Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar review: Bhansali’s OTT debut is a magnificently dazzling extravaganza sparkled with stellar performances

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar review: Bhansali’s OTT debut is a magnificently dazzling extravaganza sparkled with stellar performances

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar review: Bhansali’s OTT debut is a magnificently dazzling extravaganza sparkled with stellar performances

What: ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’ - Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnificent opus about the life of ‘tawaifs’ (rough translation - courtesans) in the red-light area called Heeramandi in Lahore during the during the Indian independence movement against the British Raj is the epic debut expected from one of India’s finest craftsmen Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar synopsis

Its Circa 1940’s in Lahore. The freedom fighters are gearing up for their mareinge ya mareinge pledge and on the other hand the ‘tawaif’s of the infamous red-light area Heeramandi – Mallikajaan (Manisha Koirala) and Fareedan (Sonakshi Sinha) are at loggerheads to gain supremacy over Shahi Mahal currently under the possession of Mallikajaan.

How the life’s of Mallikajaan and her daughter Alamzeb (Sharmin Segal), sister Waheeda (Sanjeeda Sheikh), her prices courtesan Bibbojaan (Aditi Rao Hydari) and Lajjo (Richa Chadha) turns upside down in their quest for power, love, lust, greed, need and much more in this male dominated society where the nawabs own the ‘tawaifs’ and bow to the British who are ruling the country.


Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar review

How else can anyone had imagined the debut of one of India’s finest craftsmen known for his grand style, huge canvas, extravaganza, costumes, a fascinating experience on screen, known for his mesmerizing visual treat and prone to controversy for his vision/interpretation of history or novels for example ‘Padmavat’, ‘Devdas’.

‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s debut on OTT, its an idea that he reportedly popped up in his mind around fourteen years ago. That time obviously it must have been the big screen in mind and its really an achievement to make the audience feel that grandiosity, the visual spectacle on the small screen with eyes wide open.

When it comes to visual experience ‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ is a mesmerizing experience, cameramen Sudeep Chatterjee (‘Bajirao Mastani’, ‘Padmavat’, ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’) along with Mahesh Limaye, Huenstang Mohpatra and Ragul Dharuman create a vivid world depicting the 1940’s era. Though at times the greenish grey tone gives a feel of ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ but the wider audience may not notice.

Now let’s talk about the Heeras in Heeramandi

Sanjay Leela Bhansali opens his much-touted OTT debut with the shot of a newly born child in Heeramandi being sold after sometime the chilling reaction of the child’s mother (character’s name purposely not disclose to avoid the allegation of being a spoiler), shocks you. The introduction of Mallikajaan and her Shahi Mahal followed by Amir Khusro’s ‘Sakal Ban’ song sets the tone.

Every Heera/Tawaif –Mallikajaan, Fareedan, Bibbojaan, Lajjo, Waheeda and the future prodigy Sharmin Segal have their own story/struggles.

The Shahi Mahal is in possession of Mallikajaan and she lives by the Heeramandi code and expects all the ‘tawaif’ (the most common word used in the eight-episode series) to follow the same.

The grand sets, the chandeliers, curtains, costumes reportedly inspired from the Patience Cooper, Suraiya, Swaran Lata, Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum era makes it look grand throughout.

However, question arises that why ‘tawaifs’ are shown so grandiosely, in Bollywood classics like ‘Umrao Jaan’, starring Rekha or ‘Pakeezah’ starring Meena Kumari the ‘tawaif’s were shown with grace and royalty here at times it sesms o be going a bit overboard maybe due to CGI.

Those times there were no CGI’s. Anyways, initially the eight-episode series is slow pace, probably the director wants the audience to get use to the milieu. And once you are in, Manisha Koirala with her exceptional performance holds you throughout. Manisha Koirala’s body language, dialogue delivery, attitude, poise is incredible. What a performer. She has worked with Bhansali before in one of my favorite film ‘Khamoshi : The Musical’ that also starred Salman Khan, Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas, she won hearts that time and this time also does the same.

