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Heeramandi series review Sinha and Koirala

HEERAMANDI Turns Lavish Extravagance Into Meaningful Storytelling

Heeramandi is the latest from Indian auteur filmmaker, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The legendary filmmaker’s new Netflix original series is almost like his greatest hits, weaved into a new story with wonderful characters, and powerful performances that leave you in awe of the incredible ensemble cast. And while absolutely gorgeous to look at in every way, Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar is quite a dramatic entry in the collection of stories that are set in pre-independence India. And actually ends up having something to say. Read on for my Heeramandi series review

Please note that the following Heeramandi series review will include many spoilers. You can find my non-spoiler review of the Heeramandi premiere here

What Is Heeramandi All About?

Heeramandi series review cast.

Images via Netflix.

Heeramandi is Bhansali’s first series, and it’s an absolute success in this critic’s opinion. The magnum opus is all about Tawaifs, Indian courtesans who enjoyed much power and influence in pre-independent India. This story specifically focuses on the city of Lahore in the 1940s. Heeramandi, translating directly into a Diamond Bazaar, is the part of the city where an entire community of courtesans perform for Nawabs, the even more affluent Indian community back then. The Nawabs were also close with the British occupiers of India of that time. But Heeramandi showcases how all were subject to the whims of the occupants of Heeramandi. That is, until they weren’t.

Tawaifs share many similarities with a concept that may be more familiar in the West, that of the Geisha. Both feature women who are multi-talented in arts and politics and who offer emotional and intellectual companionship along with the physical. Heermandi shows a time in Indian history when society’s stigmas around Tawaifs didn’t really exist. Instead, they were respected members of society, providing entertainment and in some cases, even acting as a rite of passage for young Nawabs looking an education in the ways of the world. Frequenting courtesan houses, or having a Tawaif mistress was not only accepted but seen as something only the affluent and elite of society could indulge in. 

Heermandi’s Story Is All Drama And We Are Here For It 

Heeramandi series review Sinha

Images via Netflix.

The story opens with Mallikajaan, the Huzur, or Madam or Shahi Mahal, the most prominent courtesan house in Heeramandi. She is the Queen of Heeramandi. With a brutal rise to her current position, it’s Mallikajaan’s world and everyone else is just living in it. The larger story of Heeramandi focuses on Mallikajaan (Manisha Koirala) and her family. Mallika’s eldest is Bibbojaan (Aditi Rao Hydari), a renowned Tawaif famous for her voice, and the youngest is Alam (Sharmin Segal), a poet with larger dreams than being a courtesan. Complicating things is Mallikajaan’s younger sister Waheeda (Sanjeeda Sheikh) who is emotionally abused by Mallikajan, by dangling the promise of giving Waheeda her own courtesan house to rule over as Madam. 

The intricate world of Heeramandi expands from this part of Lahore to a young Nawab, or nobleman returned from England with ideas of freedom and rebellion in his heart. So when this young Nawab, Tajdar (Taha Shah Badussha) runs into fellow poetry lover Alam, sparks fly and the star-crossed love story is set. Heermanadi juxtaposes the family drama of Mallikajaan, with this sweet love story, and a rebellion against the British subplot just simmering beneath the surface. Bhansali expertly creates an immersive world with not just the visual sheen, the stunning costumes or even the polished dialogues, but the plethora of powerful performances. 

Manisha Koirala Is The Soul Of Heeramandi

Heeramandi series review Tajdar.

Images via Netflix.

Let’s get one thing straight, Heeramandi series review is most impressed by this incredible ensemble cast that leaves you in awe of this combined talent on screen. But despite that, Heeramandi is ultimately one woman’s story and it’s a Manisha Koirala show all the way. Koirala comes out of nowhere with a performance that reminds us of her range. Bhansali gets one of, if not the best performance of Koirala’s illustrious career. This is a full circle moment seeing that 28 years ago Sanjay Leela Bhansali made his feature film directorial debut with Koirala as his lead in Khamoshi: The Musical. Seeing them reunite and with Koirala delivering this kind of a performance, blew my mind. 

