One of the finest films by Shyam Benegal, based loosely on the life of screenwriter Khalid Muhammad's mother, Zubeidaa.
A spirited girl, Zubeidaa, the only daughter of filmmaker Suleiman Seth, aspires to become an actress. However, before she is able to complete acting in her debut film, she is caught by her angry strict father, who forbids her from acting ever again. She is then forced to marry his family friend’s son. The marriage lasts a year till the birth of Riyaz, her son. The arranged marriage dissolves into an arranged divorce after a falling out of their parents. Her husband and his father leave for Pakistan and never contact her or Riyaz again. Fed up of Zubeidaaa's listless existence, Aunt Rose, an older sophisticated actress and mistress of Suleiman Seth, secretly takes her to polo matches and social parties where she meets and falls in love with the Handsome Prince Vijendra Singh of Fatehpur, who, she later discovers, had an arranged marriage as a child to Mandira Devi, the mother of his two children. Her mother cautions her against marrying him and insists on bringing Riyaz up herself to provide for his faith as a muslim. Zubeida becomes the choti memsaahib or the second wife of Prince V. Soon, the ritualistic court, the cold manipulative Mandira, the shifting affection of V and the lecherous brother in law become too much to bear, culminating in a tragic event.Zubeidaa's spirit yearns for freedom from society's mores.