Lahore’s Iconic “Heera Mandi”: A Passion Project of Sanjay Leela Bhansali You’ll Need to Know.

by Ayesha Sohail

Movies like ‘Umrao Jaan,’ ‘Jodha Akbar,’Pakeezah’ and ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ are based on the historic courtesan culture of ancient India. These super-hit cult movies featured a courtesan, aka, Tawaif, who could dance and sing in the canvases of colorful artwork. She could express herself through the medium of Mujra/Ghazal, long for freedom and choice in the matters of love. Today, one needs guts to re-make period movies like them. But 2021 is planning to return this musical and dramatic trajectory, in the form of Lahore’s Iconic Heera Mandi.

Yes, you have heard, right. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, director of Bajirao Mastani and Padmavat, began working on his dream project, “Heera Mandi,” after 13 years.  Initially, it was going to be a period drama, but Bhansali has joined hands with Netflix to make it a web-film. The film will be directed by Bhansali’s assistant Vibhu Puri, who has directed “Hawaiizada” and “Guzaarish” starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Hritik Roshan, respectively.

Although Bhansali is not directing it, he is personally doing the casting. He has finalized Alia Bhatt with other A-list actresses like Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, and Vidya Balan. People speculated that Alia Bhatt’s projects, “Gangubai Kathiawadi” and “Heera Mandi” were the same projects featuring prostitutes. But later, revealed that they have different scripts. Heera Mandi will be based on the culture of the red-light street in the walled city of Lahore, while, Gangubai Kathiawadi is the story of Madam of Kamathipura and a brothel owner.

Lost Essence of Heera Mandi


As people often confuse a Prostitute with a Courtesan, there are also misconceptions about Heera Mandi’s origin. People think that Heera Mandi has got its name because of the beautiful girls like diamonds working there. But the Mandi was named after Heera Singh, minister of Sher Singh’s royal court. It dates back to the Mughal dynasty, who were the real founders of this dancing and singing culture. Different families used to hire these courtesans to teach their children cultural and social behavior. Gradually, this aesthetic essence of dancing culture becomes dirty, and Heera Mandi became the ultimate Hub of Prostitution.

Bhansali, himself knows the essence of dancing culture. His portrayal of Deepika in “Baji Rao Mastani,” Madhuri in Devdas, and Priyanka in Ramleela are some examples. So, it is good to hear that Heera Mandi’s script is based on the red-light street’s culture that was an originally colorful and joyous street with music and echo of Ghungroos from carved wooden houses.

Let’s see, either Bhansali would portray the real essence of Lahore’s iconic Heera Mandi or present its dark side: prostitution, similarly as Allaudin Khilji was portrayed as a barbarian in Padmavat.

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