Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Redressing the Balance: still more minor thoughts on Jaane Tu

As I said in my last comment, I'm not sure how I moved to an extreme position on a film that I enjoyed for as long as I was watching it. I'm going to attempt to outline what I liked.


There are three marriages represented in the film. The first one we see is between Savitri (Ratna Pathak Shah) and the dead but in the picture Amar Singh Rathore (Naseeruddin Shah). This marriage is officially finished by the death of Rathore Sr. while on a typical Rajput outing, but continues in the conversations between Savitri and Rathore's portrait. Now this is a clever riff on those filmi conversations that typically take place between the pious widow and an unresponsive photograph (often garlanded) of the dead husband. These interactions between Amar and Savitri are witty and both these characters are a delight to watch.

But consider their marriage: Savitri* is all for non-violence and is bitter about her husband's Rajput machismo that lost him his life and deprived their son of his father. Determined not to taint Jai's life with these notions of Rajput honour and with their habit of arguing with their fists, Savitri leaves (after her husband dies). And spends the next several years giving her son a completely false idea of what his father was like, so that he may not follow in his footsteps.

But Rathore, in his portrait, has other ideas. Of course, he does not speak to anyone else except Savitri, but he does appear - or contrives to engineer - Jai's dreams, filling them with mysteriously masked men on horses and dunes. This is clearly absurd, but it's a delicious absurdity. (It will be mirrored at the end, when Jai 'understands' the dream about horses and becomes a knight on a white charger riding to rescue his princess.**)

This continuing non-serious bickering between the portrait and the mother about how to bring up their son is one representation of a marriage.

The second one is between Meghna's parents, played by Rajat Kapoor and Kittu Gidwani. Meghna tells Jai that her parents fight all the time but actually love each other and can't live without each other. It's significant that she also tells him on this occasion, that he's the first man she's taking home with her to introduce to her parents.

That dinner is one of the best scenes in the film for my money. Jai is polite, willing to adapt himself to his company. The father presses him to drink more, the mother is snide and Meghna appears to be oblivious to the tension between her parents. She chirps in an extremely annoying way and you can see the scales fall from Jai's eyes. You can see him reviewing her games of 'What's This' in the context of her home life. Kapoor, in one cringe-inducing moment, requests Gidwani to refrain from flirting with Jai and Meghna appears to concur. She says, 'He's all mine.' There's a wealth of suggestion in that one line. It leaves you wondering what it would be like to view this family without the modifying presence of Jai.

This is, clearly, the kind of marriage that no one in a romantic comedy wants to aspire to. It states the proposition that people who are wrong for each other can only be unhappy with each other. Meghna and Jai are wrong for each other and if their relationship continues this - or something like this - is what they can expect.

The third marriage is one between Aditi's parents, Jayant Kriplani and Anuradha Patel. They appear to be a couple in perfect concord with each other. They give great parties; agree that, since Jai and Aditi have been so constant through five years of college, they ought to announce their engagement; they are understanding when the two kids claim they're not in love with each other and give them advice instead; they arrange for Aditi to meet someone else when Jai starts going out with Meghna. And they play Scrabble with each other.***

Which kind of marriage will Jai and Aditi, separately, choose?

This is where that other very interesting character comes in: Sushant Modi (Ayaz Khan), son of Kriplani's colleague, black belt in judo, a man who works hard and parties harder and whose walls are covered with trophies - photos of places he has been to, former girlfriends, titles (judo black belt). The viewer is inclined to be suspicious, because clearly Aditi and Jai are meant for each other and clearly this is a relationship entered into on Aditi's part for all the wrong reasons - because Jai is in one and there has to be symmetry, because if there's no Jai it doesn't matter who it is, and because he doesn't seem bad.

And he doesn't. He talks entirely reasonably most of the time. He says he values a continuing friendship with his ex-girlfriends and says he would expect the same of Aditi. When they go out, he demonstrates his machismo in ways that should satisfy Aditi (she thinks Jai is not aggressive enough) but doesn't because she is not the object of his solicitude; his ex-girlfriend is. It's a position she understands reluctantly, because she would expect Jai to do the same for her.

Sushant's violence, however, is clearly wrong. It's not one that's born of necessity but out of a territorial instinct: no one messes with 'my' woman. He is, in fact, that Rajput ideal ****- a man who will fight because that's how things are settled. He also drinks (a lot) but believes he can handle it. He drives when he's several drinks down and brawls at parties every time we see him at one. Oh, and he hits Aditi when she admits she loves Jai. It's an admission he's forced out of her under false assurances.

He's the kind of person who leads a relationship by misdirection and half-truths; the kind of person it's hard to gauge because he's so contradictory in his speech and actions. He's also one of the most interesting characters in the film.

Jai and Aditi, if they're to achieve a marriage that can be considered successful, have to learn their lessons - on Aditi's part, that machismo is not quite the cute, college canteen fight she thinks it is; on Jai's part, that violence is sometimes necessary though not a default reaction - while still retaining the fundamental strengths of their relationship, which is friendship and affection and yes - that chimerical beast - love.

All of this is there in the film and all of this works.

My grouse with the film is that its world is a very narrow one. It's one that many people aspire to, I admit, but in the absence of showing, in the film, whose aspirations these are, it assumes too much while giving too little.

*An ironic naming, surely; this Savitri could not cheat Death of her husband and this Amar is and is not immortal.

** That the dream horse is black and the real one is white is also worth noting.

***And yet, something about their son signifies a failure on their part. Sure, he could just be a different (refeshingly different) person, but they're also clearly afraid of what he might say when in the company of those they don't yet consider as family (Sushant).

**** But one unleavened by humour. Which is why it's ugly. In this film, a Rajput will fight, but in a light-hearted, humorous way, because it's fun to - in the characters of Bhaloo and Bgheera. As a counter, there is the Rathore portrait to remind us that serious violence leads to death.


Ashish Surana said...

I am sure, even director and script writer would have noticed this much details.... !!!

needless to say but you have Beautifoool eyes :P

cheers !!! and keep blogging !!!

km said...

I myself (mildly) enjoyed all these elements of the film that you point out. But, for me, they did not add up to an enjoyable film.

About your last point (narrowness of the story-world), I don't find that to be a problem. After all, these kids are presented to us as stereotypes.

But let's go back to the basics here.

The film is set in the "boy-looked-for-true-love-everywhere-but-true-love-was-right-next-door" genre. (Phew.)

So by definition, the plot *must* involve our hero looking for love in all the wrong places. Those romantic quests must end in disasters. The treatment could be comical or tragi-comic, but these quests must end in disasters and they *must* make us feel sorry for the hero.

All we should be worrying about is this: "will our hero ever find his one true love?"

Does the screenplay/film answer this question convincingly and does it honor the genre's beats? I think not. To me, that's the real problem here.

(To be fair to Mr. Tyrewala, I have not read the script and I know a film and its script can be very different.)

P.S.: All this theory-baazi aside, did anyone really buy into the whole "boy-and-girl-were-just-best-buddies" premise?

??! said...

Is this possible the longest comment KM has ever left? Whoa, Space, your return is throwing up some unexpected surprises.

km said...

Jeebus. ??! is right. That is a long comment. And it sounds way too serious. One would think we are discussing Fassbinder or Bergman.

Space Bar said...

ashish surana: sorry, i have *no* idea what you just said.

km: about your genre-fulfilling question, i wasn't attempting to ask that question. i was saying, one way of looking at the film is its endeavour to achieve a certain kind of marriage, the representations of which were, for me, an interesting aspect of the film.

??!: i know, right? :D i can see the film really moved him.

km: i'm bringing wall-e on next. stay tuned.