‘Heeramandi’ Recap (Episodes 1-8) & Summary Explained: What Happened To The Tawaifs?


Set around the early 1940s in Lahore, Sanjay Leela Bansali’s Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar pays tribute to the courtesan class that emerged during the Mughal era. The tawaifs were housed in Heera Mandi, and the place turned into a performance hub at night. The tawaifs were artists trained in music, dance, poetry, language, et al. Their respect in society declined during the British Raj, with the Englishmen reducing them to sex workers and the Hindu reformists rejecting them. In Heeramandi, Bansali paints the idea that almost every tawaif wanted to ‘settle down’ and, in the process, give away their financial freedom, which was not entirely true.

Heeramandi was expected to be a visually extravagant affair, and as usual, Bansali does not disappoint in that respect. But even with an elaborate set, intriguing cinematography, gorgeous costumes, and gala dance sequences, Heeramandi is predictable, repetitive, and a little cringeworthy. One of the most iconic scenes in the series is Sonakshi Sinha as the manipulative seductress Fareedan dancing to “Talasmi Behein”—an obvious contradiction to the tawaif culture and a visual cue of the changing times. Manisha Koirala as the cunning matriarch Mallikajaan is surely another reason to watch Heeramandi.

Spoiler Alert

Did Tajdar accept Alamzeb? 

It was love at first sight for Tajdar and Alamzeb. No words were spoken when their eyes caught, and they already knew they were in love. Alam was Mallikajaan’s younger daughter and was trained to become a tawaif. Poetry fascinated her, and she experimented with rhythm and words whenever she could. Alam refused to follow in the footsteps of her ancestors. She did not wish to rule over Heera Mandi like her mother; all she wanted was to become a poetess. Tajdar despised the courtesans and believed that Heera Mandi was synonymous with debauchery. Born into a family of nawabs, Tajdar returned home a nationalist after studying law in London. The radical nationalists did not take his interest seriously until he proved time and again that he was ready to risk his status and life for the sake of the country’s independence.

Alamzeb and Tajdar exchanged letters and glances during the course of their brief affair. Fareedan tried to manipulate the lovers to seek revenge on her aunt, Mallikajaan, for murdering her mother and taking over the Shahi Mahaal. On the night of Alam’s debut performance, Fareedan handed her a fake letter. Alam assumed Tajdar wanted to marry her, and she left Heera Mandi with all her belongings. Upon meeting Tajdar, she realized that her aunt had tricked her. Tajdar initially refused to accept Alam when he found out that she was the daughter of a tawaif. But he eventually realized that she had no place to go, and he offered to accommodate her at his house. 

Would Tajdar have denied Alam his affection if she was a courtesan? Most possibly, yes. There is no denying that Tajdar looked down upon the occupation, and he had no respect for the hundreds of women who performed at Heera Mandi. He perhaps justified himself, thinking that even though Alam was born to a courtesan, she was ‘pure’ (virgin) and therefore deserved a chance. Tajdar’s grandmother, Qudsia (played by the evergreen Farida Jalal), adored Alam, but his father doubted her. After finding out where her daughter was hiding, Mallika visited the Baloch mansion and revealed Alam’s true identity. Even though his family was against the match, Tajdar refused to let go of Alam. 

Why did Tajdar deny his relationship with Alamzeb?

Alam and Tajdar moved to the Baloch farmhouse in Amritsar, and their romance blossomed. Tajdar was about to partake in an important rebel mission, and before doing so, he proposed to Alam for marriage, which she readily accepted. The mission involved entering the cantonment and stealing ammunition. Before executing the plan, Tajdar threw a party at his farmhouse and invited eminent British officers to make them believe he was on their side. The ruthless officer Cartwright was also invited, and he brought along Fareedan. Accidentally, Fareedan came across the blueprint of the cantonment along with various other pieces of evidence that proved the nawab’s involvement in the rebellion. She offered to help Cartwright get to the rebels in exchange for punishing Mallika and Zulfikar for murdering her mother twenty-five years ago. 

When the police stormed into the farmhouse, Tajdar was absent, and they handcuffed Alam, who attempted to hide away the evidence. When Tajdar was informed about the arrest, he made up his mind to confess to the crime, but his leader, Hamid, suggested he reconsider his decision. He could either fight for his nation or surrender himself to protect his lover, and he ultimately chose to do the former. When he was brought to the police station, Tajdar denied his involvement with Alam and refused to acknowledge her as his lover. On that day, Alam lost faith in her relationship.

Who was responsible for Tajdar’s death?

To bring Alam home, Mallika did not protest when Cartwright and his colleagues raped her at the police station. Alam blamed herself for the humiliation her mother had to endure, and becoming a tawaif was the only way she could repay her debt. Alam was pregnant, but she refused to inform Tajdar about it. He had sacrificed his love for the sake of the nation, and she did not wish to distract him. 

Bibbo was a member of the rebellion, and when she met Tajdar, she chose to tell him the whole truth. She thought her sister deserved better, and she did not shy away from insulting the nawab for destroying her sister’s life. Tajdar decided to do the right thing, and he informed his father that he would be marrying Alam. Mallika was hesitant about accepting the marriage proposal, but at the end of the day, she was a mother who cared about her daughter’s happiness, so she decided to give Tajdar another chance to prove himself. As a nawab, Tajdar’s father refused to allow his son to bring home a courtesan’s daughter. He was afraid of the shame Tajdar’s action would bring upon his family, so he came up with an idea to keep the lovers apart. He contacted Cartwright and requested that he arrest his son and keep him in custody until he decided against marrying Alam.

