As far as the storyline of Umrao Jaan is concerned it date backs to the 1840 when a young girl named Amiran is kidnapped by their neighbour, Dilawar Khan (Satish Shah) and sold to a brothel owner, Madam Khanum Jaan (Shaukat Kaifi). Amiran is renamed Umrao Jaan. Here she learns to read, write, dance and sing to charm affluent men. The film reflects the "tawaif culture" that was predominant in Lucknow. In fact the film is set is Lucknow.
As the film proceeds it shows a grown-up Umrao Jaan, played to perfection by Rekha.
Umrao Jaan's poetry, her songs and her extraordinary dancing skills are famous in Lucknow. At this time enters Nawab Sultan (Farooq Shaikh) who is impressed by her 'shayari' and falls for the mesmerizing Umrao Jaan. But their love story ends tragically as the Nawab leaves her heart broken for the sake of his family. Umrao Jaan meets a bandit chieftain, Faiz Ali (Raj Babbar). She elopes with him to escape the life of a courtesan but the bandit is caught by the police and she is compelled to return to her own life. In the brothel, Gohar Mirza, is also attracted by Umrao and wishes to marry her.
However the British attack compels everyone in Lucknow to flee the city and Gohar Mirza is killed in the uprising in which he takes part. While moving away from Lucknow Umrao Jaan and her companions stop by a village, realizing that it is Faizabad, her own native village, she could not stop herself from meeting her family. She goes to meet her mother and little brother. But she is refused to be accepted by her own family. Her profession is an embarrassment for them. Hurt, crestfallen, ostracised by loved ones she returns to the world 'tawaifs.' She has nothing but her poetry and profession left with her.
Rekha was appreciated from all sections for her incredible performance. Umrao Jaan once again revived the era of the costume dramas Indian cinema. Umrao Jaanm, the film, bagged several awards:
National Film Award for Best Actress: Rekha
Filmfare Best Director Award: Muzaffar Ali
Filmfare Best Music Director Award: Khayyam
Filmfare Nomination for Best Actress: Rekha
Umrao Jaan was remade in the year 2006 by JP Dutta.
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