Umrao Jaan (1981)

Run Time - 145 min.  |   Countries - India  |  
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Writer-director-producer J.P. Dutta authored the Indian period drama Umrao Jaan - the epic, three-hour story of a prostitute's travails in 19th century India. Aishwarya Rai stars as the title character; as the film opens, she is an elderly courtesan detailing her life for the benefit of the belletrist Mirza Mohammed Hada Ruswa who plans to document the woman's story for successive generations. As Umrao narrates, the film then flashes back to well over a half-century earlier, when she - originally a young girl, named Ameeran - is born comfortably into an affluent upper middle-class family in the city of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh. Ameeran's path collides with destiny when she is kidnapped at a tender age by her father's enemies, promptly sold into a kotha (or brothel) in the city of Lucknow, and renamed Umrao Jaan. Her superiors teach her music, poetry and dance as part of her courtesan training; when her "debut" finally arrives as a courtesan, the gods are with her, for a young aristocrat, Nawab Sultan (Abhishek Bachchan) falls instantly for her, and she for him, and moves into the kotha to consummate their love and begin a life together. Yet all does not go according to plan: disgusted with his son's choice of partner, Nawab's father disowns him, and Khanum, the matriarch of the brothel, quickly refuses to take in an non-paying boarder. With no other options in sight, Nawab is forced to move into a state of exile in the country; meanwhile, as Umrao's heart breaks from the separation, she is greeted by the most unwelcome favors of a local bandit, Faiz Ali (Suneil Shetty), who secretly vows to do everything in his power to win Umrao over and undo the strands of Nawab's devotion to her.