Opening this week

‘Begum Jaan’ review: A history lesson delivered at top volume

In Srijit Mukerji’s remake of ‘Rajkahini’, Vidya Balan plays the madam of a brothel on the Indo-Pak border.

Srijit Mukerji’s Begum Jaan is a mostly faithful remake of his 2015 Bengali movie Rajkahini – which means that the sensationalist plot, overwrought storytelling, screechy acting and tabloid account of the Partition have made it across the language divide unchallenged.

The Hindi version, which is set in Punjab rather than the Bengal region, has shed several dispensable minutes, but the central premise stays: the conflation of the woman’s body and the country. A brothel smack on the border of India and the newly formed Pakistan refuses to shut shop and move. The brothel madam, the fearsome and foul-mouthed Begum Jaan of the title, wants to stop the march of history, or at least stall it. Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) has had the patronage of the local king (Naseeruddin Shah) for years, and her aggressive body language and profanity-laden speech disappear when he appears. Before him, this spitting tigress is a purring cat – so much for being a woman with a mind of her own.

Representatives of India and Pakistan (played by Rajit Kapur and Ashish Vidyarthi) are unable to shake Begum Jaan’s position. Ignoring the swell of refugees crossing the border on both sides, Begum Jaan rebels against a decision she had nothing to do with, stays glued to her porch, and shouts down the unwelcome visitors. It is left to the movie’s best character, mercenary for hire Kabir (Chunky Pandey), to finish off what they started.

Play
Begum Jaan (2017).

Mukerji borrows freely from Shyam Benegal’s classic Mandi (1983) as well as oral accounts of the Partition to craft a bottom-down version of history. The horrors of the division of India in 1947 are seen over the shoulders of women who have been trading their bodies, and Mukerji demands that they be taken seriously.

It sounds like a wonderful and welcome alternative to mansplaining – but perhaps it might have been more effective if the movie had opted for subtlety rather than crudeness and the women had been flesh-and-blood rather than paper-thin. The arms akimbo stance, outward jutting hips, and revealing clothing are all from Mandi, but Begum Jaan doesn’t have a single character worth rooting for. Gauhar Khan plays the madam’s helper, who is in love with the in-house entertainer Sujit (Pitobash Tiwary); Pallavi Sharda’s Gulabo lusts for the saintly teacher (Vivek Mushran) who has a thing for Begum Jaan; Mishti is the young rape victim whom Begum Jaan shelters.

Mukerji is unable to suggest a working or professional relationship between these women who live under the same roof, which makes their latter-reel solidarity unconvincing.

Begum Jaan (2017).
Begum Jaan (2017).

The usually dependable Vidya Balan struggles to make her Partition denier act work, and barely improves on the pantomime qualities of the original actress, Rituparna Sengupta. Mukerji regards the madam as an incarnation of mythic heroines such as Laxmibai of Jhansi and Razia Sultan – yet another instance of the on-the-nose writing and in-your-face characterisation – but Begum Jaan’s rebellion comes off as obduracy rather than a middle finger to the colonial and post-colonial forces who took far-reaching decisions without caring for how they would play out.

There’s a lot of yelling and cussing (some of which has been tempered by the easily shocked censor board) before the inevitable boobs-versus-bullets battle. Lost in the rumpus is the opportunity to dramatise the very real violence that women faced before and during the Partition. A sequence set in the present day, which bookends the plot, is clumsily handled but is also effective in pointing out that women often pay the price for achieving freedom. Their stories are not always told, so Srijit Mukerji takes it upon himself to do so – by shouting at the top of his voice so as to be heard all the way till the every edge of Pakistan.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.