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Heeramandi – Bhansali recreates Lahore’s courtesan culture in all its opulance & misery


Heeramandi on Netflix, the 8-episode web series created and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali set in post independence Lahore recreates the lives of courtesans caught amidst tradition, misery, friendships and rivalries and opulence – Rajeshwari Kalyanam

The much-awaited streaming of the Netflix series by the showman Sanjay Leela Bhansali is all that it promised to be – the Kothas of Heeramandi and the powerful tawaifs, their art, poetry, and music, their finery, and the riches are captured on his lens in their grandeur best.

The story is set in Lahore’s Heeramandi where the queen of Shahi Mahal Mallika Jaan is a powerful courtesan. Even as the freedom movement heats up on one side, on the other side are the nawabs who in order to maintain their extravagant lifestyles are subservient to the British. They are caught between the age-old traditions including the one where men are sent to a courtesan when they become old enough as it is believed that it is at these courtesan’s homes that they learn etiquette and the art of loving – and the changing winds of the society where the strict traditions rule courtesans’ lives while the British police begin to raid these establishments believed to be centers for prostitution, and the tawaifs who consider themselves to be artists face the threat of becoming extinct.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi is rife with passion, emotions, love and hatred, romance and vengeance and to portray these emotions are the beautiful ladies Sonakshi Sinha who plays Rehana – the original hujur (Madam) of Shahi Mahal who is murdered, Manisha Koirala – the ageing hujur who is shrewd and  continues to hold control over her house despite her niece Fareedan (Sonakshi Sinha) trying to destroy her, Aditi Rao Hydari ad Mallikajaan’s daughter, Richa Chadha as the courtesan who takes her life for unrequited love, Sanjeeda Sheikh as Mallika’s sister and Sharmin Segal who plays her daughter Alamzeb – lost in love and ready to sacrifice for her love.


The director’s success is in the way the drama is weaved into the script episode after episode – even while there is the freedom movement, which plays the major role in the narrative – all the while amping up the screen with the Bhansali magic accentuated by music and songs penned by AM Turaz.

Most women actors played their role relatively well – and in the larger scheme of things a few individual misses do not warrant a mention. What stands out is surely Sonakshi Sinha who gets to play a range of emotions and she does that with elan in addition to Manisha Koirala and Aditi Rao Hydari.

Aditi Rao

Rest of the cast include Taha Shah Badussha as the revolutionary and romantic young Nawab Tajdar, Shekhar Suman as Nawab Zulfiqer and his son Adhyayan Suman as Nawab Zoravar, Fardeen Khan who comes back on big screen after a long gap as Wali Mohammed.

Heeramandi is an engaging watch except for the last episode that could have been scripted better. However, it does serve as a reminder of the role of women in freedom movement and perhaps also a quick refresher to the people of shared emotion of nationalism.

This review would be incomplete without the mention of the magnum opus Kamal Amrohi’s classic film Pakeezah with Meena Kumari and Raaj Kumar – one cant miss the traces of the film that was poetry on screen.

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