BUOY MEETS GIRL
A winning Imran Khan uplifts a romance that’s charming, but also a bit too fond of clichés. Plus, a silly sci-fi spectacular.
JULY 6, 2008 – IT’S BEEN A WHILE SINCE I’VE SEEN a display of such superb supporting performances as the one in Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, so you’ll forgive me if I leave considerations about Imran Khan (Aamir’s nephew, whose launch pad this is) for later. Arbaaz Khan and Sohail Khan are at their riotous best as dimwit brothers who, for reasons that aren’t quite clear at first (but click together subsequently with a marvellous snap), saunter into a disco on horseback. Freed from the compulsions of mugging under Priyadarshan’s megaphone, Paresh Rawal proves, once again, what an exquisitely subtle comic he can be. As a Rajput warrior slain in a feud, Naseeruddin Shah has himself the kind of high old time he possibly hasn’t had since he wore a crooked hat on the sets of Tridev. And once-familiar faces like Jayant Kripalani and the ever-gorgeous Anooradha Patel dust the clichés off stock characters simply with their welcome presence.
But the most unexpected delight of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is seeing Ratna Pathak Shah (as Savitri, a social worker) commandeer the big screen as if she’s never heard of television. If there’s one line reading I’ll remember by the end of the year, it’s going to be that of Savitri spitting faux venom at her dead husband (played by her real-life husband), who has the unfortunate habit of needling her from within the confines of his portrait frame. “Sirphire, hinsak… mard,” Savitri fumes, frustrated at her spouse’s macho posturings that are eternally at odds with her pacifist leanings, and she saves the full import of her bile for the last bit of name-calling: that he’s unhinged and violent and a… man. Tyrewala develops this squabbling into a joyous running gag, which, thanks to his casting, comes with a delicious hint of gossipy sensation: it’s like getting front-row tickets to embarrassingly private goings-on in the Shah household.
Savitri has an equally memorable exchange with her son Jai (Imran), when he falls in love with Meghna (Manjari) and demonstrates the lightness of his being by ambling into the house late at night, a whistle on his lips, a spring in his step. Looking up from the book she’s reading on the couch, and at the son who’s walked past without apparently noticing her, Savitri enquires, “Hoton pe seeti, chaal mein uchhaal… maajra kya hai?” (It’s a moment like this that can make you at once happy and sad – that we have amongst us such wonderful actors who can, simply with a well-tuned inflection, turn the simplest of lines into a delightfully broad joke, and that we refuse to make better use of these talents.) Jai stops in his tracks and confesses to his mother about his newfound love, and a strange mix of joy and sorrow envelops Savitri’s face. She cups his chin and murmurs, “Silly boy.”
The love story of this silly boy is what Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is about. Like almost everyone else in the country, Savitri knows her Hindi cinema and has probably seen Kuch Kuch Hota Hai a few too many times. She knows that “best friends” is just another phrase for “meant for each other,” and that Jai’s future isn’t with Meghna but with his bosom buddy Aditi (Genelia D’Souza). As regular consumers of Hindi cinema, we know this too. The friends know this too, the refreshingly next-door boys and girls that make up the gang that Jai and Aditi hang out with. The only people in the dark seem to be Jai and Aditi themselves, which is the inevitable cliché about these kinds of romances – and the director does everything he can (though, sometimes, not nearly enough) to make us believe we’re watching something fresh and fun.
For one thing, he convinced me that a group of early-twentysomethings – they’re just out of college, getting ready for that first big step into the world outside – would collectively launch into a song from Aa Gale Lag Ja, the one that gives this film its title. (Mera tujhse hai pehle ka naata koi… Jaane tu ya jaane na.) All too often, these sequences make me wonder if these kids are reliving their past or the screenwriter’s – but Tyrewala fashions a lovely stretch where the boys in the group, one by one, reveal how they’d serenade the girl of their dreams. The first one picks a fairly recent number, Tu hi re, and the second goes with the ageless Aaja aaja, main hoon pyaar tera, and so, by the time Jai begins to hum this somewhat obscure number (which is more likely something that Tyrewala remembers from his radio days), it doesn’t seem all that strange. It feels right that a gentle romantic like Jai would be the one man in his generation who still tunes into Vividh Bharati late at night.
And this scene builds beautifully to illustrate what else Jai is about. Hearing Jai – a.k.a. “Rats” – butcher this tune out of recognition, Amit (Pratiek Babbar, lending welcome doses of angst as Aditi’s alienated brother; he reminded me of Paul Dano’s misfit teen from Little Miss Sunshine) looks down from his terrace perch and asks Jai to stop, taunting him that he hasn’t got the money or the looks or the voice to land himself a girlfriend. But Jai isn’t ruffled. He simply shrugs and voices his hope that there’s perhaps a poor, ugly girl somewhere for him, who sings even worse. The line that Tyrewala shapes these thoughts into – “Koi gareeb badsoorat ladki to mil hi jaayegi – jo mujhse bhi bura gaati ho” – brings a smile to your face, but it also brings your attention to the low-key, self-deprecating charms of Jai, who just won’t be drawn into an argument, let alone a fight.
He’s emblematic of the new “sensitive” hero that the multiplex-era cinema keeps promising to deliver, but rarely does, with the odd exception of an Abhay Deol in Socha Na Tha. Jai doesn’t need a six-pack or even a stubble, and he’s content to be introduced to us in as understated a manner as is possible in the context of a first film: he’s asleep at his desk, the phone rings, he dashes off to help Aditi with an emergency. (For the kind of hero we’re usually saddled with, refer this week’s other release at the multiplexes, where Harman Baweja is presented to us in little installments of lips and eyes and sideburns as he drives his father’s MG. Soon after wrecking the car, he walks away from the camera in slow motion, turning just enough to allow us our first full glimpse of his face.) With his big black caterpillar brows and his gawky, post-adolescent frame – it’s like someone who’s shot up too fast and is still learning how to negotiate the extra height – Imran is perfectly cast as Jai.
I hesitate to label this a star-making performance simply because (in all selfishness) I’d rather he stayed in the shadows and made the kind of film choices that Abhay Deol makes, but it’s hard to see how Imran is not going to be seen as the greatest thing since sliced bread (or, at least, Ranbir Kapoor) after his charming work here. Genelia is good too, though Manjari (who plays Meghna) makes a stronger impression because she’s given the role that’s far more interesting. Aditi is mostly a collection of clichés – it’s Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai all over again, and I found myself wishing she had more scenes with Pratiek Babbar; now there’s a relationship to be explored – whereas Tyrewala writes Meghna as a wonderful mix of all-too-human contradictions. She’s beautiful and the way she carries herself tells us she’s more than aware of the fact, and yet all this confidence is merely on the outside.
Meghna plays this little game where she gives mundane objects exotic descriptions – a tree with hanging branches becomes a witch taking flight at night – and soon it becomes clear that this isn’t really a game. She lives life like that, idealising people and things and relationships by painting them in happier colours. She doesn’t want to accept that her parents (played by Rajat Kapoor and Kitu Gidwani in a single, misconceived sequence at a dinner table) are in a relationship that’s not working, and she doesn’t want to face up to the fact that she’s herself in a relationship that’s not working. (There’s a lovely scene after Jai discovers he’s actually in love with Aditi, when he’s walking alongside Meghna in the rain and gets frustrated that she doesn’t see things for what they are. Of course, he can’t bring himself to say that he’s talking about them, so he pretends he’s referring to her parents.)
I realised, while writing this, that the character of Meghna alone – the way she’s been shaped – would be enough to make Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na a no-brainer to recommend to people. Scene for scene, there’s so much thought that’s gone into this production – from the shimmering colours of the impressionistic opening credits that could be titled Mumbai by Monet to the too-clever Samuel Beckett reference at the end of this film that’s all about “waiting” to the numerous little writerly touches strewn all through the middle, like the fact that Aditi’s fondness for cats has left her with the nick of Miaow (all the better to illustrate her Tom-and-Jerry bickering with “Rats,” see?) – that you feel a twinge about whining, especially in a movie year that’s not been kind to us at all.
