis abandoned their ‘homes’ during the partition. So, what’s the all fuss about?
Director: Did you say something…?
Writer: Okay, I get it…So, how are we going to end the film?
Director: Padmavati is news these days. Do a Google search on her and see what you can do. Add some grandma kind of character like Ila Arun to narrate the tale and manipulate with the emotions of the audience in the climax. Make sure your screenplay has truckloads of melodrama. It always works, be it Chopra, Johar or Bhansali film.
Writer: But sir, will this film work?
Director: Who cares? My debut in Bollywood should establish my brand as a stylish auteur who uses unconventional camera angles and you as a female feminist writer. We have a star like Vidya Balan to carry the entire film and producers like Mahesh Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt. What else do we want?
Writer: Er…We do need a story and logic…
Director: Did you say something…?