Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai
The film opens with writer Alia Patrick receiving an award at the White House. However Alia receives sad news from India and hurries to India. Lakshmi has passed away.
The film flashes back to Alia’s childhood. Her father, a factory worker, struggles to send his two sons and Alia to a good school, and his limited finances eventually compel him to move Alia to a government school. Undeterred, Alia focuses on her studies and writing and writes for the school paper. She meets Alex, her first love, in college. She continues writing and her work catches her principal’s eye and she is sent to interview Kunwar Vikram Singh, the ruler of a former royal kingdom.
The prince is arrogant and misogynous at first but Alia quietly and firmly puts him in his place. (If he believes women cannot have beauty and brains then he had best remove the pictures of his mother from his rooms, says Alia, thus deflating him.) The prince comes around and fancies Alia but she despises him entirely. He sends expensive gifts to Alia’s weak-willed father and asks to marry Alia. She refuses; her father becomes angry. Later, her father, now calm and sober, implores her to agree; this marriage will be a great (financial) help to her ailing and debt-ridden family, and it will be a most Catholic sacrifice. Alia tearfully agrees and bids Alex goodbye.
She enters the royal palace where she quickly learns that her royal duties are limited to producing male children and presiding over the palace chores. (She cannot leave the palace.) In time she discovers that her husband, the prince, a drunk and a playboy and is brutal to the servants and abusive to her. Alia’s only solace is her handmaiden Lakshmi. Lakshmi also manages the household and attends to grievances from the local townsfolk. One day the prince discovers Alia’s journal which chronicles her unhappy marriage and has it burnt. Alia faints from the shock. She is pregnant. The prince quietly instructs the head servant and the hospital staff to ‘do the needful’ (meaning kill the girl child). Alia is devastated. Lakshmi helps her flee from the palace and packs her off on a bus to Mumbai. It is a touching moment when Lakshmi gives her own jewels to Alia.
Alia arrives in Mumbai and follows a tea-vendor boy to his orphanage. The orphanage manager is too happy to have her stay with them so she can teach the orphan children. She starts a new life here. She eventually applies for a writer job at a small magazine run by the eccentric, eclectic, Urdu lover Shaukat Mirza. This Mirza believes in serious journalism and is skeptical if the young and wide-eyed Alia is up to the job. But Alia walks through the slums and bylanes and draws upon her own struggles to produce a Bombay report which so impresses Mirza that he hires her on the spot. Alia gives birth to a baby girl.
Alia meets the wealthy NRI Aditya Kapoor at one of his charity events and confronts him about the reporters at the event: is it about charity or about raising his public profile? She eventually discovers that he rings true; it is about charity, the reporters were incidental, and the charity is his way of reaching out to his parents who both died a long time ago. Aditya asks her out but she turns him away.
Mirza recommends Alia’s work overseas and she receives a job offer from a New York newspaper. She turns it down, she will not leave Mirza who has come to be a father figure to her. But when Kunwar Vikram Singh finds her in Mumbai Alia realizes she cannot be safe in India anymore. She signs over her share of the royal properties in exchange for a divorce. And she tearfully bids goodbye to Mirza and her orphanage and goes on to New York.
Her life starts anew. She becomes engrossed in her work as a reporter. She meets Aditya Kapoor again at a party where again she muses about him. She volunteers for an assignment to cover the war in the Middle East. This is a grand success and she is rewarded with a promotion. But her joy is short lived when she discovers that her envious and spiteful female coworkers accuse her of sleeping with Aditya Kapoor (who, unbeknownst to her, is a trustee of the newspaper) to get the promotion. Horrified, she confronts him. He admits he had brought her to New York but the promotion was her own effort. She says she wants to give it all up and return to India. At this juncture Aditya admits that he loves her. He also forcefully says that running away is not fair to all the people – her school principal, Mirza, the New York paper, Lakshmi, and Aditya himself – who genuinely thought she was a good writer and helped her go forward. She sobs in his arms and they are eventually married.
The film ends as Alia cremates her beloved Lakshmi and the credits display the still prevailing rates of female infanticide.