December 2, 2007

December poll: Khanum v. Khanum

This month's poll pits amma against beti.

In Muzaffar Ali's 1981 film Umrao Jaan, Shabana Azmi's mother, Shaukat Kaifi, played the madam Khanum, who raised, trained, and exploited Umrao for all she was worth. Shabana ji took on the role in the 2006 version of the film by J.P. Dutta.

Who do you think was a better Khanum?

Shaukat Kaifi's Khanum is ruthless, even cruel. Even if she genuinely loves Umrao, she doesn't hesitate to sell her down the river when it's expedient to do so. Shuakat plays the character with exquisite control, registering a wide range of expression with little more than a cock of an eyebrow.

Shabana ji's Khanum chews the scenery as eagerly as she chews her paan, but there is a vulnerability to her (left unexplained by the film) that gives her a more genuinely maternal aspect than her mother's version of the character had.

So which one do you think is better? Not which film - just which Khanum. Vote in the poll at the right, and leave your comments below.


maru said...

Great poll question Carla.... but I can't vote! I've only watched Shaukat's Khanum. All the reviews of the new UJ including your own on filmigeek convinced me to stay away ---- despite Shabana's redeeming presence.

Is it a given that you prefer Beti's Khanum to Amma's?

Filmi Geek said...

Aha - the inherent weakness in this poll; who wants to watch a terrible movie just to answer it? :)

My vote did go to Beti, but I won't allow that it's a "given," because at the time the film came out, someone at the BollyWHAT? forum asked me to set my fangirliness aside and choose which one I liked better, and at the time I gave it a lot of thought. I concluded that JP Dutta's Khanum, unlike the rest of his film, had some heart and some complexity; her humanity was most touching and interesting to me. There is a scene in the film, one that has no parallel in Muzaffar sahib's version of the story, in which Khanum refuses to leave the khota even when the English soldiers are beating down the gates of Lucknow and everyone else is fleeing. Earlier in the film she had warned Umrao that the outside world was very dangerous and bad, and I could not help but wonder - what happened to Khanum in her youth that this formidable, powerful woman should so fear the world outside the Khota? And that is why Shabanaji gets a slight edge over the icy-hearted character played by her mother.

Anonymous said...

But isn't that based on characterization, not acting?

Filmi Geek said...

Yes, it's a little of both - Khanum v.2006 had a little more humanity partly because of how she was written, and partly because Shabana ji played the character with more humanity and vulnerability.

At any rate, my question was not: whose performance was better? It was: which Khanum do you prefer? I meant the question to be broad enough to allow any criteria one wished to consider. :)