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‘Heeramandi’ – culmination of 18 year dream says director Sanjay Leela Bhansali at LA Netflix screening (short review)

‘Heeramandi’ – culmination of 18 year dream says director Sanjay Leela Bhansali at LA Netflix screening (short review)

One of India’s great auteur directors’ first series for a streaming channel dropped earlier today on Netflix and the channel screened it on Monday (April 29) in Los Angeles for special guests and it was followed by a Q&A and dinner after…

SANJAY LEELA BHANSALI’S series ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’ dropped on Netflix worldwide earlier today (May 1) and viewers will get a chance to experience the eight-part show for themselves.

Lilly Singh (Youtuber), Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Bela Bajaria
(chief content officer Netflix) ©Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix

Bhansali is one of the great auteurs of Indian cinema and specialises in historical epics, lavish sets and star actors.

In many ways, ‘Heeramandi’ is poorer for not being on the big screen but Bhansali at a special screening hosted by Netflix in Los Angeles itself opened up about a project he had first conceived of 18 years ago. He later also enjoyed a dinner hosted by Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-CEO with other celebrities also in attendance in Los Angeles.

Set in Lahore in the 1940s just before Independence and Partition, ‘Heeramandi’ refers to an area still in existence but to all accounts, a sad patch on what it used to be.

Bhansali at the Q&A post screening in LA

While being a market, it was also home to many courtesans who ran their own households and wielded power in a part of the city devoted to art, music and culture -and other aesthetic pleasures to be generous…

Traditionally, these courtesans known as Tawaifs, would learn classical Indian dance and entertain Nawabs, Sultans and Maharajahs.

And so ‘Heeramandi’ goes underneath – to explore the loves, power and fury of a handful of such figures.

At the apex is Mallikajaan played by Manisha Koirala (a prominent Bollywood name) – her fierce rival is Fareedan (Sonakshi Sinha) and two other courtesans are caught in the middle – the young, artistic Alamzeb (Sharmin Segal) and the romantic but broken Lajjo (Richa Chadha). All but Segal are well established career and have different trajectories and fan bases.

Bhansali and Sharmin Segal (Alam)

We spoke to the four last week ahead of the series dropping today (see below) – talking about characters – who they might have liked to have played other than Mallikajaan and what aspect of the culture should we carry into today’s time, you can see our chat below.

Bhansali told the LA audience: “The script for ‘Heeramandi’ was charming, vast, and epic. The story was too long for a film, and I had the concept 18 years ago, but there were no OTT platforms then. I finally saw an opportunity to do it properly on an OTT platform, where you can develop it and enjoy each character. This story has taken the longest—18 years of nurturing, cherishing, and living it.”

Bhansali and Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos

He praised Netflix and remarked: “They are tough, and relentless and ask for honest directors to create content with the same passion. It’s good Karma as a filmmaker to meet such producers and I’m grateful to them.”

Lilly Singh, who moderated the post screening Q&A debate, said after watching two episodes that it was “spectacular and stunning”.

The series is reported to have cost around 200 Crores (about £20 million) making it one of the most lavish productions ever made by a streaming channel in India.

ReviewTakes a little bit to get going but bask in a different world and one where women take centre stage…

Alam (Sharmin Segal) in ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar‘ Netflix © 2024

STAY with this – the first episode isn’t the best. Of course a certain amount of scene setting is necessary but there is little drama or tension in episode 1.
Episode 2 is considerably better and starts with a murder which will cause ripples everywhere.
We see the scheming Fareedan (Sinha) and how she causes havoc in the world of Mallikajaan (Koirala).
This is a series to savour and enjoy at your leisure: the sets are incredible, the acting top notch and the music wonderful – it’s a great experience and again in some ways, a shame it is not on the big screen. We have seen up to the beginning of episode 4 and the politics of the time is becoming more apparent. Those of you who have seen Bhansali’s ‘Gangubhai Kathiawadi’ will notice similar set designs and motifs – but it doesn’t really matter as this is sumptuous and a reminder that Bhansali brings all his musical skills and epic imagination to bear fruit on his first streaming series.
Acv rating: **** (out of five)

Have you seen our interviews with Sonakshi Sinha, Richa Chadha, Aditi Rao Hydari, and Sharmin Segal?

And before that Manisha Koirala?

‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’ – dropped on Netflix today (May 1) –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture