Clever political satires are rare in Indian cinema. Even political dramas hardly come by, considering the threat of some random person or group taking offence to the “similarity” of plot to real events or portrayal of a real character on screen; for ours is fast becoming a conditional democracy – applicable only to the ruling class. Our collective ability to be able to confront our deficiencies and shortcomings head-on and laugh at our idiosyncrasies is at an all-time low. And at such a time, master of story-telling, Vishal Bhardwaj brings us a crazy and wickedly-humourous story that tells us exactly where we are going wrong in building a credible collective identity.
The capitalist in this tale from the hinterland sways between conscious greed and unconscious philanthropy – just how we suspect every money-minting rich man suffocates and kills the goodness inside him to be able to sleep peacefully at night. It is only a seasoned veteran like Pankaj Kapoor who could play the whimsical and unpredictable Harry Matru and still elicit an affection from the audience. It is easy, otherwise, to reduce this character to a caricature. Mandola is aware and somewhat ashamed of his compromise with his morals, and his victory over this ethical dilemma in the end to arrive at a win-win deal with the working class is what his episode with the gulabi bhains is all about.
The politician, as always, has a goal. But the achievement of this goal involves personal progress too, as explained perfectly by a crafty minister. Shabana Azmi plays Chaudhari Devi, a scheming character and as wicked as her witch in her earlier collaboration with Bhardwaj, Makdee. The scion is ambitious, but an airhead (Arya Babbar) in awe of his mother and following her instructions to the ‘T’, but unintentionally going slightly off the mark on every occasion. The very vocal comparison of this dimwit with our political legacy holders elicited loud hoots, guffaws and lots of clapping in the theatre.
Then comes the symbolic leader of the masses masquerading as the everyday man (Imran Khan as Matru). His intentions are noble and what he lacks for in terms of material resources, he makes up for with his proximity to power and his ability to influence it. Even in the face of adversity, he leads the people well enough to follow a faceless leader – a belief system – to get what they all want. But this also shows the unquestioning faith we, the public, show in anyone who claims to be able to get us justice. But that’s that. We stop applying our own brains and do not move an inch without the leader’s permission.
Anushka Sharma‘s character links all the others at another level, providing the layer to this story that we see first from the top. It is only on the peeling of these layers one by one that we get to the part that explain the deeper allusions that Bhardwaj has tried to make in the story, like the gulabi bhains.
There are some lovely moments in the film and some cheeky digs at the current administrative powers and the issues plaguing us. Commie bastards, bourgeois bitches, the buffalo that keeps saying “Mao” and left association, smart telecom scam reference in song, land acquisition, farmer loans, Zulu folk dancers — all have a story to tell about the current confused Indian identity. Azmi’s theatrical monologue about politics is nothing short of brilliant. Khan and Sharma try hard to blend in but the veterans unintentionally and by no fault of theirs overshadow them. Babbar cracks you up, but it is hard to know if it is because he is actually good, or if he is playing himself. Kapoor is the man, though. Take him out of this film, and it is sure to fall flat on its face.
The film loses pace in the second half and gropes about to hold on to the plot-line faithfully. In spite of that, it manages to create quite an impression. It may not appeal on a large scale, making it to the 100-crore club (I will be more than happy to eat my words if it does), or even be a big hit. But it is an important film for reintroducing satire in Bollywood, and with some semblance of class. Having said all that, it still isn’t up to the mark of a “Vishal Bhardwaj masterpiece.”
I had promised I’d watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan as a mark of respect towards Yash Chopra. I did. I am not overwhelmed. But I am not sorry either.
All the recent films that Yash Chopra has directed require a great deal of suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part. Yes, it is my blind prejudice towards the man and his body of work (Daag, Trishul, Deewar, Mashaal) that makes me so stubborn, but in his defence, he also created this genre of fairy-tale romance and defined its elements. All of us know what his films have lately been about. Don’t like them, don’t watch them. But don’t complain if you do. It is silly of you to expect a neo-realist fare from the house that now sells romance, dreams and happily ever afters.
