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Laaga chunari mein daag – movie review

October 15, 2007

Some have called Laga Chunari Mein Daag a regressive film. But is it one? Well, there are parts that could send feminist alarm bells ringing…

Look, the story is about a girl called Badki (Rani Mukherjee) who comes from a family which was once very rich. They live in a palatial house which is falling apart. The Father (Anupam Kher) is jobless and his wife (Jaya Bachchan) makes a living sewing clothes. The money isn’t enough…because they aren’t living in a slum. They have to maintain a huge house, pay the rising medical bills (Anupam Kher gets heart attack after heart attack), pay for the court case against a cousin claiming their house and also pay for Badki’s younger sister Chutki’s (Konkana Sen Sharma) education.

So, Badki turns to the flesh trade – becomes a high class escort girl.

That is pretty regressive say some as it sends out the message that the modern Indian woman can do nothing except fall back on prostitution to save the family.

What is she expected to do to then? Work in Macdonalds?

The director, Pradeep Sarkar, has gone out of his way to point out Badki’s lack of education. She has not even passed her tenth grade as the family did not have enough money to educate both the daughters.

And Badki does job-hunt, in a kind of naive desperation…and not surprisingly cannot get a job that suits her, a job that will pay her the thousands she needs. No, not even a call centre will employ her as she cannot speak English. To top it all, this small town girl finds the big bad city confusing, and as a result finds herself quite unable to find something she can do. If anything, this futile hunt for a well paying job sends out a strong message that if you aren’t educated in today’s modern world, and you haven’t learnt a skill, you are nothing.

The reason I do not think that this is regressive film is because it sends out another very strong message…that people who live off a prostitute’s earnings need to be questioned about their attitudes. They take the money willingly enough, but are they equally willing to accept and respect the breadwinner? That’s what the story is all about. And hats off to Sarkar for tackling this subject in such a sensitive manner. Sure, the film was not as hard-hitting or as stunning as his previous film Parineeta, but well, I think in some ways it comes close. It’s the way Sarkar handles relationships…

Sure, it’s a typical Bollywood melodrama, and you might shed copious tears, and the story is rather unbelievable, but what the heck, it is a movie.

As for acting, it’s an absolute treat to watch Konkana Sen Sharma. As Chutki, she is absolutely brilliant! She manages to eclipse Rani Mukherjee and Rani herself acted pretty well. Jaya Bachchan as the mother wasn’t bad either…good actually. Three powerful actresses in one movie, and this is what makes the movie worth a watch.

But Abhishek Bachchan? Give me a break! He is hardly to be seen in the movie! There is another guy (Kunal Kapoor), paired romantically with Konkana, and though he does a fairly decent job he has very little to do too…

Benares itself was very well portrayed cinematically, and the scenes near the Ganga are breathtakingly beautiful.

Some scenes in the movie are amazing. I particularly liked the one which is a kind of turning point in the story, when Badki is about to pass that point of no return. She gets an ‘offer’ which she finds disgusting, and calls up home for support…unfortunately she calls up at the wrong time. Her father has just had an heart attack, and her mother is at home, a grief-stricken, broken woman. Badki pours her heart out, telling her that she wants to come back home…that she has failed. That she cannot be the ‘son’ that they want her to be…but her mother is no state to listen. She is distraught and distracted…and well, after that it becomes too late for Badki.

That point about the parents (mostly the dad) wanting a son is another thing that critics of the movie didn’t like. They thought that taunts about Badki and Chutki being girls were regressive….well, maybe. But that’s the Indian reality for you.

But I wouldn’t actually call laga chunari mein daag (which in English means a stained scarf), a journey of a woman (the movie has been tagged thus). I would call it a story about two girls and a woman. The movie revolves around the relationship of these three strong and proud women, two sisters and a mother. The ‘head’ of the family is shown as weak and spineless.

Sure, there might be some clichés in the movie, and one of them is that prostitutes are victims of circumstances …but hey, it’s a movie. And it’s a movie about a woman who decides to sell her body because of the circumstances….nothing very original here. To some extent the lilting music (for a review of the music you can check this out) and the excellent performances give the movie that extra sheen.

If you are a bollywood fan you’ll like this movie, if you don’t mind a melodramatic tear-jerker that is. A tear-jerker with a happy ending.

If you do go for it, remember to take a hanky along.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. amreekandesi permalink
    October 15, 2007 9:02 am

    Nice review Nita!

    I saw trailers of this movie and it did seem rather…different. Now i know for sure.

  2. October 15, 2007 10:05 am

    Thanks.
    When I write a review I never give ratings, because I know whether one likes a movie or not depends entirely on the kind of movie one enjoys!

