By Shruti Vairagkar (L&T Howden)
Zubeidaa is perhaps one of the most underrated movies of Indian Cinema. Released in 2001, it was directed by Shyam Benegal and went on to win several accolades. A stellar cast of Karishma Kapoor, Rekha, Manoj Bajpayee, Amrish Puri, Surekha Sikri, Farida Jalal, Lilette Dubey, Shakti Kapoor, and Rajit Kapoor, it won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress.
Karishma Kapoor plays the titular character of Zubeidaa, a young spirited woman who wants to live life on her own terms. Set in the mid twentieth century, her life is anything but that. Her dreams and desires are crushed as her father (Amrish Puri) refuses to let her become an actress. She is married to a man of her father’s choice, becomes a young mother, gets divorced, and then marries a man of her own choice who belongs to the royal family. At every stage of her life, she is stifled by rules, customs, and decisions made by the men in her life – her father and later her second husband.
The movie begins with the search of who his mother was by Rajit Kapoor, Zubeidaa’s son. Raised by his maternal grandmother, he was told his mother was a fairy. His interviews with her dance master, family friends, and reading her journals reveal a different picture. Her life was not a fairytale. Married at a young age against her will, she accepts her life only to be thrown into a vortex when she is divorced by her husband. Depressed and lonely, she is taken to the races and parties by her family friend where she meets Maharaja Vijayendra Singh of Fatehpur (Manoj Bajpayee). Entranced by her, he pursues her and they quickly fall in love and get married. He is however, already married to Maharani Mandira Devi, played by Rekha. As she enters the royal household, she learns of the various customs which dictate behavior and eventually feels stifled by it. She realizes she will always play second fiddle to Maharani Mandira Devi and takes certain steps which meet an ill-fated end.
Karishma Kapoor is splendid in this performance expressing her emotions through her eyes – her zest for life, the anguish, joy of finding love again, and the turmoil faced in the royal life. Manoj Bajpayee and Rekha are regal, and the latter is restrained as the queen who watches her husband love another woman but must remain dignified. Lyrics written by Javed Akhtar are set to the music composed by A R Rahman, it is in turn haunting (So Gaye Hai), peppy (Mai Albeli), or romantic (Dheeme Dheeme). So Gaye Hai is a melancholic track which plays every time the lead character faces a turmoil in her life.
Zubeidaa is a movie which has romance, drama, and an element of mystery. Who was she? Did she finally get the love and acceptance she craved all her life? What caused the unfortunate end? It may leave the viewer disheartened and with more questions than answers. However, it is a must watch for the music, story, and performances specially that of Karishma Kapoor.