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Enjoyable, sketchy, more fiction, less history: ‘Heeramandi’ generates debate in Pakistan

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LAHORE, May 17: When a show by one of Bollywood’s best known filmmakers is set in your city and centred around a locality that still exists, anticipation is high and reel-real comparisons inevitable. No surprises then that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar” has led to animated debate, panned and praised in equal measure by viewers in this Pakistan city. The eight-episode lavishly mounted show centres around six courtesans in pre-Partition Lahore’s red light district Heeramandi and their battles for power, revenge, ownership, love and their contribution in the freedom struggle.

The show by the director of sprawling costume dramas such as “Devdas”, “Bajirao Mastani” and “Padmaavat” should be watched for its grandeur and glamour, but hardly does justice to the reality of Heeramandi, said several Pakistani viewers who were looking forward to the spectacle as much perhaps as OTT audiences in India.

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Shoiab Ahmad, a journalist with over 30 years of experience covering showbiz, said he didn’t find Lahore’s Heeramandi in Bhansali’s work. “The series was good in terms of production and glamour appeal. As far as Heeramandi of Lahore is concerned, it appears that this series was not made on real accounts of those living in this ‘Bazaar-e-Husn’ (market of beauty)… It seems to have been inspired by word of mouth or based on sketchy information,” added Ahmad, currently associated with Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

Several Pakistani viewers posted their opinions on social media.

Like Hamd Nawaz, a Lahore-based doctor, who said on X, “Just watched Heeramandi. Found everything but heermandi in it. I mean either you don’t set your story in 1940’s Lahore, or if you do- you don’t set it in Agra’s landscape, Delhi’s Urdu, Lakhnavi dresses and 1840’s vibe. My not-so-sorry Lahori self can’t really let it go. (sic)” “To begin with, where exactly is it set? Lake Como? Amalfi Coast? The most evident landmark still visible from every building in today’s remnants of Heera Mandi is the Shahi Qilla-Grand Mosque’s doom and minarets skyline. If you call it Lahore, show Lahore (sic)” she said.

Starring Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sanjeeda Sheikh, and Sharmin Segal, Bhansali’s debut web series is streaming on Netflix.

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There has been a complete ban on screening of Indian films in cinema houses in Pakistan since late 2019 but Pakistani fans can easily watch content from across the border on streamers.

According to Albar Mustafa, a resident of Lahore working for a digital media outlet, “Heeramandi” is a fantastic show with brilliant acting, especially by Koirala and Sinha. “The series beautifully captures the struggles and sacrifices during India’s fight for independence. Bhansali’s grandeur and storytelling make it a visual delight. It is a must watch that will surely move you and leave you impressed,” Mustafa told PTI.

“Heeramandi” has been praised for its drama, production design, costumes, and the role of courtesans in the freedom struggle movement. On Wednesday, Netflix India said the series is “trending #2 globally” for two weeks in a row. The streamer had previously said “Heeramandi” became the “most viewed Indian series globally” in the first week of its launch.

A section of viewers, on both sides of the border, has also criticised the show for glorifying brothels as well as for its historical and linguistic inaccuracies.

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In the series, royal matriarch Qudsia, a character played by veteran actor Farida Jalal, says it’s customary for nawabs to visit Heeramandi so that they can learn ‘adab, nafasat, ishq’ (manners, refinement, and love).

The courtesans, or ‘tawaifs’, were also the agents of art, dance, music, and poetry. With the arrival of the British, the nawab culture bit the dust and the status of Heeramandi’s courtesans was relegated to “nautch girls” and their profession was often confused with prostitution.
Historian-author Majid Sheikh, considered an authority on Lahore’s history, said Mughal emperor Akbar brought women from Iran, Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of now Pakistan to Lahore.  (PTI)

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The Hills Timeshttps://thehillstimes.in/
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