It is for this very reason I am not going to complain about the multiple basic inconsistencies in the film, like – How is an Indian Army officer allowed to sport a stubble? What are Olympic decorations doing in London stations in 2002? Why was a bikini-clad Akira (Anushka Sharma) surprised when she dived into a lake in Ladakh and found it freezing enough to kill her?
The plot is out there for everyone to know. Poor boy meets princess, they become friends and fall in love, until one vaada leads them to separate. Boy joins the Indian army, meets boisterous and aspiring documentary filmmaker, politely spurns her advances, but stays her friend. One thing leads to another and ultimately, the happy “the end”.
With hardcore SRK fans calling it his best performance ever and others hating him (because it has become a full-time hobby now), people with non-committal feelings about him are finding it difficult to take a moderate stand without feeling jostled. I’d say, he is among the better things in the movie – because Katrina, playing Meera, is still somewhere on the learning curve in terms of her acting and Anushka is annoying. It’s time she played someone that isn’t like her in Band Baaja Baarat, Badmaash Company or the Reliance Mobile advertisements. No one in recent times has managed a chirpy, happy-go-lucky character as well as Kareena’s Geet in Jab We Met. Everyone else just plays it over the top.
His chemistry with Katrina seems forced. And he is so elder-brotherly towards Akira, that any more intimacy and it’d have felt morally unpalatable. So it’s like saying a veteran beat two amateurs at the task. Big deal.
Having seen SRK in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, DDLJ, Swades and Chak De India, I long for another such performance from him. Here he seems unsupported and stifled by lesser competent co-stars, old-style Bollywood dialogue delivery and a long, loopy plot. His Samar Anand is made to flit between a threesome among boyish and love-struck Sunil (KHKN), confident and cocky loverboy Raj (DDLJ) and brooding man on a mission Kabir Khan(Chak De). But the magic of none of the character s blossoms fully enough to create a long-lasting impression.
The frames are beautiful. You really can never go wrong with framing shots in London and Ladakh, even with a Kodak KB-10. But that is not to take away from Anil Mehta’s good work. The music is absolutely non-Rahman, not in a complimentary way. Even Gulzar Saab’s work feels uninspired. And I must have said this a few hundred times by now. Katrina looks like a Yashraj princess, but she has a long way to go before she can carry off a instrumental-dance solo/duet like Sridevi (Lamhe, Chandni) or Madhuri and Karisma (Dil To Paagal Hai) did. Vaibhavi Merchant is definitely no Saroj Khan or Shiamak Davar. She shouldn’t have been hired by YRF for the job in any case.
The dialogue by Aditya Chopra is sore. But in a smart way, the father and son duo have used it to subtly poke fun at what we as an audience loved earlier, but now cannot stand. The younger Akira keeps talking about the older generation, their choices, preferences and idea of love. We are caught wondering whether we want to be there or here. Also, for some good reason, Samar voices for logic and practicality over a deal with “Sir Jesus”. That should have just happened earlier to save us at least an hour out the three that this film runs for.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the kind of story that all of us grow up wanting to be part of (at least most of the women do), and continue to want to believe in. How much of it we like or dislike depends upon our view of romance and relationships that is shaped in our minds as we grow older and live through our own experiences with love. In my opinion, I am more on the cynical side to be able to appreciate the film the way it is meant to be. But it will work for the incurable romantics.
Yash Chopra was a shrewd filmmaker. After Veer Zaara, he probably knew that his audience had shrunk. It was beginning to delve into films with darker subjects and “real” plots. Which is why he probably took this long to come back to the job to make a last statement. And also maybe that is why he had announced that Jab Tak Hai Jaan would be his last film. He had made the right call. For while better than Veer Zaara, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is no where close to his masterpieces. But no regrets as we will always have his best work, to remember him by.