A week after Udta Punjab, the spring is back in Punjab’s step. Those big glasses of lassi, they’re back. As are parathas glistening with ghee, fields with yellow flowers. Also back are those ginormous weddings where no one, apparently, just sits around and catches up with family. Instead of an RSVP, the invitation cards must have said: Please do not attend unless you are young, tall, fit, and have toned abs that won’t jiggle in Manish Malhotra lehengas. The only syringes around are those that have jabbed these faces and made them wrinkle-free. I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t like these movies to go away entirely. I just wish better people made them. Director Vivek Agnihotri’s resumé includes a thriller (the Usual Suspects rip-off, Chocolate), a sports drama (Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal), something that Wikipedia calls an “erotic thriller” (Hate Story), and this year’s controversial, intriguingly titled Buddha in a Traffic Jam, which made one imagine the enlightened one honking impatiently on his way to a sermon in Sarnath. Junooniyat is Agnihotri’s stab at the kind of love story that doubles as a home remedy for unclogging sinuses. Sadly, there isn’t a wet eye in the house.
This genre seems to be taking its last gasps – or put differently, the flavour of romance has changed on screen. We get rom-coms. We get the kind of love stories Imtiaz Ali makes, where romance is the pheromonic equivalent of writer’s block, an endless wait to see the light. Then there are the love stories Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes, where romance is a marathon to be run on a track prepared with hot coals, in brocaded tracksuits. But when was the last time we had a big, old-fashioned weepie where the villain was simply destiny, and where people said things like “pyaar ka imtihaan” without a trace of self-consciousness? I’m thinking Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Or maybe Mohit Suri’s last couple of films, Aashiqui 2 and Hamari Adhuri Kahani. Otherwise, this genre has shrunk in size, stature. Only newcomers seem interested in it, as we saw earlier this year in Sanam Teri Kasam. Or up-and-comers, like Pulkit Samrat (who plays an army man named Jahaan Bakshi) and Yami Gautam (as Suhaani).
These films allow them to give show-reel performances targeted at casting agents. She’s saying, Look, I can cry, I can dance. He’s saying, Look, I can open my arms wide and give a slow-burn of a smile as the girl runs towards me. Plus, note the biceps. The screenplay throws all manner of things at the couple in order to keep them apart till the last reel. One of those things is Yash, whom Suhaani suddenly gets engaged to. Gulshan Devaiah plays Yash, and he’s saying, Look, I’m not just the hipster from ‘Shaitaan’ and ‘Hunterrr.’ I can also say lines like ‘Uski saanson mein kisi aur ki garmahat mahsoos ki.’ The dialogues, too, are from another era. My favourite came at a party at an army base, when Suhaani says she doesn’t drink. An officer nearby says, “Brandy sharab nahin hoti. Brandy to jeene ka style hota hai.” You wonder how many brandies one has to down in order to say these things with a straight face.
The conflict points have all the weight of those television commercials where the husband comes home and is annoyed that the wife has changed their brand of tea or detergent powder. In any case, we know Bollywood hasn’t yet evolved to the point where Gulshan Devaiah ends up with the girl, so we try to be patient as Jahaan and Suhaani keep inventing reasons to be angry with each other, until secrets are conveniently overheard, revealed at the exact moment before the wedding, so on, so forth. If the word “generic” did not exist, it would have to be coined for Junooniyat. The only time I sat up was when I learnt Suhaani’s sister Mishti (Hrishitaa Bhatt), a widow, had been “allowed” to wear colourful clothes by their father, who clearly did not think to add, “Also, make a new life for yourself.” An old-fashioned story is one thing, but why not update some of this old-fashioned worldview? Every time Hrishitaa Bhatt comes on screen, she seems to be saying, Look, I need to pay my rent too.
- junooniyat = obsession
- Udta Punjab = see here
- lehenga = Bollywood’s national costume; see here
- Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal = see here
- “pyaar ka imtihaan” = a test of true love
- Jab Tak Hai Jaan = see here
- Aashiqui 2 = see here
- Hamari Adhuri Kahani = see here
- Sanam Teri Kasam = see here
- ‘Uski saanson mein kisi aur ki garmahat mahsoos ki.’ = I felt in her breath another man’s warmth.
- “Brandy sharab nahin hoti. Brandy to jeene ka style hota hai.” = Brandy isn’t liquor. It’s a style statement.
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.