Get ready to be swept away by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest masterpiece, Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar. This Indian series has taken Netflix by storm, trending worldwide, and it’s not hard to see why. Behind the opulent Shahi Mall doors, the worlds of revolution and romance collide in a spectacular symphony, drawing you in with masterful storytelling. From dazzling sets to unforgettable characters, the show left me speechless the moment the ending credits rolled.

The show explores the trials and tribulations of tawaifs in pre-independent India amidst the Indian Revolution against the British Empire. We follow the various women in this series as they navigate the tyranny of the British Empire, internal conflicts, and forbidden romances in Heeramandi, the red-light district of Lahore. The series masterfully intertwines history and myth, exploring courtesan culture and shedding light on the efforts of female freedom fighters for independence in India. Often history has forgotten the contribution of female figures in the fight for freedom, therefore, Bhansali’s telling of this story is an admirable undertaking.

The period drama features a stellar cast of leading ladies including Manisha Koirala, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sonakshi Sinha, Sanjeeda Sheikh, Sharmin Segal and Richa Chadha. Malikajaan, the Queen of Heeramandi (played by Manisha Koirala) is a powerhouse to watch on the screen. Her acting throughout this series was phenomenal and you can’t help but be entranced by her character though an invariably complex one. Her character runs an incredibly tight ship at Heeramandi. She shows no favouritism, not even towards her daughter, Alamzeb (played by Sharmin Segal), whom she insists must follow in her footsteps and become a tawaif, rather than risking her heart by falling in love – a path that has led many a tawaif to ruin.

The sheer strength of the female characters depicted in this series is something to behold. The series delves into the very existence of Heeramandi as a space where men exercise power and control over tawaif women. However, despite this oppressive environment, the women in Heeramandi display remarkable strength and resilience, making them the true force to be reckoned with on our screens.

Bhansali’s cinematography craft combined with his compelling storylines is also masterfully done. The aesthetics and dreamy visuals alone deserve an award. Whilst these visuals were certainly praiseworthy, it is to be said that certain storylines begged for further development. There are numerous serious themes explored throughout this series, including colonialism, female autonomy, sexuality, religion, and power dynamics. Therefore, eight episodes cannot fully do it justice, leaving certain story arcs unresolved and having us beg for more, especially by the series’ end.

However, in truly Bhansali fashion, the visuals and final few episodes compensate for this slight underdevelopment. The end of the series had me in tatters with the timeless and poignant nature of the final message and Aditi Rao Hydari’s stellar performance, which moved me to tears. Although the series was captivating throughout, I found the last three episodes to be the most evocative. Without spoiling too much, the final few episodes were defiant in their message that a woman’s fight for freedom is never in a world that finds new ways to oppress her. Ultimately, we were left with this stark truth: “On 15th August 1947, the struggle for freedom came to an end, but a woman’s struggle never ends”.

Heeramandi was released worldwide on Netflix on May 1st, 2024, and has since been trending globally across 43 countries and become the most-watched Indian series in the first week of its launch. It is certainly a series to watch, absorb, and truly immerse yourself in the refined craft of Bhansali’s latest work.

Reviewed by Tiyanna Mistry

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