“UMRAO JAAN” is a film on the life of a courtesan of Lucknow, Umrao Jaan ‘Ada’, in the mid-nineteenth century, the zenith of Avadh culture and the moment of its disintegration. The story was originally narrated by her to Mirza Riswa who documented it in the form of a novel—a memorable classic.
Woven into the tapestry of the light and shade of the period’s refined decadence, is the life of a woman who, in spite of being the victim of the most adverse circumstances, matures into a highly cultured human being, an accomplished poetess in her own right.
Umrao as a young girl is abducted from her simple and happy home in Faizabad and sold to a “tawaif” of Lucknow, Khanum Jaan. Khanum’s kotha is a bewitching fairyland for the innocent gril who is there trained in music, dance and letters. She grows into a beautiful woman who takes the city by storm with her poetry, song and dance.
Umrao has a wide range of exciting experiences; her sustained relationship with the witty Gohar Mirxa,; her first intense love affair with the shy and sensitive Nawab Sultan; her attempts to free herself from her bondage in Lucknow; her escapade with Faiz Ali, a notorious dacoit; the amazing coincidences that dog her footsteps and many more. Each person she encounters leaves an imprint on her life and contributes to her understanding of her times. Each person is not only a colourful character but also a type, a representative of a social class. It is through her poetry-ghazals that these experiences and encounters are transcended and translated into expressions of beauty.
(From the official press booklet)