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Mumtaz is a village girl whose family is killed in communal riots. She moves to Mumbai with her uncle, the only family member she has left. They are desperately poor and her uncle persuades her to become a bar girl at Chandni Bar. This is merely temporary, he promises, until he gets a job. Mumtaz is a shy girl who loathes the work, but she forces herself to dance and flirt. However, the uncle doesn't keep his promise; he lives on her earnings, drinking them away, and never gets a job. He adds one final, unforgivable crime to the list when he gets drunk and rapes her. By this time she has caught the eye of a gangster called Potiya Sawant. When she tells Potiya what her uncle did to her, Potiya decides to "defend her honor." Potiya shoots the uncle. Mumtaz, bereft of any male protection in the dangerous slums, marries Potiya. She is determined to make the best of things. She leaves the bar and stays home to raise her two children, whom she carefully protects from the world of ... Written by
"Chandni Bar" is the BEST movie to come out of Bollywood in 4 decades. Its a brave film, speaking unabashedly about the seemy underbelly of Bombay (and YES it is and always will be Bombay to many), about the nexus between crime and the corrupt police in this city, about sin and the hope of redemption dashed by a vicious system. No wonder this was NOT India's entry to the Oscars....our politicians would be loathe to export something that could "create a bad impression" (they sent the ghastly jingoistic "Lagaan" instead). Pity, because, as an example of cinema verite at its grittiest, it would have probably won. Tabu would have definitely been in the running for Best Actress --- her performance is a study in truth and control. I happened to meet her on a plane and asked whether the film was shot more-or-less in sequence; and she answered in the affirmative --- no doubt this helped her create a slowly-intensifying graph of emotion, peaking at her gut-wrenching howls in the final scene. Her subtlety and sensitivity in the role of the dance-hall girl have had few equals seen by this writer in the cinema. Also the film's design, capturing the slums, back-alleys, police-stations and of course the seedy, sexual, smoky, boozy atmosphere of the dance-bar (changing its decor and its music with the passage of time in the plot) has an attention to detail and a REALISM that anyone who has ever been to these places will marvel at. Bravo to all concerned....and now may we PLEASE have this available on DVD?
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