Is ‘Heeramandi’ India’s story to Tell?

‘Heeramandi’ is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s interpretation of Lahore’s Red Light District. But should India be telling the story?

Is 'Heeramandi' India's story to Tell f


“This increasing obsession with Pakistan is hazardous to health."

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s first OTT production Heeramandi is being marketed as his interpretation of the courtesans of Lahore’s Red Light District.

The Netflix series stars Manisha Koirala, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sharmin Segal, Richa Chadha, Sanjeeda Shaikh and Sonakshi Sinha.

Following the release of Heeramandi‘s poster, Bhansali impressed some with his recollection of South Asian folklore, mythology and history while dressing his courtesans in stunning costumes and draping them in jewellery.

However, some Twitter users questioned whether India has the right to relay the narrative of Lahore’s Red Light District.

One person wrote: “Indian producers use Pakistani stories that Pakistanis themselves should have told the world. Sigh.”

Another said: “Why Heera Mandi why not Chowk, Lucknow instead was known for its courtesan culture?

“This increasing obsession with Pakistan is hazardous to health.

“Also, none of these women can pass off as being from Lahore. They need to be fed.”

On the other hand, some users took an optimistic perspective on the new series.

A user wrote: “One good thing about Netflix’s Heeramandi is that the series will thankfully normalise the use of the word Heeramandi which is otherwise used as a slur in Pakistan.”

Furthermore, many shared that even if filmmakers make series such as Heeramandi in Pakistan, it will be banned by the Pakistani censor board due to its taboo subject, like Joyland.

One tweet read: “Pakistanis won’t let our directors release their films based on our local stories but will complain that India took our stories for their benefit.”

Another user shared: “Some questions about Heeramandi after Twitter discourse.

“Heera Mandi existed in sub-continental Lahore. Why are we upset that it’s a Pakistani thing Bhansali stole?

“Royal kids were sent to Courtesans to learn mannerisms.

“Why are we upset that these women might not have accents?

“How many fact-based documentaries have Bhansali made that we’re upset about factual inaccuracies in Heeramandi?

“Have you ever seen an Indian movie previously?

“Is this your first exposure to it? Is that why you’re treating it like a thesis?”

According to reports, Sanjay Leela Bhansali shared that a certain finesse goes into working on period dramas.

He said:

“When you’re making a project regarding history, you need to be careful.”

“So yes, you need to get your facts right.

“And that is where my research ends because most of it is imagination, and most of it is how I see the period.

“It’s done but it’s not done in so much detail because I find research very boring.

“I, as a filmmaker, am not set out to make a documentary that I want to be exact.

“I want my impressions, child-like impressions, grown-up impressions, heartbroken lovers’ impressions… I want all that to come to the film rather than documented research.”

Ilsa is a digital marketeer and journalist. Her interests include politics, literature, religion and football. Her motto is “Give people their flowers whilst they’re still around to smell them.”

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