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Log Line:
A sheltered beauty, Begum, is introduced to the enchanting world of Bollywood by the enigmatic
Madan where she discovers true freedom and love come at the price of her passion and life.

British Raj—1917. A fire burns in her green eyes. Her father’s cremation draws tears
from her mother but not herself, her eyes are lost in the brilliance. The mother vocally attacks
the heavens.
“Who has cast this evil eye?” The young girl can’t help but feel guilty. That night, the
landlord comes to collect, forcing them to run.
Outside, in the morning fog, a gentleman by the name of Shah, sympathizes with their
plight and offers them sanctuary at his Palace-Mehfil. They are greeted by chefs preparing
lavish dishes, musicians tuning instruments and courtesans rehearsing classical dances—the
young girl counts her blessings. Ten years pass as she grows to excel in all forms of art. Shah
loves her like his own, bestowing her with the title ​Begum​.
“​Mashallah​” He blesses her from the evil eye, applying a ​Kalla Tikka​. Qwalli music fills
the air as Begum talks politics over a game of poker. Amongst the crowd of older men, a
handsome young Indian catches her eye; an air of mystery surrounds him like the smoke from
his cigarette. When a drunk British officer accosts Begum, he jumps in, diffusing the situation.
Introducing himself as Madan, they share a love for Sufi poetry, Bengali literature and
Parsi theatre. He tells her he’s a movie star but she has never seen a film; when he tries to
explain, she laughs it off as magic. Infatuated by her innocence, he offers to sneak her out that
night; curiosity piqued—she agrees.
In a dirt-floor room, Begum studies Madan as he operates a projector. Without warning,
an image of a moving locomotive startles Begum into his arms. He laughs, encouraging her to
the forefront, when the light paints her skin black and white—she can’t help but fall in love.
“You’re a caged songbird Begum.” The projector bulb bursts filling the room with
darkness. “Let me set you free.”
The next day, Begum cannot contain her joy, dancing and singing with her mother.
Begum naively reveals she’s in love with a man who has promised to make her a star. Concern
overcomes her mother’s face.
“The outside world can be cruel.”
“Then I will become the change I wish to see in the world!” Begum exclaims as Shah
enters. She informs him of her new found dream which he dismisses, comparing actresses to
whores. Confused, she likens acting to performing at the Mehfil which offends him.
“In here, you are with the royals and the British. Out there, you will be dancing for the
street sweepers and the beggars.” Tears draw from Begum’s eyes as she curses him.
Downstairs, Madan confronts Begum but she can’t look him in the eyes. The stage
beckons, her heavy heart echoes through the audience as she sings of star-crossed love;
Madan leaves her behind. The performance comes to a close as the doors burst open.
The British officer, who earlier accosted Begum, marches in authorizing the Mehfils’
shutdown and seizure. Patrons protest, drawing swords as his troops raise rifles—Shah appeals
for calm but gunshots set the Mehfil ablaze.
Begum narrowly escapes her burning cage, running towards the sounds of a train until
she arrives at a platform, surprising Madan who embraces her until she passes out.
“You had a bad dream.” Madan wakes her in Bombay. He tells her to forget about her
past as they walk by electric lamps to the studio. Once inside, Madan moves Begum past
German technicians and Indian extras towards the producer, Rai, who is amazed by her beauty.
Backstage, in front of a vanity, Madan gives her a new backstory to protect her from any
associated stigma. With lingering resentment she tells Madan she feels no change. Madan
pencils in a beauty mark beside her left eye.
“Now you’re different. ​Nazar Na Lage​.” He leaves her staring at her own reflection.
Her dress rehearsal floors the German director, Waltz. She dances effortlessly, raising
the temperature of the room while making everyone sweat until a stage light blows out.
Convinced by her talents, they resolve to pay closer attention to the on-set mercury
“Let’s get that on film next time! Lights, camera—action!”
It’s 1931 and they’ve just produced India’s first hit talkie film. As they celebrate their
success, Madan excuses himself. Later on, Begum finds him in the midst of an argument with a
strange woman who slaps him. Not wanting to embarrass him with her presence, she returns to
the party. When he returns, noticeably drunk, he affectionately pours his heart out to her.
“​I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times, in life after life, in age
after age, forever.” ​He publicly serenades her with a Tagore poem in Shakespearean fashion,
asking for her hand in marriage. Overjoyed, she accepts to much fanfare—her dream come
On screen, they repeatedly fall in love with one another; eloping as lovers from different
faiths, opposite castes and feuding families but always to the adoration of the public. Their on
screen romance parallels their personal success, moving into a mansion in the Anglo-Indian
suburbs of Bombay, turning it into a Mehfil and throwing lavish parties for their Indian and British
hosts alike. With her new found celebrity, she aspires to further the cause for Independence but
after a decade in Bollywood, Begum wonders if she’s getting old. Madan reassures her of her
timeless beauty.
They hold auditions, one by one girls are called up to sing a poem. A Punjabi girl sings
cheerfully. The next girl, from Delhi, sings the same poem but with a somber tone. A Bengali girl
named Maya, playfully introduces herself as a fan before singing slightly off key due to nerves.
“Oh my, it’s hot up here!” She says. Madan likes her look—Begum agrees.
Next under the spotlight is a woman in red—her makeup is running, she’s clearly older
than the other girls.
“Madan, is that you?” her voice is distraught—something’s not right. Begum recognizes
her from ten years prior. The woman who slapped Madan. “Begum, your beauty shines even
greater in person.” She wipes a tear from her eye. “​Nazar Na Lage​” she says before she breaks
into an ear piercing rendition of the poem. The event leaves Begum traumatized and she
confronts Madan about the woman.
