Home » Heeramandi: Netflix’s Latest Series Dives into Lahore’s Tawaif Culture

Heeramandi: Netflix’s Latest Series Dives into Lahore’s Tawaif Culture

by Mohammed Ahmed

Netflix’s “Heeramandi,” directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, attempts to recreate the rich tapestry of Lahore’s walled city through the lives of its tawaifs (courtesans), set against a backdrop of grandiose Mughal-era aesthetics. While the series dazzles with intricate outfits and dreamy lighting, it navigates through a storyline that often feels unanchored, drifting between historical reflections and dramatic love tales without fully engaging its audience.

The series centers around several key figures, including Mallikajaan, played by Manisha Koirala, who is portrayed as the fiercely protective madam of Shahi Mahal, and her daughter Bibojaan, enacted by Aditi Rao Hydari, whose revolutionary passions drive much of the plot. Their narratives unfold in Heeramandi, a place historically known not just for its association with sex work but as a cultural hub where art, dance, and music flourished, a nuance that Bhansali’s portrayal attempts to capture.

Despite the lush visuals, the series has been critiqued for its lack of depth in storytelling and for occasionally glossing over the harsher realities of the tawaifs’ lives in favor of a more sanitized narrative. The series uses the lavishness of its setting almost as a character in itself, yet struggles to deliver a compelling narrative that matches its visual splendor. Critics and viewers alike have noted that while the women’s struggles are depicted, they are often overshadowed by an overarching aesthetic that tends to romanticize their plight rather than address the raw oppressions they faced.

“Heeramandi” also explores the politics of the body in tawaif culture, reflecting on how these women used their artistry as a form of social negotiation and resistance, yet often under the male gaze. The series, through its portrayal of music and dance, hints at these women’s roles in the social fabric of the time but is said to fall short in fully developing these themes into a coherent narrative thread.

The show ends on a note of melancholic resistance, echoing the ongoing struggles of women who, like the tawaifs of Heeramandi, navigate a world rife with beauties and cages. Bhansali’s creation is a mixed tapestry of opulence and subdued narratives, a visual feast that invites viewers to look deeper into the annals of Lahore’s historical quarters, prompting a reflection on the complexities of history and the stories of those who lived it.

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