Mallika In ‘Heeramandi’ Explained: Who killed Rehana?


Separated from the real world, Heeramandi looks like a well-decorated prison. Those diamonds can be deceptive, you know. It is an endless loop of pain and suffering from which no one makes it out alive. It is the place where dreams are sold for something as common as money and pleasure. Maybe it has the most appropriate name. A coal burns inside out to finally become a diamond. But in the end, it is left with no fire of its own. It is as cold as the hearts of men and as useless as a person without a purpose. I really wanted to see Mallika Jaan as an ambitious character, but by the end of it all, she was not. She had survived against all odds, but finally realized that survival had no meaning if it didn’t contribute to one’s existence. And in the end, that’s all Heeramandi was about.

Spoiler Alert

Mallika’s journey began when she was just a simple courtesan in Rehana Jaan’s Shahi Mahal. It was the time when Nawab Zulfikar made the rounds of Heeramandi to meet his mistress, Rehana, but soon got bewitched by young Mallika’s charm. A Nawab’s lust for beauty caused distress between these two women, and there was a fight to win over their “sahab’s” affection. In the end, Mallika got pregnant with Nawab’s illegitimate child, which Rehana wanted to get rid of as quickly as possible. One night, she secretly sold Mallika’s child to Nawab’s wife. Mallika couldn’t bear the loss of her child and therefore suffocated her “Rehana Appa” to death without any remorse. Later, with Zulfikar’s help, she made her death look like a suicide and evaded the law by bribing the English officer. It was the beginning of Mallika’s reign and her control over Shahi Mahal for years to come. But little did Mallika know that she would end up becoming the person she hated the most.

Mallika always believed that people with money had absolute control over the world. It was the reason why she didn’t give importance to anything in the world and built her kingdom brick by brick for some 25 years. However, she finally realized that power never comes from money; it comes from fear. Even the richest Nawabs in Lahore were afraid of the foreign invaders, as they had been witnesses to the atrocities committed by them. None of the Nawab wanted to end up in prison, which was why they meekly aided the Englishmen and nodded their heads like good little puppets without any integrity. But even though the likes of Mallika sold their bodies every night to feed their hungry stomachs, they never sold their honor, which certainly set them apart from the rich Nawabs. Mallika protected her honor and respect until a few English men raped her. 

The incident had turned Mallika into a living corpse. It was at this moment that she realized that it wasn’t her wealth that made her the respected ruler of Heeramandi. Instead, it was the honor that she had earned from the courtesans, who had stayed with her through thick and thin. Even though Mallika had been ruthless in her ways and sold courtesans against their will, she often wished a better life for these girls, whom she had raised like her own. Well, it could be argued that she played the villain throughout the series. But if you see what happened to Saima in the end, it could be said that Mallika could foresee the future like no one else. Even in the case of Lajjo and Alamzaeb, Mallika always knew what the outcome would be, and therefore she became the villain in the story to protect her daughters. But destiny isn’t always in one’s favor. Lajjo met her eventual fate, while Alamzaeb lost everything she held dear.

After Alamzaeb’s arrest, even her lover, Tajdar, left her to rot in the prison cell. And again, it was Mallika who swallowed her pride and walked into that very police station to sell her honor and integrity so that she could bring her child back to Heeramandi. Yes, Mallika had been arrogant since the very beginning, but maybe it was that arrogance that protected her and her daughters from the lecherous men in the outside world. That day, Mallika lost something that was very dear to her heart. She couldn’t bear the burden of it. None of the gold and diamonds mattered to her anymore as much as the protection of her courtesans. It was the reason why she decided to give away the Shahi Mahal to its rightful heir, Fareedan. Even her perspective on the freedom struggle movement changed overnight as she could relate to the feeling of being a prisoner in one’s own territory. She not only gave shelter to the revolutionaries but also organized a march to the prison where one of her daughters, Bibbojaan, was to be executed for her crimes against the foreign invaders. Bibbojaan’s sacrifice for her country had a transformative effect on Mallika, who could not help but appreciate her daughter’s courageous act. It gave her a certain comfort knowing her girls were now ready to face the world and stand against injustice, even without her support. But Mallika didn’t hold back either. She decided to give her support to the Indian Freedom Movement in any way possible. From that day on, she decided to lock those musical instruments in the storeroom until the country itself was liberated from the Englishmen who had been exploiting it to the core.

But the question here is: would there be a place for Malikajaan and her courtesan in the new “India?” It is a tricky question. Both Nawabs and Englishmen had turned tawaifs into mere objects for sex. Most of these courtesans were incredible singers and dancers, but no one saw them as artists anymore. It was a harsh reality that we still witness today. For the general public, mujra is a part of prostitution, while in reality, it is a cultural art form that has never been widely accepted in the new society. Gone are the days when people would sit in a circle to hear a shayari express a few words. People are in awe of something else now. So even though Mallika and her tawaifs help the Freedom Fighters attain so-called freedom for their country, these courtesans from Heeramandi never find a place in the new world. 

As history tells us, most of these artists ended up becoming sex workers, while others moved away from Heeramandi to work in Pakistani films, where they found work as background dancers, singers, and actors. It is a sad reality, but Heeramandi, which once flourished with music and ghazals, has now been turned into ruins that only smell of activities that happen behind closed doors. Maybe this is what happens when people don’t respect their artists.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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