Umrao Jaan is a 1981 Bollywood film, directed
by Muzaffar Ali. It is based on the Urdu novel Umrao Jaan Ada (1905), written
by Mirza Hadi Ruswa based on the famous Lucknow courtesan. The film starred
Bollywood actress Rekha and Farooq Shaikh as leads.
In the year 1840,
a girl named Amiran (Seema Sathyu) is kidnapped from her family in Faizabad,
Oudh by their neighbour, Dilawar Khan (Satish Shah), and sold to Madam Khanum
Jaan (Shaukat Kaifi) who owns a brothel in Lucknow where she trains
courtesans (tawaif). Amiran, renamed Umrao Jaan, learns to read, write,
dance, and sing. She is a cultured woman trained to captivate men of wealth
A grown-up Umrao
Jaan (Rekha) catches the eye of Nawab Sultan (Farooq Shaikh), and the two
fall in love. But Nawab must marry to please his family, and Umrao's heart is
She meets a
dashing bandit chieftain, Faiz Ali (Raj Babbar), who woos and wins her. She
flees with him, hoping to marry him and leave the world of the courtesan far
behind. But her lover is killed by local police and she is left alone, with
no choice but to return to her old life.
Soon, the British
attack the city of Lucknow and the residents are forced to flee. Umrao's
party of refugees stops in a small village near Lucknow. The residents ask
the courtesan to sing and dance. Umrao, looking about her, realizes that this
is her town, Faizabad, the place from which she was kidnapped.
She sings the song,
"Yeh kya jagah hai doston?" (What kind of place is this, friends?)
a veiled reference to her feelings of dismay at being treated like a pariah
entertainer by her own people. Afterwards, she meets her mother and younger
brother, who had thought that she was dead. Her mother would be happy to
welcome her back into the family, but her brother forbids it — she is tainted
by her profession and must not return to embarrass them.
At the end of the
film, Umrao returns to the now-deserted and looted brothel in Lucknow and
finds she is left alone, with nothing but her profession and her poetry.