Journey of a Woman

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CHENNAI, India -- Director Pradeep Sarkar makes look and feel good cinema. His latest, "Journey of a Woman" ("Laaga Chunari Mein Daag"), is set in the holiest of Indian cities, Varanasi, yet also sweeps across Mumbai (Bombay), Switzerland and Spain, dramatically portraying a clash of tradition and modernism, of subjugation and freedom. Emotional and spirited, the movie mounted on colorful sets that turn Varanasi into an ethereal, lamp-lit city is unlikely to step into the art-house circuit. Its boxoffice potential within India and the Indian diaspora seems promising, given the eye-catching costumes and breathtaking locales. Song sequences in Switzerland and Spain appear as marvelous picture postcards, but are hardly relevant to the plot.

Which is thin and centers on two sisters, Badki (Rani Mukerji) and Chutki (Konkana Sen Sharma), who transport their family, headed by a former economics teacher, Shivshankar Sahay (Anupam Kher), from stark poverty to fairytale riches. If Badki has to work as a high-end escort to achieve this, so be it. Everybody understands and accepts, including Rohan (Abhishek Bachchan), who falls in love with her during a turbulent air journey from Mumbai to Zurich. Nervous first-time flier Badki clutches Rohan's hand while reciting the "Hanuman Chaalisa" (prayer to Hindu monkey god Hanuman).

The younger sibling, Chutki, finds a more honorable way to rise in the social hierarchy, finding a dream advertising job and a dream guy, Vivaan (Kunal Kapoor). The girls' mother, Sabitri Sahay (Jaya Bachchan), stitches sari blouses and petticoats by the candlelight to keep the family together, while Shivshankar grows more cynical.

A disappointing aspect to Sarkar's work is his fondness for gloss and with "Journey" an uncomfortable number of coincidences. What does salvage it to an extent are some of the performances.

Mukerji is good in a cliched role, turning into an attractive and sophisticated prostitute from a raw, bubbly and beautiful small-town belle. Sen Sharma is clearly uneasy in the dance numbers, though she is the most confident of the two, a pragmatic who does not let her sister fall. Veterans Jaya Bachchan and Kher are the ultimate pillars trying to steady a rocking boat, yet in parts often seem out of sync with the story and surroundings.

"Laaga Chunari Mein Daag" -- which literally means "stain on my veil" (a term used for a fallen woman) -- tries hard to portray the modern Indian woman, but does not succeed because it appears to have been scripted a good 10 years ago, borrowing ideas and ideals now quite dated.

JOURNEY OF A WOMAN
Yash Raj Films
Credits:
Writer/director: Pradeep Sarkar
Producers: Pradeep Sarkar, Yash Chopra, Aditya Chopra
Director of photography: Howard Rosemeyer
Costume designers: Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Subarna Ray Chaudhuri, Shiraz Siddique
Music: Shantanu Moitra
Editor: Kaushik Das
Cast:
Badki Sahay: Rani Mukerji
Chutki Sahay: Konkana Sen Sharma
Rohan: Abhishek Bachchan
Vivaan: Kunal Kapoor
Sabitri Sahay: Jaya Bachchan
Shivshankar Sahay: Anupam Kher
Running time: 136 minutes
No MPAA rating
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