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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Jabariya Jodi, Review: Scaring, paring and pairing

Jabariya Jodi, Review: Scaring, paring and pairing

Imagine a country where dowry demands are the bane. Imagine a state in that country where the demands of families of educated and gainfully employed men of marriageable age range in the region of one to ten million bucks. Now imagine a gang that kidnaps such extortionist grooms and marries them off to the hapless women, at gunpoint, after giving them the treatment. Jodi, literally, means a ‘pair’ or ‘couple’, in Urdu and Hindi. It also refers to husband and wife. Jabar or jabr is force, and jabariya, by extension, means forced or forcibly formed. Many such marriages do not last, and the film does not succeed either

Childhood sweethearts Abhay Singh and Babli Yadav are separated forever when Babli’s family moves out from their small town abode to settle in Patna. As the vehicle carrying them is speeding away, a desperate and crazed Abhay chases it on a cycle and asks her father for the hand of Babli, in marriage. She breaks into tears, but the vehicle does not stop. A decade later, Babli asks her best friend Santosh ‘Santu’ to take her to the railway station in the middle of the night, on his motor–cycle so that she can escape to Kolkata, where, she believes, the love of her life, Ravi, is waiting for her. He turns out to be a fraud and fails to turn up at the station. Seeing a TV reporter loitering around for some breaking news, she offers to give him a ‘break-up’ news. He agrees, and follows her to meet Ravi, who is thrashed black and blue by a feisty Babli, on camera.

Although the incident makes her famous, she lands in jail and has to be bailed out by her father and his best friend Pathak. Babli’s father, who runs a school, reveals that Ravi’s family had asked for a huge amount as dowry, and that is why he had prevented her from seeing him anymore. Meanwhile, Abhay has grown up to lead his father HukumDev’s pakadva gang and traps unwary victims into marrying the girls they demanded dowry from. He beats up one victim and even ties him to a railway track when a train is approaching, to get him to say yes. It works like this: when a prospective groom and/or his family make an unreasonable demand, the girl’s father approaches HukumDev and offers him a fee. HukumDev then sends his son and their gang of 4-5 hoods to abduct the target. Abhay then scares him, pares him and then pairs him. And the Singh duo’s guarantee that the marriage will last is valid till the couple have their first child.

Babli and Abhay’s paths cross, and she recognises him. Later, he remembers her too. They get intimate, but Abhay is not ready to get into matrimony, given the kind of work he does, and the genes he feels he has inherited from his philandering father, which might make Babli’s life a living hell, as is the case with his own mother. Babli decides to get her man, somehow, and her modus operandi involves giving him a taste of his own medicine, a Jabariya Shaadee. A highly impractical idea, which she thought out while drunk, turns out to be one that she not only remembers when she comes to her senses, but one that she is dead serious about. Her ragtag bunch of friends and sympathisers, including Santu, highly reluctantly, agree to become part of her mission.

Though the impression inadvertently created was that the film is a Bhojpuri language, regional film venture, the dialect being extensively spoken in Bihar, the film is a mainstream Hindi production, wherein the characters speak the Patna (capital of Bihar) dialect, which is a mixture of all Bihari dialects: Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magadhi. Written by Sanjay Jha and Neeraj Singh, based on Jha’s observations and research about the issue, Jabariya Jodi has additional screenplay and dialogue by Raaj Shandilya, who is known for his work on Comedy Circus, on TV, and the film Welcome Back. In an attempt not to proselyte against a rampant social evil, they duo have added many disparate elements and tangential tracks. And debutant director Prashant Singh, also a Bihari, is their partner in crime.

In the jump from childhood to adulthood, the script misses out telling us anything about how and why Abhay became his father’s ring-leader, given that he has only hatred for his father. And why does Babli have this marriage fixation? She is never shown doing anything other than mooning or swooning. Being spunky enough to travel from Patna to Kolkata alone, and thrash a man on camera, one would have thought she has some brains too. If she did, she would never send a bunch of nincompoops to kidnap Abhay and arrange her forced marriage with him. Babli recognizes Abhay on first sight, but her father does not recognise him at all, even after several encounters, and nobody bothers to tell him. Likewise, HukumDev spends a lot of time talking to Yadav, face to face, at his home, and there is no sign of recognition.

Yadav’s sleep-walking is an interesting track, if only two pertinent questions were answered: do sleep-walkers go to the same place every time, and stand there for hours, with their eyes wide open? And even if he does that, shouldn’t his daughter do something serious about it, rather than taking him back to bed much later? There is also no back-story about how and why HukumDev took on this profession of marriage fixer. His gang has just one man with brains, another who talks only with his rifle and another two who could have just walked off the set of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight or A Fish Called Wanda.