  3. October 15, 2007 2:39 pm

    Saw this yes’day. Enjoyed it thoroughly, with its rich cinematography (I don’t know what exactly the word means, but it sounds good and knowledgeable, doesn’t it?).
    I find the portrayal of the virtuous whore (one who recites scripture, rather than spewing the choicest cuss words) rather unreal. But I can’t claim to be an expert on this….. :-)
    Lastly, it is not Abhishek’s fault that he is not seen in the movie. It is a movie of the three women, as you rightly say.

  4. October 15, 2007 4:08 pm

    As if reciting scriptures makes one virtuous! I got you there! :)
    On another note, I am sure you will find that sex workers pray as much as other folk do! Its more unlikely for someone working in an ad agency to recite scriptures! Like Chutki.
    But yeah, the director had no idea of these realities! He had to find a reason for abhishek to fall in love with Badki…or more likely endear Badki to the religious masses!
    tricks of the trade. er…I mean the director’s trade!

  5. madhurisinha permalink
    October 15, 2007 10:08 pm

    Thank You Nita!
    I ahve read some reviews and this film has been compared to Mumtaz’s ‘Aina’. The critics say that how could the director make a regressive film, has nothing changed since Mumtaz’s Aina?
    Well YES, nothing has changed since then. In Bihar and UP, girls are deliberately not educated in fear of higher dowries and subsequent spinsterhood (yes even today).
    In West Bengal, a girl might be the sole earner of her family, but even today, if she comes late at night, her own family members frown upon her and question her character.

    On a personal note, i will just go to watch the movie because my favorite Rani is acting in it and with my
    favorite again Abhishek.

  6. October 15, 2007 10:19 pm

    This movie is worth a watch. I love rani too! kajol used to be my favorite, but now it’s rani. btw, abhi is my fav too, but he is hardly there. anyway, enjoy!

  7. October 15, 2007 10:41 pm

    “I am sure you will find that sex workers pray as much”

    Nita: Hello!?!
    As in “Oh, my God!”?? :-D

  8. October 16, 2007 12:36 am

    Interesting that the daughter who is expected to be the ‘son’ is not educated. Progressive enough for people to rely on a daughter and her income, regressive enough to not spend money on her. Was there a gori/ kali angle also?

  9. October 16, 2007 2:53 am

    At any given instant, there is a movie theater/DVD player/24-hour-movie-channel somewhere in the Universe playing a movie that has the exact same plot. :D

  10. October 16, 2007 3:10 am

    Nouman, yeah :) I guess the story wasn’t original but the treatment is good. Really. But I don’t think it’s a guy movie. You know what I mean.

    Doc: :)

    Shefaly, no, it wasn’t like that. These people were broke that was why she wasn’t educated. In fact if Rani had not become a sex worker then even the younger one would have not got educated. There was no gori kali angle…
    It was all about their appalling poverty.

  11. October 17, 2007 2:15 pm

    Hey…Nita I agree with most of things you said about the movie….except one grave point…

    Lets start with agreement…yes performances are good…(I was afraid of bad performances, when I saw 1 star ratings for the movie, because I had advance- booked the tickets)….Konkana is great..Abhishek had blink-and-miss appearance..relationships are handled wonderfully by the director….and the most commendable part, as you have rightly pointed out, …family who lives off Rani’s income ..especially her sister ….make it clear she does not need to apologize for what happened…I read in Outlook special issue of 60 years..there still exist nauch girls in Orrissa/WB (will check that and name of this tribe)) who are treated as outcast despite the fact their mentor’s family live off their incomes. They have no rights, they are made to sleep with their mentors and others.

    But my biggest disappointment in movie….the career option her friend gave her…man, she learns to live like model….speaks English..the reason why she did not get jobs….(yeah i know she was not 10 pass, no skills)..but with all her skills all she can is to become escort!!

    I wish Rani’s character in the movie had more fighting spirit…movies are mass medium..people get influenced..you would not be unaware of the fact so many young girls from well-to-do families take to sex trade just for good money…nope, I refuse to believe that is only profession a person of less skills and qualification should choose…I disagree that that is the profession we need to make potfuls of money…I disagree..such fairy-tale ends come for all such girls…It is like misguiding the impressionable…with Rani’s enviable lifestyle as escort…

    And as for Rani in the movie…it was not forced at all solely out of circumstances, she needed money, true, but she made a cold choice to be escort…in our poverty stricken country so many of such women need money..I would never want each of them go to Mumbai…and take to sex trade because she had so many disappointments….I think I said too much…but it was for the first time, a movie buff like me was uneasy while watching a movie despite nice performances from the actors..

