In Heeramandi, Richa Chadha shines brightest as the doomed Lajjo | Web Series - Hindustan Times
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In Heeramandi, Richa Chadha shines brightest as the doomed Lajjo

May 03, 2024 06:19 AM IST

Richa Chadha is in career-best form as Lajvanti- or Lajjo- in Heeramandi. Her stunning kathak dance performance is one for the ages. (Spoilers ahead)

Richa Chadha's performance as the anguished Lajjo burns the brightest in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar. Her arc is inarguably the shortest, yet leaves the impact of a sudden storm that wreaks havoc within the harmonious framework of the narrative. Lajjo is alcoholic, hopelessly romantic, and wildly unpredictable. Her tragedy lashes down on the syntax of the show quite early, and even though the story picks up soon after, her spirit leaves a gaping wound that refuses to heal. (Also read: Richa Chadha exclusive interview: ‘Lajjo is very different than what people expect of me’)

Richa Chadha in a still from Heeramandi.
Richa Chadha in a still from Heeramandi.

Lajjo's dream

Bhansali also provides Lajjo with two beautiful musical creations- Sakal Ban and Masum Dil Hai Mera. Perhaps Lajjo is akin to the brief incandesce of a song, one whose presence lifts the mundane towards a frantic high. Sakal Ban is where Lajjo is first introduced- we see her arrive with a twinkle in her step, instantly at ease with the other dancers. It is when Mallikajaan (Manisha Koirala) has announced the 'nath utrai' ceremony of her daughter, and the entire Shahi Mahal is awash in yellow, the spirit of spring. The viewer will see Lajjo with all the other women of the community for the first time. The second time that happens- the same space takes on a devastating contrast.

Lajjo is in love with Zorawar (Adhyayan Suman), the resident Nawab of Lahore. Laughing at the thought that Mallikajaan's daughter Alamzeb (Sharmin Segal) wants to be a poetess, she says how these dreams are the reason for the downfall of women. Yet, who will tell Lajjo that her dream of marrying Zorawar- will be her biggest mistake? She refuses to acknowledge the truth and hopes on, daydreaming of freedom from her life as a courtesan. With an unsteady gait, she stumbles on her way to meet her lover. When she falls just outside her room, she brushes it off with a smile. The smile is so used to enveloping the pain that it has now become a static reaction.

When Zorawar informs her that he is getting married to another woman, Lajjo is again left with nothing but her shattered dreams. She hangs on to the thought that she will be married too and will go on a honeymoon out of the country. Her mention of Paris is quite telling; she's a woman who knows the world that exists outside the walls of the Shahi Mahal. Yet, the more she tries to step into that dream, the more she is shown the door. When she is finally granted independence to step outside, it is of the ultimate form.

Richa Chadha's finest hour onscreen

Richa has always been a compelling presence on screen, carving out fierce and unapologetic female characters in the course of her decade-long career. In Heeramandi, the actor is cast against type, and it is a thrill to witness her infuse Lajjo with such intensity and grace. It is her finest hour on screen. Bhansali gives Lajjo the doomed arc of a Nargis in Pakeezah and the imprint of Meena Kumari's spirited elegance. That influence fuses into the stunning kathak performance for Lajjo in what is the standout sequence of the series.

Maasum dil he mera, use tod diya jaaye (The heart is innocent, let it be broken)- she sings. Lajjo has come to accept her fate by this time: how she will always remain a courtesan, and society will never accept her in any other role. Once again, she lets her hopelessness take centre stage- embracing Zorawar in front of everyone on his wedding day. She is adorned from head to toe, but it is her eyes, the kajal running down in lines on her face, which tell the real story. Zorawar slaps her. She stops her performance. Yet, as Mallikajaan reminds, a courtesan cannot leave her performance midway. So perform, she must. For Lajjo, it marks the culmination of a lifetime of pain, love, and heartbreak expressed through one's art. The crushing indignity, loss, and emotional breakdown- it all lays bare in Richa's performance. It is breathtaking to watch.

The women in Heeramandi are somehow always conniving and plotting against one another, or towards a bigger fight for freedom. Lajjo is the only one who is free from those woes. Richa infuses her with innocence and a wide-eyed wonder- one whose world starts and ends with the man of her dreams. Even as Heeramandi proceeds towards a bigger crisis at hand, Lajjo's story echoes like a distant cry for freedom. Bhansali does well by introducing Azadi with her story, for when the song takes a more tangible return later in the series- it instantly evokes the daring of Lajjo. Richa's performance is one for the ages- she steals the show without a doubt.

Heeramandi is available on Netflix.

 

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