Some peppy dialogue gives the film a few skyscrapers on the entertainment graph, never enough avoid the troughs. “Bihar men teen taraah sey jodiyan bantee haen, Babu: Himmatvaalon kee arranged jodee, qismetvaalon kee love jodee aor dahej key laalchiyon kee jabariya jodee." (In Bihar, couples are formed in three ways: courageous folks have arranged marriages, lucky folks have love marriages and greedy folks have forced marriages); “Ek to hum single, ooparsey kameeney” (firstly, I am single, and, on top of that, I am a degenerate); “You must have heard of surprise parties. Well, this is a surprise marriage—yours!” However, the best and most clever line is reserved for Santu, “I know you need me, but someone else is a necessity”. Many other pieces of dialogue include insider jokes, naming film actors and music directors, mostly in bad taste.

Sidharth Malhotra (Student of the Year, Hasee Toh Phasee, Aiyaary) as Abhay Singh seems to have come to a party. He is cocksure, deals in only two things--marriage or funerals, flexes his six-pack muscles, totes guns, gets his way with everyone, from the foreign ‘item dance’ girl to Babli, and only turns a new leaf after sulking endlessly. Parineeti Chopra as Babli Yadav has limited range, and even that is not properly exploited. She is not buxom, yet she is made to wear tight blouses that give a peek-a-boo. Her character sinks from headstrong to one who accepts abject surrender as her lot in life. The similarity to actress Soha Ali Khan and her mother Sharmila Tagore is inescapable. Both characters are unconvincing.

Unlike the lead duo, veteran Javed Jaffrey as HukumDev rises above his character and makes you take notice. Here is proof that he much more than a dancer and a spoofing comedian. Not once does his guard drop to betray the Javed who has been hopelessly type-cast on a few occasions, though a couple of funny lines look like his own handiwork. Ever reliable Sanjai Mishra as Babli's father delivers, fitting into the milieu with both his diction and appearance. Sheeba Chaddha is good as Abhay's mother, and gets a key scene towards the climax. Neeraj Sood raises a few laughs as Pathak, saying the wrong things at the right times. Sharad Kapoor exudes grit and authority as Lallan (sounded like Daddan). Of the gang members, only Chandan Roy Sanyal as Guddu stands out, getting the maximum footage, though others have their one scene moments too.

Aparshakti Khurana (Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Luka Chuppi, Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, Stree; younger brother of Ayushmann Khurana) proves that both Khuranas are talented. Given some five couplets to mouth, he delivers them well, within the confines of the small town suspect Urdu pronunciation. Gopal Dutt as the quintessential corrupt cop goes through the motions deadpan, which might have been the better alternative than going over the top. Item girls, who tantalise and titillate, are Elli Avram and Alankrita Sahai. Also in the cast are Ruslaan Mumtaz, Arfi Lamba, Yogita Rathore, Mohit Baghel, Aaryan Arora, Anupam Mishra and Ammar Taalwala.

Music score by Joel Crasto is an attack on the eardrums, but surely, the director must be balmed for packing the sound-track with so much and so loud a background score. Songs are the penmanship of nine poets, Raj Shekhar, Rashmi Virag, Tanishk Bagchi, Channi Rakhala, Parampara Thakur, Shabbir Ahmed, Sidhharth-Garima, and Kumaar. Compositions have six names attached to them: Tanishk Bagchi, Vishal Mishra, Ashok Mastie, Parampara Thakur, Ramji Gulati and Sachet Tandon. Including versions, there are a whopping eight songs, clocking 33 minutes. One—Khadki Glassy—is reserved for the end titles, while another, ‘Jilla hillela’, is a fresh take on a popular track. Mishra and Bagchi dominate. Three of the numbers are overtly Punjabi, out of place in a film set in Bihar. One is a regular sad/philosophical lament and another is overtly tasteless.

Cinematography by Vishal Sinha and editing by Ritesh Soni (one source gives the name as Dev Rao Jadhav) fail to lift the film to a higher level. Editing, not the editor personally, particularly, is the culprit, with the second half at least twice the length it should have been. Running for 139 minutes, it holds your interest for about half the time, and then oscillates between vulgarities, like perforated condoms, and egocentric moping, of the two lead players. Both approaches detract from the subject, which itself runs out of steam when a reverse abduction is planned, giving the feared abductor a taste of his own medicine. The rest is all patch-work, to veer it towards a contrived climax.

Audiences found some sparkling chemistry between Sidharth and Parineeti in Hasee Toh Phasee. There's only physics here (Sidharth) and a hint of inorganic chemistry (Parineeti).

Rating: **

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXAqEbLJYPY

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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