Right behind her is Sonakshi Sinha as Fareedan, Mallikajaan’s niece who returns to avenge her mother, Mallikajaan’s elder sister. I mentioned this show has drama, right? Sinha finally shows what she is capable of, after years of doing her best in commercial cinema that never knew what to do with her. Sinha has had one of the best debuts of anyone in her generation, but her career sort of dwindled until it faded entirely. This recent comeback in streaming shows is seemingly her bag, and she absolutely kills it in Heeramandi! Essentially playing the antagonist, out to destroy Mallikajaan using her youngest daughter against her, Sinha is so incredibly wonderful here. She totally keeps up with the scenes with her and the veteran Koirala, which are just a treat to watch. Heermandi is basically a jugalbandi of wits and words between Mallikajaan and Fareedan. 

Heeramandi Series Features More Known Talent

Bibbojaana

Images via Netflix.

While Koirala and Sinha command most of the screentime, Bhansali ensures that his multi-heroine cast gets significance and importance of their own in this story. As Mallikajaan’s more obedient daughter, Aditi Rao Hydari shines! The always impressive actress has played many supporting roles in some great films. But always just the supporting roles. And while Heeramandi sees her as a co-lead at best, Bibbojaan’s story is one of the more impactful stories of Heeramandi. Despite being their mom’s favourite, Bibbo has a secret; she is a rebel, part of the movement to free India from the British occupation. Usually criminally underused, Rao has a lot to do here. Some of the show’s more powerful and shocking moments come from Bibbo’s storyline, and it’s as empowering as it is tragic. And speaking of tragic—

If the cast so far wasn’t enough, Richa Chadda is in this also! One of Mallikajaan’s adopted daughters, Lajjo (Chaddha) is a Tawaif who is in love with her patron, a Nawab. Laajojaan’s story comes early in the show to set up the fate of a Tawaif in love; heartbreak. Chaddha’s performance as an addicted and heartbroken Lajjo gets the emotions going very early on in the show. Lajjo acts as a cautionary tale for Alam’s eventual love story with Tajdar. Tawaifs don’t fall in love, and if they do, it ends in heartbreak. And worse. 

The Standouts In The Heeramandi Series Review

Fardeen

Images via Netflix.

Amongst these incredible actresses are some standouts from some less recognizable faces. Sanjeeda Sheikh as Waheeda, Mallika’s unhinged younger sister is an absolute delight! Sheikh plays Waheeda as someone who’s totally broken due to the trauma she’s experienced at the hands of her own sister. Waheeda is the wild card of Heeramandi, and Sheikh plays her as adeptly as a firecracker as she does as a damaged victim always serving the interests of those around her. Sheikh stands out in a performance that could easily have gone off the rails, but instead, it does so in the best possible way. 

Then there’s there’s Alamzeb (Sharmin Segal), Mallikajaan’s youngest daughter who wants nothing to do with the Tawaif life. Instead, she wants to be a poet and be with Tajdar, her love. The character of Alam is a wonderful character and a great counterpoint to the lives of the other characters in Heeramandi. In many ways, Alam’s story is what throws everything into chaos. Or rather, one of the stories. And while she is the heart of the show, Segal’s inexperience prevents her from hitting the more emotional beats required of her for those key moments to land.

Heeramandi Series Review Highly Recommends The Show

This is especially noticeable in, what should be the highlight of the character’s arc, and Segal’s performance— her own eventual Mujra performance. It’s a moment when Alamzeb has lost everything; her marriage fell apart, her lover is missing, and the performance itself is her debut into the life of a courtesan, something she’s always been against. And the Mujra is supposed to reflect that loss and heartbreak. However, the performance falls flat, as Segal range isn’t yet there be able to pull it off. Her lack of experience comes through, but it’s not as egregious to pull anyone out of the story. But despite all these issues, Segal’s acting performance throughout is earnest and eager and she fully commits to the role.  

Ultimately, Heeramandi is a massive success. The story, the visuals, and the performances all adeptly directed and composed by Bhansali is a lavish and grand story of love, sacrifice and extravagance. It showcases a time and a culture that is fascinating, and the characters within them even more so. With performances that light up the screen even more so than the gorgeous sets and costumes. 

Heeramandi is now streaming on Netflix

What did you think of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi? Let me know in the comments below. And follow me on X (formerly Twitter) at @theshahshahid for more Bollywood movies and TV reviews. 

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HEERAMANDI Turns Lavish Extravagance Into Meaningful Storytelling
  • Acting - 10/10
    10/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 8/10
    8/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Setting/Theme - 9/10
    9/10
  • Watchability - 9/10
    9/10
  • Rewatchability - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
Overall
8.8/10
8.8/10
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