But I came away from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na with the impression that Tyrewala is a far better writer than director – and it’s not just because a better director would have found better ways to conceptualise AR Rahman’s snappy soundtrack (the uninspired picturisation of Kabhi kabhi Aditi is a disgrace to the song’s brilliance) or because of annoyances like the framing device of a group of friends narrating the story. (They’re a most irritating Greek chorus, jabbering incessantly about what should instead be shown, and what, in some instances, has already been shown.) These are minor distractions that can be ignored when the larger picture – the film – is so delightful and diverting.
But the major problem with Tyrewala is what appears to be the problem with Farhan Akhtar too – and that’s that the film seems to have been written in English and merely translated to Hindi (as opposed to the film being felt and written out in Hindi; and speaking of similarities, the cultured-yet-boorish stopgap boyfriend that Tyrewala provides Aditi is just the kind of boyfriend that Akhtar likes to write for Preity Zinta). That’s where, perhaps, one can begin to distinguish between a good director and a good “Hindi film” director – because there’s little doubt that a Tyrewala or an Akhtar possesses the skills to craft a solid mainstream entertainment. But you come away thinking that had the same scenarios played out in English, they would have truly caught fire, instead of simply emitting the occasional spark.
And when rendered in Hindi, many of these moments have a stiffly formal feel to them – like a just-improvised skit. They don’t flow all that organically – and it isn’t just the language of the lines but the language of the thoughts themselves. The natural mode of expression for filmmakers like Tyrewala and Akhtar seems to be ironic detachment, and when this wry tone is inflicted on filmi, heart-on-sleeve material, the results aren’t always pretty. (Only Imtiaz Ali, among the current crop, appears to have a handle on how to seesaw between the nature of the multiplex audience and the necessities of having to make a film for everyone else too.) And yet, the reason I walked out of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na with happy thoughts was the final stretch, which is, in fact, the most filmi of material. It’s the dreaded airport climax, but the madcap cleverness of the handling and the sweetly sentimental culmination of the romance left me with moist eyes as well as a big silly grin.
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN A BAD MOVIE that bores you to tears is a bad movie with a terrific conceit that still manages to bore you to tears. Harry Baweja’s Love Story 2050 – quite possibly a film-industry father’s most indulgent (and at a reported fifty crores, most expensive) gift to a star-aspirant son who looks and acts alarmingly like Hrithik Roshan – puts a fascinating spin on a hoary staple of our cinema: it’s a reincarnation drama, but with a sci-fi twist. So it’s no longer lovers dying and being reborn in order to be reunited so much as lovers zipping off to the not-so-distant future to round out a romance cut tragically short in the present, hacking their way through the space-time continuum in search of happily-ever-after. What a mouthwatering premise!
And what a letdown! Karan (Harman Baweja) goes in search of Sana (Priyanka Chopra) with the help of a time machine built by his uncle (Boman Irani, overacting horribly). But as he assimilates almost miraculously into the Mumbai of 2050 – which looks fabulous, by the way; every paisa is clearly up there on screen, along with visual effects lifted from A.I. and Minority Report and Star Wars – there’s barely any conflict of cultures or of generations. The love portions aren’t engaging, the sci-fi parts aren’t convincing, so we’re left with the kind of overall silliness where a moronic villain pops up from nowhere, decides to follow Karan in order to get his grubby hands on the time machine, and fires missiles at Karan’s vehicle along the way, unmindful of the fact that if Karan goes up in smoke, there’s no one left to lead him to the damn contraption. Harman isn’t bad – we’ll have to wait for a proper movie to decide whether anything can be made of him – but poor Priyanka… Whatever did she see in this part that has her giggling over a hand puppet named Winkydinks and a teddy bear named Boo?
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