The film begins with Riyaz (Rajat Kapoor), Zubeida's son setting out to research her life, and to meet the people who knew her. The story is thus told in the form of memories/reminiscences. Zubeida is a Muslim actress, who's career aspirations are thwarted by her film-producer father (Puri) who looks down upon a woman in acting. He arranges her marriage to her friend's son, but that breaks up after the birth of her son. Zubeida is now back at her parent's home, sad and depressed. Rose (Lilette Dubey) her father's mistress tries to cheer-up Zubeida by taking her out. On one of these outings, Zubeida meets Prince Vijayendra (Victor) Singh of Fatehpur (Bajpai). Quite taken with her, the Prince woos and marries her. Zubeida, now the 2nd wife of a Hindu prince, leaves her son behind with her mother (Sikri) and comes to live at Fatehpur. Here she meets the much older Mandira Devi (Rekha) the Prince's first wife, learns about the etiquette of being a Rani, and of the duties her husband has towards his first wife. Zubeida's relationship with Mandira (whom she calls Mandy didi) is tumultuous, seesawing between affection and jealousy. She frets about the restrictions on her as Rani and the choke-hold of royal duties on Victor, often venting out her frustrations at not having her husband to herself. When Victor decides to contest the elections, he relies on Mandira, as his Hindu consort (as opposed to Zubeida), to accompany him on his political jaunts. Zubeida, angry at being spurned, in obstinacy takes a decision, which has fatal consequences.
Bollywood’s Shyam Benegal directed this low budget, but beautiful film. Although the film flopped on the big screen, mostly due to low profile of Shyam Benegal, it gained quite a cult when it was released on video.1951 (around the time of decolonization?). The movie begins with a Zubeidaa’s (Karisma Kapoor) funeral. The rest of the movie is about a boy becoming a man trying to find truth about his mother. Zubeidaa was an aspiring actress, very energetic and very young and free-spirited. Her The very strict, if not despotic, father Suleiman (Amrish Puri) was Muslim and owned of a movie studio. He married her off to his Pakistani friend’s son when she was still a teen. But her in-law forces her husband to leave to Karachi almost immediately after their son is born. After the divorce her husband left her with the child on her hands. But alas, several years later, she was still a very young woman and she fell in love with the [Hindu] Maharaja of one of the provinces (didn’t catch which one – Fatehpur?), who already had several wives. He seemed very affectionate though. The reality of life kicks into this almost fairytale moment when grandparents insist on bringing up Zibeidaa’s son in Muslim tradition, and Zubeidaa would have to part with him if she marries the prince Vijayendra Singh, Victor for short (played by Bollywood star Manoj Bajpai). Next challenge for Zubeidaa would be to assume her position as a royalty. In addition, Victor was already married to Princess Mandita Devi (Rehka), who was jealous of her. Victor’s brother is flirting with Zubeidaa, and India as a country is in the transition to independence, while kings are trying to keep feudal system alive - their families rules for 2000 years All of this makes the plot very complex and multi-layered.
Beautiful photography and great cast. Karisma Kapoor was perfect for this role. She is so convincing I had tears in my eyes. Captivating story and great acting. The costumes and the sets, both 50s and 80s, were designed with such detail that you think the movie was shot in that era. Rekha’s body language and his ayes say everything. She gets the essence of the character of the queen. The music is brilliant: it matches exactly what each character is feeling. Finally and thoughtful, intelligent and captivating film from Bollywood.
When Zubeidaa sings a song of love to Victor couldn’t help but laugh when the color of her saree kept changing – I guess the idea was to show continuity here – the couple was very happy for quite a while: at least a year because the color of the dress changed four times, just like seasons of the year.
It was nice to see Amrish Puri again – he was such a great villain in Indiana Jones!
I got another laugh during the airplane scenes – I am a pilot too, so seeing the prince in 1982 model of Cessna 172 Skyhawk II (mind you, this is still late 50s) was too funny. Victor also said only two persons can seat in the airplane, but it’s a four-seater. When the plane’s engine quit, the effect was lousy – it was a miniature of the plane on a drawn background. Planes don’t go down this way. Even if the engine quits it just becomes a glider. Then again, if engine stopped, the would not be the sound of the engine when it went down. Oh, well. For the budget the effect was appropriate.