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The Hollywood Insider Netflix Heeramandi Maestro Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Bollywood Superstar Nepali Actress Manisha Koirala

‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’, available on Netflix, appears not just as a film but as a celebration of cinematic brilliance and depth. Directed by the legendary Hindi filmmaker, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the movie transports its audience into the lavish, boisterous world of pre-independent India. The film is presented in a narrative rich with culture, conflict, and the abiding mental struggle between personal desires and societal expectations. I want to dive into the intricate layers of ‘Heeramandi’, exploring its profound narrative, aesthetic brilliance, and the culture it weaves through its storytelling. The series having been put on Netflix is significant to cultural representation and film diversity and opens viewers’ eyes to a world outside of their own. Not to mention, Bhansali is reintroducing a much-needed and longed-for series of long episodes on Netflix.

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A Tribute To Heeramandi

The historical drama series takes place in the historical city of Lahore, present-day Pakistan. Heeramandi was once known for its dancing, music, culture, and arts. Courtesans had a higher profile and attended high-end parties. Post-British control over India, the town adapted into a red-light district. Instead of solely music, dancing, culture, and arts, it was filled with prostitution, sexualization, and hardships. What I appreciate about the creation of ‘Heeramandi’ is that it is a tribute and opens the eyes of a generation with little to no knowledge of a city, a culture, and a community that once was. Bhansali does a wonderful job of telling an authentic story while depicting the town in a beautiful light, with music that can be well appreciated from the Hindi culture, and a wardrobe with such detail and precision. People often complain about TV shows with too much music, but ‘Heeramandi’ strikes the perfect balance; all songs and scores were appropriately timed and enhanced the plot.

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From A Passion Project To Reality

‘Heeramandi’ has been Bhansali’s passion project for 14 years, and his ability to finally bring it to life is something worth applauding. While this may end up being one of his biggest projects yet, he’s worked with Netflix before on his film ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’, and he has directed other projects like ‘Devdas’ and ‘Black’. Regarding his choices for a couple of main actors in the series, he brought along the Nepali actress and Bollywood superstar Manisha Koirala (Mallikajaan), whom he had worked with on his first film ‘Khamoshi: The Musical’. In an interview with USA Today, Bhansali said, “I just got the perfect casting in terms of not being overexposed and willing to work for so many days. We shot for 350 days, and they had to come every day and get dressed for almost 2-3 hours.” He went on to say how it was a lot of hard work and dedication, but he is so grateful that he had actors who were willing to do it. 

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Themes and Relatability

The reason why this show is so captivating is because viewers can relate to the characters, ideas, and themes presented in the series. Sanjay Leela Bhansali skillfully explores various themes and plots, taking viewers on an in-depth journey through them. The show never seems to gloss over any topic and always delves into each one thoroughly. The themes I found to be the most general and relatable to any viewer were identity and self-discovery. Without giving away any crucial details on characters or the storyline, I will say that certain individuals are confronted with harsh questions and decisions of personal identity, as well as trying to navigate and understand their role within such a complex society. For instance, Alamzeb (a daughter of Mallikajaan) aspires to be a poet, but it isn’t of normal societal traditions. In particular, the courtesans struggle to balance meeting their goals and strong desires while maintaining societal expectations. As in any society, hierarchy plays a substantial role in identity and self-worth.

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The people of Heeramandi must endure perceptions and judgment while attempting to debunk wrongful ideas and maintain their dignity. With many of the main characters being prostitutes, I enjoy how Bhansali adds depth, personality, and life into them, instead of solely focusing on what they do for a living. While love and lust are an immense part of the story, ‘Heeramandi’ could not be authentic if it didn’t cover the theme of betrayal and heartache as well. Characters, like Lajjo, have to balance life and heartache. She is an alcoholic and has delusional beliefs about her lover, which negatively impact her after their encounter. She hides from the truth, dreams of no longer being a courtesan, and winning back her lover. The drama and character storylines are worth obsessing over. 

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South Asian Representation

It goes without saying how significant and impactful representation is in any medium. It is very important to create stories of cultures and identities that aren’t as commonly depicted on television and in streaming. It is crucial to depict those of the South Asian community in American television because the recognition of diverse and lively cultures has been severely underrepresented and even misconstrued in mainstream media. South Asia has rich cultures, traditions, languages, and experiences. Thorough and accurate representation in TV/film allows these individuals to see themselves reflected in the characters portrayed, which encourages a sense of connection, recognition, and satisfaction. Oftentimes, we see South Asians in films and mainstream media depicted in a one-dimensional way, but ‘Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar’ gives depth, appreciates many aspects of the cultures, and enlightens viewers on history. I thoroughly enjoyed the singing and dancing, the vibrant clothing, the ornate jewelry, the intricate tapestries, and the cultural authenticity of the South Asian experience.


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‘Heeramandi’ on Netflix

All in all, ‘Heeramandi’ is definitely worth the watch! Sanjay Leela Bhansali gives us South Asian history and combines it with tropes of trials and tribulations, love and hate, and self-worth and identity; giving us an intense historical drama. This series is worth binging over with a bucket of popcorn, especially because of the deep storyline and the actors that bring it to life. As I mentioned before, many new television series have fewer episodes that are shorter in length. However, ‘Heeramandi’ is an exception with eight episodes, each running for a longer duration. Bhansali is fulfilling the fans’ desire for hour-long episodes, which are highly anticipated. You can now watch the series on Netflix with English subtitles. Check it out.  

Cast: Manisha Koirala, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sharmin Segal, Sonakshi Sinha, Richa Chadha, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Abhishek Deswal, Jason Shah, Indresh Malik | Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali | Producers: Prerna Singh and Sanjay Leela Bhansali | Cinematography: Sudeep Chatterjee and Mahesh Limaye | Scoring: Benedict Taylor

By Kaili Spooner

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV, media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.”

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