Mumtaz (Tabu) is a naive young rural woman whose family is killed in communal riots. After her village is burnt to the ground, she moves to Mumbai with her uncle, the only family member she has left. They are desperately poor and her uncle persuades her to become a bar girl (dancer) at Chandni Bar. He promises her that this is merely temporary, until he is able to get a job. Mumtaz is shy and loathes the work, but she forces herself to dance and flirt. However, her uncle doesn't keep his word; he lives on her earnings, drinking them away, and never gets a job. One night, after spending time drinking and watching the girls dance at the bar, Mumtaz's uncle rapes her. Mumtaz is distraught and emotionally confides in the other dancers. Even though they console her, Mumtaz is given a reality check when she realises that many other women at the bar have equally disturbing and painful stories. She manages to pull herself together and immerses herself in her work at the bar.
Eventually, Mumtaz catches the eye of a gangster called Pottya Sawant (Atul Kulkarni). He attempts to seduce her, and finally resorts to paying her for sex. Mumtaz, however, cannot go through with the deed and tells Pottya about her rape. Enraged, Pottya kills her uncle and marries Mumtaz. Mumtaz leaves the bar, and Pottya rises up the criminal ranks quickly, despite his volatile temper. The couple live a happy life, together with their son, Abhay, and daughter, Payal. Mumtaz wishes for Abhay and Payal to be educated, and stay far away from her world of dancing girls and Pottya's world of gangsters.
Pottya's attitude and temper cause him to prematurely kill another gangster, which results in him losing friends and connections in the criminal world. He becomes a target for the police, and is captured and killed in an operation to 'eliminate' various Mumbai gangsters. A grieving Mumtaz slowly runs out of money and soon realises that Pottya has left behind a large amount of debt. With no source of income, she is forced to return to work at Chandni Bar.
Years pass, and Mumtaz still works at Chandni Bar, not as a dancer, but as a waitress. She manages to provide a stable environment for Abhay and Payal, who are now teenagers. Mumtaz encourages her children to do well in school, so that they can move away from their surroundings of crime and gangs. Abhay is very studious and performs well in classes, but soon befriends a group of trouble makers and delinquents. Despite being warned by Mumtaz, he continues to see his friends. One day, Abhay and his group are arrested by police for extortion, and held in a juvenile prison. Even though he was not part of the crime, his reputation as Pottya's son causes the police to ignore his pleas of innocence. Later on at the prison, Abhay is raped by a pair of older inmates.
Mumtaz attempts to talk to the police, to no avail. She then meets with some influential people, who have police connections and can get Abhay released. They agree to help her, but demand a high price, which she must bring to them in less than two days. Mumtaz has no choice and decides to sell her body in order to obtain the money, but is still short. Seeing her mother's plight, Payal takes up dancing at Chandni Bar and brings the rest of the money to her troubled mother.
Having secured the money, Mumtaz is able to get Abhay released. However, she notices that he is not the same happy boy he was a few days earlier. Instead, he is cold, ruthless, and is looking for revenge. Abhay makes connections in the crime world and manages to get a gun, which he uses to kill the boys who raped him. Mumtaz arrives on the scene and is devastated to find that her son has become a killer. It is implied that Payal is following in her mother's footsteps, and Abhay is set to be another Pottya.Tabu as Mumtaz Ali Ansari
Atul Kulkarni as Pottya Sawant
Rajpal Yadav as Iqbal Chamdi
Vallabh Vyas as Habib Bhai
Vinay Apte as Inspector Gaikwad
Ananya Khare as Deepa Pandey (bar-girl)
Upendra Limaye as Deepa's Husband
Rajanna as Uma Shankar Pande
Minakshi Sahani as Payal Sawant (Mumtaz's daughter)
Vishal Thakkar as Abhay Sawant (Mumtaz's son)
Abhay Bhargav as Hegde Anna
Suhas Palshikar as Irfan Mamu (Mumtaz's uncle)
Shabbir Mir as Uncle Pinto
The film won four National Awards. Tabu also received Best Actress nominations at the Filmfare Awards and Bollywood Awards. Atul Kulkarni also received a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Star Screen Awards. Madhur Bhandarkar was nominated for Best Director in several venues, but did not win.
2002 National Film Awards (India)Best Actress - Tabu
Best Supporting Actor - Atul Kulkarni
Best Supporting Actress - Ananya Khare
National Film Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues
2002 IIFA Awards (India)Best Actress - Tabu
2002 Star Screen Awards (India)Star Screen Award Best Story - Madhur Bhandarkar
2002 Zee Cine Awards (India)Best Actress - Tabu
The film does not feature any of original tracks of its own. But many Bollywood Hindi songs feature many times in various scenes in the dancing bar. The theme music is a classical aalap rendered by Shubha Mudgal.