HeeraMandi: The Diamond Bazaar

HEERAMANDI is the story of the lives of ‘tawaifs’ (courtesans). The year is 1945. In Lahore, the best courtesans reside in an area named Heeramandi. The biggest residence of these nautch girls is Shahi Mahal, run by Mallikajaan (Manisha Koirala). She stays here with her daughters Bibbo (Aditi Rao Hydari) and Alamzeb (Sharmin Segal Mehta), sister Waheeda (Sanjeeda Sheikh), Waheeda’s daughter Shama (Pratibha Ranta) and helpers Saima (Shruti Sharma), Phatto (Jayati Bhatia) and Satto (Nivedita Bhargava). While Mallikajaan is in a relationship with Nawab Zulfikar (Shekhar Suman), Bibbo and Nawab Wali Mohammed (Fardeen Khan) are a couple. Mallikajaan wishes Alamzeb to make her debut dance performance in front of their elite audience. But Alamzeb doesn’t want to be a ‘tawaif’; instead, she desires to be a poet. Mallikajaan doesn’t approve of it. One day, Alamzeb bumps into Tajdar Baloch (Taha Shah), Oxford-return son of a Nawab, Ashfaq Baloch (Ujjwal Chopra), and sparks fly between them. The ‘tawaifs’ are forbidden to fall in love but Alamzeb takes the plunge. Meanwhile, Mallikajaan gets the shock of her life as Fardeedan (Sonakshi Sinha), daughter of the former’s sister Rehana, returns from nowhere and buys the mansion opposite Shahi Mahal. She’s in Heeramandi to destroy Mallikajaan and to settle past dues. She decides to use Alamzeb and her love for Tajdar to her advantage. What happens next forms the rest of the series.

Heeramandi Story Review:
Moin Beg’s original story is fascinating, especially the world in which it is set and how characters pay a heavy price for the wrongdoings of others. Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Vibhu Puri’s screenplay, however, is a mixed bag. While a few scenes are imaginative and very well thought out, some scenes are dragging and don’t make the desired impact. Also, a few developments are convenient and even laughable. The dialogues are very sharp and hard-hitting.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s direction is okay. As expected, he mounts the show on an ambitious scale. The grandeur is unprecedented and his genius trademark stamp is visible from start to finish. Though it’s a show about courtesans, there’s no obscenity or skin show. A few scenes that stand out are Mallikajaan refusing Cartwright’s (Jason Shah) invitation without saying a single word, Mallikajaan teaching Zorawar (Adhyayan Suman) a lesson, Fareedan’s entry, Fareedan’s flop dance debut, etc. The love story between Alamzeb and Tajdar is sweet.

On the flipside, there are too many silly developments. For instance, it is bewildering that Zulfikar handed over a crucial file to Mallikajaan; ideally, he should have destroyed it. Similarly, Fareedan keeping the file next to her when Mallikajaan walks in is also very convenient. The show is interesting until it’s about Mallikajaan vs Fareedan. But once the freedom struggle track takes centre stage, the show loses its sheen.

The biggest problem, however, with HEERAMANDI, is it’s extremely slow. It has 8 episodes or in other words, more than 7 hours long. It requires a lot of patience to sit through it, especially for those who prefer to binge-watch.

Manisha Koirala rocks the show and plays the lead role with panache. She brings the required poise and elegance nicely and this is easily one of her best performances. Sonakshi Sinha, too, gives a performance that will stand out in her filmography. There’s a lot of anger in Fareedan and she brings it out effortlessly. Her one-take performance in ‘Tilasmi Bahein’ is clapworthy. Aditi Rao Hydari gets a bit overshadowed but nevertheless, gives her best foot forward. Sharmin Segal Mehta proves that she has improved as a performer. However, she could do better in emotional scenes. Her dance skills also need to be polished. Taha Shah gets a lot of screen time and is a revelation. Richa Chadha (Lajjo) is damn good and one wishes she had more screen time. Sanjeeda Sheikh is memorable.

On the whole, HEERAMANDI is the grandest show to come out of India and is laced with fine performances and some riveting dramatic scenes. However, it is unconvincing in places and is too lengthy. Nevertheless, due to the hype, casting and visual appeal, it is expected to fetch huge viewership.