Sonakshi Sinha as Fareedan is not at all behind, at par as the dangerous Fareedan, deadly, cunning and looks ravishing in a stunningly brilliant performance laced with layers.

One of the major highlight of ‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ is that Bhansali along with his writer Moin Baig leaves doubts in your mind about their characters especially Mallikajaan, Fareedan and Waheeda even after you are aware of their nature.

Aditi Rao Hydari as Bibbojaan brings the honesty and purity in this web of betrayal lured by greed and lust. Her zest for ‘freedom’ brings in the new dimension that ads an interesting layer. Aditi Rao Hydari is extremely beautiful and she absorbs herself in the role of Bibbojan brilliantly.

Richa Chadha as Lajjo brings the irony of a ‘tawaif’ that exposes the hypocrisy and male machismo in a terrific performance. Adhyayan Suman as Zoravar – Lajjo’s ‘saheb’ gives a fabulous performance as well.

Sanjeeda Sheikh as Waheeda – the betrayed, sidelined member of the Shahi Mahal wants her upper hand and the actress is outstanding in her portrayal. 

Sharmin Segal as Alamzeb – the future prodigy who wants to be a poetess and falls in love with Tajdar (Taha Shah Badussha) – the son of a high profile nawab of Lahore who doesn’t like Heeramandi but eventually falls in love with Alamzeb and trouble begins.

Sharmin is very earnest and decent in her role and does it with grace but at certain tense moments she goes flat. She has to work on scenes that require strong reactions.

Taha Shah charms his way throughout his act and makes an impression.

Shekhar Suman as Zulfikar shocks when he is seen for the first time in the running train. The actor gives a measured performance whenever he appears. His name is though repeated many times in the series.

Valuable support comes from Farida Jalal – grandmother of Tajdar, Fardeen Khan as Wali Mohammed (the saheb of Bibbojaan and Fareedan), Jason Shah as the police officer, Indresh Malik as Ustaad, Shruti Sharma, Vaishnavi Ganatra as Young Waheeda and Nasirr Khan as Choudhry

‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ is projected as Bhansali’s dream project and a prestige one for Netflix India, the eight episode web series is also about identity, freedom, no to slavery and dominance, women empowerment. Bhansali’s cinema has history of strong women characters and their depiction has been graceful in his previous films.

‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ also has strong women, this time the women may hold different meanings for different people but everyone is fighting for identity, survival and searching for freedom over here.

‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ is fictional, you may have not met such character’s in real life but they are in situations known to you. One of the finest things of Bhansali is that he creates a proper build up for his major character’s and allows them to settle in the hearts and mind of the audience and then does the talking.

Yes, at times you may feel the makers indulgence getting long but it’s not that harmful.

The music by Sanjay Leela Bhansali is soothing, for me Sakal Ban by Amir Khusro is an instant take over, marvelously sung by Raja Hasan. Background score by Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar is atmospheric and editing by Sanjay Leela Bhansali is in sync.

Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar – final words

‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ is a magnificently dazzling extravaganza sparkled with stellar performances. Manisha Koirala and Sonakshi Sinha are in complete command while Aditi Rao Hydari and Sanjeeda Sheikh are also eyeing for attention. It’s a feast. This is how a period film on big canvas should be made. Bhansali’s firm believe in old school high drama brings fascinating results as in his OTT debut the craftsman manages to give tribute to Bollywood golden classics ‘Pakeezah’ and ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ (to a certain extent).

Going with an overwhelming four stars, an extra for the performances

‘Heeramandi : The Diamond Bazaar’ is streaming on Netflix from May 01, 2024 onwards


About vishal verma

vishal verma

A child born from life & fed by cinema. A filmi keeda from child & a film journalist for the last fifteen years. a father, seeker, foodie who loves crooning bollywood melodies twitter.com/cineblues More By vishal verma

Other Web Series Review