“She is just a fan.” He says.
It’s 1939, Maya, cast opposite Begum, flirts with Madan between takes. The first Indian
color film, an allegory of British oppression, skirts under the censors. However at the onset of
World War II, the British raid their studio, confiscate their color filmstock and detain the German
crew, including Waltz, for the duration of the war.
Rai commits suicide in a fit of mania—leaving Madan with the studio and its debt. During
this time, he takes to alcoholism—drunkenly chastising Begum for stoking the ire of the British.
Remaining resolute in her position, she publicly denounces the Raj and defiantly sings
nationalistic songs over the radio adding fuel to the fire of the Independence movement. Even
as production resumes in black and white, the British continue to censor their films during the
war; meanwhile, Maya becomes the new face of Bollywood.
In 1945, Begum learns the war has ended. Now in her mid-30’s she still looks as
gorgeous as the younger divas. She heads home to inform Madan of the news but she finds him
with Maya and they’re both drunk. She can’t seem to hold her insecurities back.
“Is she ​just​ a fan too?” In a fit of jealousy, Begum torches most of their unreleased films
in the fireplace which quickly gets out of hand. Madan saves her from herself but his work and
portions of their house succumb to the fire. Against the charred backdrop, Begum asks for a
divorce and Madan leaves, bottle in hand.
The divorce proceedings stall over the course of the next year. With the company in
debt, he persuades her to help him complete their long abandoned color film. If she agrees, he’ll
sign over half the company—she reluctantly accepts.
The film production resumes without the German crew. The first shot, a close up of
Begum; she can’t bring herself to smile without her eyes cursing him.
Soon after, he stumbles his speech, accidently calling Maya by Begum’s name. The
tension between the three actors, rife with passion, blurs the lines between art and reality. Maya
pours Madan a drink to dull his headaches but when Madan starts forgetting his lines the crew
tries to intervene. He angrily admonishes them, firing long-time employees in a delusional rage.
His scenes become unhinged as if he is method acting. He takes to improvisation, adding
dialogue, increasing takes, demanding perfection and becoming increasingly esoteric.
“If the essence of intoxication lay in the liquor alone, the bottle would be doing a drunken
dance.” Under the influence, he reveals his true feelings for Begum much to Maya’s dismay,
explaining to her the ​Nasha​ he feels in her presence—intoxicating as any liquor. The intensity of
his performance causes him to faint and Begum rushes to his side. The inexperienced crew
have broken all the thermometers and overheated the lights. With funds running dry, Maya
threatens to walk and Begum tells her to leave.
At home, Madan wakes, claiming to have had visions of God. He showers his wife with
praise having no recollection of past turmoils.
“The pious avoid sin only because they’re terrified of hell, Begum. Whereas I sinned
freely, trusting in his mercy—your mercy.” Asking for her forgiveness, ​she confesses her
undying love for him. He gives up liquor as she is the only ​Nasha​ he desires and he swears that
on his life. They tearfully reconcile.
The next day Madan shows signs of withdrawal but all that goes away when he sees
Begum on set, adorned like a goddess. He plays through the tremors, his voice is noticeably
rough but it pierces her heart. When he forgets his lyrics she picks up for him, singing while
dancing. With new found vigor, they complete the song as a duet. Madan continues his frenetic
pace, in rapture over her divinity; she continues dancing, well after the lyrics have ended just to
take his breath away. When she trips—spinning to a stop, Madan finally catches his breath.
“Thats a wrap.” Everyone applauds. Madan, disoriented, falls. Cast and crew gather
around him. The smile on his face slowly fades with the pulse in his body, Begum tries to rouse
him, passionately kissing him—but his soul passes on. In denial, she curses the heavens. India
gains its Independence that day to much fanfare in Bombay. Fireworks fill the night sky while
Begum mourns. Some blame his alcoholism, others point to his spiritual side and comfort
Begum with the idea that this was, somehow divine grace.
However, she soon receives word that Madan’s death was the result of heavy metal
poisoning, exacerbated by his alcoholism. Toxic amounts of elemental mercury explain the
symptoms: mood swings, irritability, headache, tremors, insomnia, delusion and death. Madan
was poisoned and it breaks her heart.
Police suspect Maya from the onset, with jealousy as the motive they gather evidence,
including the broken mercury thermometers. Unfortunately, they soon realize that she’s crossed
the newly formed partition into East-Pakistan—there’s nothing they can do.
Madan’s cremation is the next day. Begum is inconsolable, in her heart of hearts, she
blames herself.
No other studio is willing to take a risk on her project. She’s an aging actress in a costly
color film with most of the principle cast either dead or gone.
So she edits the film herself. The look in her eyes, reminds her of the hatred in her
heart—sparking a fire in the projector room as she watches the silent climatic scene.
“​We have played alongside millions of lovers, shared in the same shy sweetness of
meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell—old love but in shapes that renew and renew
forever.”​ Her mind starts filling in the blanks of dialogue with events from her past undisturbed
by the silent inferno behind her. Madan beckons her from the screen.
“​The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours—and the songs of every
poet past and forever.” She watches herself dancing as ​the fire crawls up the walls of the
theater in a cage-like fashion, surrounding the screen as she comes to a spinning stop. Her
green eyes framed by fire. Madan lost in her brilliance, applauds and blesses her on screen.
“​Mashallah​.” He says as the reel melts filling the room with darkness.