‘Heeramandi’ is Beautiful But Incomplete

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s streaming debut is characteristically grandiose. But it falls short where it matters most.

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Still from 'Heeramandi' (2024) (Netflix)

Poulomi Das


May 1, 2024


8 min

A woman sits in her palatial room as attendants apply mehendi. But it’s only when she gets up to greet a British man that we really see Mallikajaan (Manisha Koirala). She walks — nay glides — through the opulent corridor while an entourage holds her ghagra aloft. In classic Sanjay Leela Bhansali fashion, the imagery, replete with baroque architecture, plenty of mirrors, and slow tracking shots, is both rich and regal. But its desired effect wouldn’t have been possible if Koirala, who reunites with Bhansali after 28 years, hadn’t commanded the frame with such striking, sensual mystery. 

In Bhansali’s nearly 30-year-long career spanning 10 feature films, the duality of women has enticed the multi-hyphenate auteur. Women, in his eyes and world, are vessels for courage and suffering. In a 1999 interview, Bhansali admits as much. “A man is not capable of giving the way a woman gives. She is stronger,” he said. “When a woman sacrifices, it lends her grace and beauty.” 

And so, Bhansali’s epics abound with graceful, beautiful women. Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, his long-awaited streaming debut, is no different. It unfolds as a love letter to the tawaifs — classically trained entertainers — who immortalized Lahore’s eponymous red-light district. Five women power the eight-episode series, reportedly made on a budget exceeding $20 million, the most expensive Indian production for a streaming show. But the storytelling fails to do them justice.

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