‘Heeramandi’ 2024 Review: You’ve Seen It Many Times Before, But Not Like This

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It is a common notion that anything made by Sanjay Leela Bhansali is going to be magnificent. Grace and opulence are synonymous with the director’s work, but does Heeramandi live up to the hype? Is it worth your time, or is it simply decked-out fatigue? Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar tells the story of “tawaifs,” a word that can loosely be translated to courtesans, in Lahore during the 1940s. I have seen most of Bhansali’s filmography, and oftentimes, I find that under the many layers of luxurious decoration (costumes and grand sets), there isn’t much to it. Of course, this doesn’t take away from its entertainment quotient, but it occasionally feels like a waste. I couldn’t say the same about Bhansali’s last venture, Gangubai. In many ways, despite the many differences in Heeramandi and Gangubai, the themes are quite intertwined. Both are feminist tales of unsung heroines told through Bhansali’s lavish and poetic lens. 

From the outside, Heeramandi appears to be an epic saga of love, power dynamics, and the difficult lives of women; however, if you can believe it, it’s more than just that. Heeramandi is set in war-torn India at the height of the revolution against the British Raj while simultaneously spilling tea on the Queen of Shahi Mahal, ruler of Heeramandi, Mallikajaan. Just like the paans the “tawaifs” serve their “nawabs,” the ingredients of Heeramandi are gracefully put together in perfect proportion to achieve complete satisfaction in each bite. Spread out over eight 40–50 minute episodes, the narrative is quick, convoluted in the best way, and beautifully spun out like the twirling skirts of the ladies of the diamond bazaar. While based on real life, the series is completely fictional, and the story by Moin Beg isn’t something nuanced; it’s quite an ordinary tale that we’ve seen many times before. However, the narrative plays out like a dance that you can’t stop watching, predictable yet mesmerizing. Yes, I’m aware it sounds contradictory, but it’s what makes the show a delectable watch. 

As you can imagine, the women in Heeramandi are beyond outstanding, and almost everyone stands out as a main character, outshining each other for the few moments they’re on screen. This is a story about women, and the vision is impeccable. Queen of the Diamond Bazaar, Mallikajaan, is played by veteran actress Manisha Koirala, who has the utmost witchiness of a woman who has lost all her virtue and yet stands tall. She is most definitely unlikeable, yet she somehow demands sympathy from the viewer every step of the way. Maybe it’s the dialogue, or maybe it’s the way she uses her eyes and her drunken gyrations that make us feel unsettled yet pitiful towards her. In this cat-and-mouse fight, opposite her stands Fareedan, young and tall but just as cunning. Sonakshi Sinha has never been better and deserves at least a few awards for this role. Aditi Rao Hydari shines in her role as Bibbo, honestly, and despite her docile appearance, she’s got zeal like no other. Sanjeeda Shaikh gives Manisha Koirala a run for her money, and together, they’re powerful to watch. The rest of the supporting cast is all great; Richa Chadha is incredible as always, and Shekahar Suman is shocking; however, despite my many praises for the series, I will not refrain from expressing my disappointment in Sharmin Segal, who has a massive role in the show but is simply quite expressionless. Normally, I wouldn’t be saying anything, but when you’re trying to feel emotional through your daily TV, the lead actress struggling to change her expression between happy and sad doesn’t really help. 

But, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it doesn’t quite matter, because Heeramandi is a dramatic, thrilling, and massively entertaining show littered with gem-like women who shine through at every moment. Of course, I won’t leave out the costumes of the show, designed impeccably by Rimple and Harpreet. Historical accuracy combined with absolute love in every “gher,” every piece of clothing is going to make you gasp, and I don’t just mean the women; I envy even the “nawabs” for their pastel ensembles. The dance numbers are limited, and I honestly expected more, but having said that, each piece is different from the other, and all the actresses do a stunning job. The music is, as always, classically enrapturing. 

The dialogue is great and will make you laugh out loud occasionally. As it goes with Bhansali, he prefers to keep the obscenities behind the scenes, while making us feel pain through words. It’s honestly a breath of fresh air when everything is put on display everywhere else. I may sound somewhat old-fashioned, but you’ll know what I mean when you watch the series. Sometimes, a lot is said simply through movement. The series is solely for entertainment, and despite its heartfelt message, I think that’s all it should be taken as. There isn’t much to read into, and the power dynamic between the women is the main focus over anything else. 

Bhansali’s fascination with the loneliness of the “tawaif,” or other variants of the courtesan, is an open love letter that we’ve all read many times; take Chandramukhi from Devdas, or, of course, the more obvious Gangubai. It’s a tale he loves to spin out, and I’m not complaining. Heeramandi is a tale about women coming together; it’s a tale about revolution; it’s about love and the many ways it can be stolen from a person; it’s Bhansali’s favorite thing to do. It’s also an easy-breezy watch that can be finished in one sitting. No, really, you’ll be desperate to see what’s coming next for all the “jaans” of Heeramandi in no time. You can expect a grandiose display at the end of the series, as is the norm with anything Bhansali, and you will find familiarity in it, but it still tugs at the emotional heartstrings thanks to the music and visuals. 

I could babble on about the beauty of Heeramandi, but at this point, I’d have to go into spoiler territory, so I’ll refrain from doing that and instead urge you to watch the show if you’re in for some gorgeous, dramatic women’s TV. I think that’s what I’d like to call it. At the end of the day, if you’re a fan of Bhansali, this is going to be like taking a big, hearty handful of your favorite biryani—perfectly spiced. I’d give Heeramandi 4 out of 5 stars.


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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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