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Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar review- A diamond in the rough

Updated on: 03 May,2024 07:37 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mohar Basu | mohar.basu@mid-day.com

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar is both overwhelming and sumptuous. It’s a lot of things, mostly a slew of sub-plots. Depending on who you are, one of the many stories here will stay with you

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar review- A diamond in the rough

Heeramandi The Diamond Bazaar

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar
On: Netflix
Dir: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Richa Chadha,  Aditi Rao Hydari
Rating: 3/5


Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar is both overwhelming and sumptuous. It’s a lot of things, mostly a slew of sub-plots. Depending on who you are, one of the many stories here will stay with you. The one I enjoyed the most was the rivalry of Mallikajaan and Fareedan—the aunt and niece—deliciously played by Manisha Koirala and Sonakshi Sinha. Theirs is a classic succession piece where the morally dubious women duel it out for power and dominance. There is a scene where Mallikajaan’s sahib, Nawab Zulfikar, played by Shekhar Suman, lays bare Fareedan’s misdeeds from the past—a murder, an arson, amongst others. Mallikajaan is shocked at what her audacious niece has pulled off. 


The nawab signs off, saying Fareedan won’t be easy to pull down. But Mallikajaan is in awe of her by then. She wickedly quips, “It’s a shame my daughters don’t have her grit.”  Much later in the series, Mallikajaan announces to Fareedan that she sees her as the rightful heir of her Shahi Mahal and the future ruler of Heeramandi. Mallikajaan says, “Humare baad agar kisi me ye saazish, fareb, aur kameenapan hai, toh sirf aap mein.” She replies, “Sharafat ke liye shareefzaadiyan hai na!” Fareedan doesn’t accept the keys of the Shahi Mahal, saying she would much rather snatch them from Mallikajaan. 

This sharp banter between these two conniving and villainous women, who are perhaps cut from the same cloth, is the highlight of the series. As long as the show remains focused on them and the other morally corrupt, unapologetic, somewhat unhinged, and unpredictable women, it is a delight to watch. The rest of it is frankly incoherent in some parts and simplistic in others. Of course, a story as sprawling (and crowded) as Heeramandi is bound to have highs and lows. In his trademark style, Bhansali glosses over the flaws with gold, ghararas, and garish sets. 


In telling the story of a power-hungry, despotic matriarch—Koirala’s Mallikajaan, who runs Heeramandi—he digresses a little more than usual. It is frustrating to see him get so indulgent here. Mallikajaan is known for keeping the nawabs under her thumb and people on their toes. But her world crashes when her daughter Alamzeb, raised in the opulent confines of the Shahi Mahal, falls in love, and her other daughter Bibbojaan (played by a steady Aditi Rao Hydari) turns into a spy for the revolutionaries. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the 1940s, when the Quit India Movement was at its peak, this saga showcases the tale of a powerful woman’s imminent downfall. Bhansali layers the story with his immense knowledge of the world.

Fallen anti-heroes indeed make for fascinating stories. Especially those like Mallikajaan, who are a cautionary tale about bad karma begetting bad effects. But Heeramandi is simply too half-baked to make an impact. It is equally overambitious—packing in with a full-blown love affair, a take on the country’s political upheavals, deceitful family members, and spat between lovers, amongst other things. There are way too many grudges in the course of its eight-hour runtime, some of them forgotten and others reaching an undesirable resolution. But beneath the vendettas, there is never a genuine beating heart in this story. There are flashes of brilliance, story tracks that tug at your heart, and a magical moment here and there, but if you are someone who isn’t dazzled by the beauty of the creator’s vision, Heeramandi will leave you unimpressed. It is rarely vulnerable. The only performance that qualifies as moving is probably Richa Chadha’s. Maybe a heartbreak is always designed to leave you teary-eyed.

Bhansali and writers Vibhu Puri, Reshu Nath, Vibha Singh, Divy Nidhi Sharma, and Moin Beg, and co-directors Mitakshara Kumar, Snehil Dixit Mehra, Ashna Srivastava, and Abhiruchi Rishi, are focused on basing the weight of this vast saga on a doomed love story between a tawaif’s daughter and a nawab’s son. There are glaring holes in how this plays out. Why would a girl trust her mother’s nemesis with her heart? How someone as sharp as Mallikajaan remains oblivious to her daughter’s romance is equally unbelievable. It doesn’t help that the series is populated with familiar tropes and one-tone characters. The nawabs are evil. The British are cruel, with little understanding or respect for the local cultures. Strangely enough, the revolutionaries who mouth Do or Die a few times keep their identities discreet from the audience too. Are they from the Congress or the Muslim League? Heeramandi tells us nothing about 1940s Lahore—at least nothing we haven’t seen before.

By the end, the show is a bit of a drag, which is when the actors hold fort. Koirala and Sinha are ravishing and roar robustly in their scenes. Hydari is powerful in her silence. Though Sanjeeda Sheikh does a lot of shrieking, she does her bit well. I blame the writers for giving her an underwritten part that barely gets to enjoy the villainy of this world and is delegated to being a victim. It is Sharmin Segal, however, who feels like a misfit with her laboured performance. The men—Fardeen Khan, Shekhar and Adhyayan Suman—get nothing from the story that’s worth their merit. However, a thank you to the casting team for bringing back Farida Jalal, who is splendid as Qudsia Begum. It is possible I wanted more from Heeramandi. The set-up is exquisite. The women are sinful. Big bucks have been spent on clothes, art design, jewellery, et al. But it didn’t take over my mind. I am left with a few brilliant scenes, the potential of its performers, and the hope that the next time around, when I follow a masterful filmmaker’s on-screen world, he gives me something more solid. Heeramandi proves that shallow beauty may dazzle the eye, but the depth of a story is truly what captivates the soul. 

About stars- 1- YUCK  2- WHATEVER  3- GOOD  4- SUPER  5- AWESOME

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