    And you did not mention, Sushant (Rani’s cousin brother, the blackmailer)..such a good actor was wasted in such a small role… :(

  12. October 17, 2007 3:01 pm

    Poonam, true, she made a cold and calculated choice to become an escort. But then she ‘broke’ with that first bad experience. Ofcourse, she needed to be stronger but the decision she made (to become an escort) was immediately after she has that one bad experience which is shown to traumatize her. And I guess it pushed her over the brink…actually I agree with you in the sense that Rani’s choice was not an ideal one, but I felt it was the harsh reality of life. Many girls are weak, and get tempted. They could also lose all sense of their ‘purity’ after doing it once. Many girls in real life become prostitutes after they are initially raped.
    In fact I think that first decision of Rani’s, to sleep with that guy for a job itself was a big mistake. That was wrong…and actually it was something one cannot respect her for. Perhaps that was why they showed the earlier episodes with Hema Malini and Rani’s fascination for her.
    About sushant, yes he acted well. I forgot to mention him!

  13. October 17, 2007 3:48 pm

    Nita…I agree she had a bad experience…we all have at some point or other….we need to be resilient and fight it out..its a rough world..is she could be trained to become sophisticated escort..she could be trained to become other things as well…

    As for her first mistake to sleep with boss, I can understand such things happen..but who said…I cant go back after making one mistake! I hate to see that message from the film…

    And this was just director gimmick: en aankhon ki masumiyat barkarar hai..its not real…you get hardened living such kind of life professionally…An unreal fairy tale this was :(

    cannot disagree with you there…yes a fairy tale…! – Nita.

  14. sitaji permalink
    October 18, 2007 10:07 am

    Thanks for your review!

  15. October 19, 2007 5:48 pm

    It is a boring one… not talking about issues it talks..

  16. Shyamal permalink
    October 23, 2007 9:09 am

    After a long time, I watched a really good hindi movie. yes, it is commercial. But within those bounds , Pradip Sarkar tells a heart wrenching story. I believe that the movie flopped at the box office because Indians still have a problem seeing a happy ending for a call girl in a movie. This is because most Indians , both male and female have not come out of the grips of seventeenth century attitude . They think of prostitutes as outcasts who should be hated. They cannot believe that there can be liberal young men in 2007 like the character portrayed by Abhishek who will fall in love with a call girl, in spite of knowing her profession. This says a lot about the narrow and backward outlook of Indians. This is why most reviewers who happen to be from this class of Indians , have rejected the movie. In contrast, The New York Times has all praise for the movie.
    As such it is rare for New York Times to review an Indian movie not made by the Late Satyajit Ray. This itself should be a matter of great pride for the movie’s director and producer.
    I would like to know how this movie fared in Kolkata which is culturally far more advanced than Mumbai or other cities.

  17. October 23, 2007 10:38 am

    Shyamal, thanks. As to how the movie is doing there is this link which talks about the business. Apparently the bad reviews dampened the initial response but there is hope that the movie will pick up. I think it should because it is a good movie and in fact not at all regressive as some reviewers have said. I think that reviewers are basically neither movie lovers and nor do they have too much knowledge of films and most of the reiviews I have seen of this film are superficial and at times plain stupid.
    It’s true what you said about the audience not accepting that a man can fall in love with a call-girl. But if you ask me the director made a mistake here…he should have given Abhishek more screen time to explain how he thought and why it didn’t matter to him whether Rani was a call-girl or not.

  18. P.K. Chatterjee permalink
    March 14, 2008 4:25 am

    Apart from all the debates, I would like to highlight that the theme song and the title on which the story is portrayed is a bhajan having a more general message for all mortal beings. It says,
    ” Kori chunariya atma mori, mail hai mayajal
    Woh duniya mere babul ka ghar, yeh duniya sasural”
    It is never about the sin (or the feelings of committing a sin) that Rani has done and Anupam Kher is not that Babul.

    Now, after watching this movie, people may mis-interpret the eternal message of that famous song. I think, director could have chosen some other title.

  19. July 22, 2009 11:26 am

    I thought Laaga Chunari Mein Daag was okay until I watched Arangetram (1973), a Tamil movie directed by K. Balachander with almost the exact same story. I agree with you in that I didn’t think it was regressive. But I thought Arangetram wass a lot more realistic. For one, the family – particularly the brother that the protagonist, Lalita supports financially while she’s a sex worker – refuses to accept her even in the end. Lalita marries a childhood friend in defiance to her family.

    Another point where, for me, Arangetram scored over Laaga Chunari… was that Lalita, unlike Badki, is never apologetic of what she is. Even in the end, when she is berated by her family, she only points out to them that they might call her names, but she is, after all, their breadwinner.

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  1. Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, showing in Maple Grove, MN « Bollywood Food Club

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