On the day of the wedding, Tajdar was arrested for being a part of the rebellion. Alam was heartbroken. She assumed Tajdar had betrayed her, and she prepared for her debut performance. Tajdar was tortured by Cartwright and his officers, but he refused to name any of his comrades. Alam received the news of Tajdar’s death in between her performance, and she went into a state of grief-induced silence. Alam’s only hope was their unborn child, a sign of the love they shared. 

Tajdar was shot during the interrogation led by Cartwright, but the Britishers knew that they would lose the trust of the nawabs if the truth ever surfaced. So, the British officers blamed the rebels for killing Tajdar. They fabricated a story about how the rebels stormed into the police station and killed Tajdar along with their two officers. The British never considered the Nawabs equal; they were simply easy allies. Tajdar’s death was a warning for all nawabs that they must never dare rise against the crown. They were led to believe that the tawaifs of Heera Mandi were working closely with the rebels, and they used the money offered to them by the nawabs to fund the rebellion. The nawabs almost unanimously decided to boycott Heera Mandi to prove their loyalty to the crown.

Why did Fareedan revoke her loyalty to the British?

Fareedan realized she had made a terrible mistake by shaking hands with the merciless British officer, Cartwright, when she watched Tajdar being tortured. She had revenge on her mind when she returned to Heera Mandi, and because Cartwright too held a grudge against Mallikajaan, she decided to team up with him to destroy her. Fareedan thought she would be closer to her dream after informing Cartwright that Tajdar was a rebel. But instead of Tajdar, Alam was arrested. Fareedan wanted to crush Mallika’s pride, but she did not assume that Cartwright would take away her honor. She realized how cold-blooded Cartwright was to rape a helpless mother, and she started to distance herself from him. Fareedan blamed herself when Tajdar was arrested, and she begged Cartwright to let go of him. She was genuinely happy for Alam when the wedding was announced, and it broke her heart to imagine the pain Alam had to live with after Tajdar’s death. She eventually realized that the British would turn all of them into slaves if they chose not to fight back. It was because of the colonizers that the nawabs had stopped visiting Heera Mandi, and without their patrons, they had no source of income. They were not sex workers who would sell their bodies for pennies; they were artists, and they demanded respect. While men could never be loyal to them, the tawaifs of Heera Mandi realized that they must protect their space to survive. The courtesans decided to surrender themselves to the cause and join the freedom fighters. 

Why was Bibbo martyred?

Mallika’s elder daughter, Bibbojaan, secretly helped the rebels fight against the Britishers. She had proven her loyalty to the cause in several instances, and she donated all her income for the success of the operations. She was perhaps the only woman in Shahi Mahaal who stayed away from the unnecessary scheming and focused on the bigger picture. She knew that with the nawabs losing their status and the Britishers treating them as mere sex workers, they would not have a place to escape. She was glad when the tawaifs of Heera Mandi finally recognized the bigger problem and decided to take a stand against the Britishers. 

After the nawabs stopped frequenting Heera Mandi, the tawaifs sheltered the rebels. To gather insider information, Bibbo developed a sexual relationship with British officer Samuel Henderson, and towards the end of Heeramandi, she volunteered to shoot him dead. When Henderson addressed a meeting encouraging Indians to cooperate with the Britishers, Bibbo stood up, unveiled herself, and shot him dead. There was a sense of disbelief in Henderson’s eyes—he perhaps never thought a tawaif could as well be a patriot. Bibbo was arrested and interrogated, but she never gave away the names of her comrades. A death sentence was announced, but instead of mourning, Mallika took pride in the fact that her daughter would die a martyr. 

What united the tawaifs of Heera Mandi?

Bibbo’s bravery prompted the courtesans of Heera Mandi to take to the streets to voice their support for the first tawaif martyr. They decided to defy the curfew and voice their dissent against the colonizers. Meanwhile, Ustaadji offered Alam the chance to seek revenge on Cartwright. After killing her lover, the evil officer wanted to bed her, and he sent Ustaadji to convince Alam. Ustaadji believed it was the perfect chance for Alam to kill the man who destroyed her life, and he handed her a gun. Alam seized the opportunity and agreed to Ustaadji’s plan.

Heeramandi ends with Alam killing Cartwright and the tawaifs on the streets demanding freedom. They had nothing to lose, and they were not afraid of dying for the cause. The respect that they once had in society was already snatched away, and they desperately held on to the little that was left. They refused to sell themselves to the British, and thus the only alternative they had was to join the freedom fighters. They knew their contribution to the freedom struggle would be erased from history, but that did not deter them from protesting against the British Raj.

With changing times, the tawaifs shifted from their former profession and pursued careers in acting and singing. Several tawaifs from Heera Mandi ended up acting in early Pakistani films; noblewomen stayed away from the camera, and the tawaifs continued entertaining their audience. The decline of the tawaif culture and the gradual villainization of the courtesans could have been an interesting take, but Heeramandi takes the obvious route. The freedom struggle should have been the central focus, but it ends up becoming a distraction.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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