Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom: Fictional Realism

I had first seen Jhoom Barabar Jhoom about seven years back at the time of its release. I remember the brouhaha over the film as it was getting terrible reviews from one and all. My cousin and I watched it at Chanakya, and we, actually, did not find it as bad as it was made out to be. In fact, it was not a bad film at all, I had liked the movie, perhaps it was a little slow. I still remember the conversation with a friend after I told her that I liked it and she was aghast that how can anyone like that film. I think that was the beginning when I started hiding the films I liked to spare myself the social shaming and the embarrassment that people indulge in, but over the years, I realized how foolish I was. As I have written probably for the umpteenth time before that liking a film is like picking a dress that is dependent upon a person's choice. I have read our film critics giving trashy reviews to such splendid films which is again fine but I think even these so called critics did not understand those. In 2012, every single critic except Baradwaj Rangan trashed Aiyya calling it Rani Mukerji's worst film, which in my opinion was such a brilliant version of Alice In Wonderland that they just did not get the movie. There are many other splendid films that are so less understood. A few days ago, I was watching Kiss of Love, a song that I absolutely love, and suddenly got this epiphany to watch Jhoom Barabar Jhoom again. And then, I watched it over a period of three-four days and this time, I understood some part of the movie and liked it in many more ways. At one point in the movie, Alvira (Preity Zinta) says, "Chhoti chhoti cheezon me hi to bada lutf hota hai," which I think perfectly summarized the movie. It might not be a terrific film but there are some fabulous chhoti chhoti cheezein imbued in the movie that gave me enough lutf.

One of the main things that I felt in the movie was the concept of dualism that is prevalent throughout the film. Take the title Jhoom Barabar Jhoom itself in which the word Jhoom is repeated twice, and this repeated word is separated by the word Barabar which could mean equality, completeness, or balance. The word barabar in a way brings a sense of balance to the two swaying jhooms. Or for another instance, look at the bohemian Bulla Man (Amitabh Bachchan). He has a guitar with two necks, just like the repeated word in the film's title. In addition, the film is a story of two couples—Alvira (Preity) and Steve (Bobby), and Anaida (Lara) and Rikki (Abhishek)—who pretend to be someone else than what they really are. Alvira and Rikki are in love with each other and both of them make the same lie that they are engaged to someone else. Alvira pretends that she is engaged to Steve, while Rikki pretends that he is engaged to Anaida. In reality, neither Steve nor Anaida really exist and both of these imaginary characters are forced to be played by Satvinder and Laila—both of whom have no love lost for Rikki and Anaida. The parallels between both the two main characters and thier two imaginary lovers clearly underscore the concept of dualism in the film.

In another instance of this concept of twofoldness, take the gorgeously choreographed song Bol Na Halke Halke. The song is one of the most beautiful sequences in the film. Rikki and Alvira are in a state of reverie, trying to imagine the scenario if they had met each other earlier. The song is a visualization of that scenario. And then, in the song we see more double references. Rikki and Anaida talk about the similarities in their religions. Rikki says that before entering a gurduwara, we cover our heads, Alvira responds that the same is done before entering a shrine. Before bowing your head in the gurudwara, we wash our hands and faces; likewise in the shrine. And, both the places offer tabarukh—divine love—as a blessing, and that meri ibadat is same as tumhari ibadat. Later in the song, we see that Rikki and Alvira marry in the Sikh traditional style in front of the Taj Mahal and they have two sons who are twins. It is a wonderful concept that details the essence of the sameness of the two religions, like the two necks of Bulla Man's guitar producing the music from one guitar, that ultimately, both the religions have the same body, only the path of producing the music might be different. Again, the fact that Alvira is from Pakistan and Rikki is from India, two nations made from one body is quite befitting to this concept. Also, I found the story about South Asians who are set in England, another instance of the depiction of the concept of dualism where these people are not only known by their original South Asian identity but their acquired English identity as well (notice how Rikki uses the word blimey).

The leitmotif of dualism is conspicuous in the film's sequences and story, but there is another aspect of this recurring motif that quite subtly permeates the film. The film merges another pair of binary notions—fiction and reality—in itself. At one point, Rikki and Anaida are talking, and he says that, "Kahan tum Miss World, aur kahan Rikki Tukral," and that he is not worthy of her. In real life, Abhishek Bachchan is married to a former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai, and we think is that Abhishek saying or Rikki saying? Not to forget that Lara Dutta has also been a Miss Universe at some point of time in real life. Or for another instance, take Alvira. When she goes to meet Steve at his mansion for the first time, she is stunned by his wealth, and says that he is even bigger than Prince Charles in terms of stature. And, we think is it Alvira saying this or Preity saying this because at that point of time, she was herself dating the millionaire, Ness Wadia (their recent relationship turmoil is another topic of discussion though). Or at another instance, we see that Rikki is talking about the famous Indians in Madame Tussauds and when it comes to Amitabh and Aishwarya, both his real life family members, he says it with a glint in his eye, and we wonder is that Abhishek's or Rikki's? Or in the song Bol Na Halke Halke, the first shot that we is see is that of Rikki walking on a station platform in a bright red kurta, so reminiscent of his father's role in the film Coolie. Then, Alvira comes to visit Delhi and her look mirrors one of her earlier films, namely Veer Zaara (Alvira and Veer Zaara—Veer connection?). Recall that in that film, too, she had come to visit India and she was from Pakistan in that film. In that song, there is another sequence in which she gets old, and looks like the old Naina (played by Preity only) from the last scene of Kal Ho Na Ho. At another point in the song, Rikki and Alvira are talking near the Taj Mahal and the song Jo Vaada Kiya Woh Nibhaana Padega from the movie Taj Mahal is playing. And again, we wonder at the juxtaposition of what we are seeing on the screen with the musical reference of that thing itself. At another point in the film, when Satvinder (Bobby Deol) comes for the first time, the song from one of the films of Bobby's real life father, Dharmendra, plays, which was Main Jat Yamla Pagla Deewana (it is rather uncanny that the song itself became Bobby's own film Yamla Pagal Deewana in 2011). At another point, we see the iconic motorcycle from Sholay given a tribute in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, and it is quite fitting that now, the sons of both the actors who sang that immortal song in the motorbike in Sholay, replicate the same scene in this film. And, if these were not enough, Shaad Ali refers a dance step from Kajra Re of his own film Bunty Aur Babli in the song Ticket To Hollywood. These instances subtly juxtaposit fiction and reality, blurring the boundaries between the two realms, giving us something called, if I may coin an oxymoron, fictional realism. 

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is also a musical film. The musical film is a film genre in which the songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative. All our Hindi films are called musicals but a real musical film is one in which the song takes the plot forward, unlike our typical films where songs are forced in the plot. All the songs of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom are interwoven in the script, and some like Ticket To Hollywood would not mean anything if we don't know the plot. Or the fabulously choreographed Kiss of Love which comes when we are in a serious courtroom in line with the film's story and all of a sudden, it starts playing. I love the way Bobby dances on the steps with the cap and the gown in the song. The film's songs and the choreography are worth the price of a ticket itself. What is also interesting is that these songs don't play out completely but in parts. Like Bol Na Halke Halke. The song would play for a few minutes and then stop and the characters would talk, and then it would again start playing. The same happens in the resplendent Jhoom Barabar Jhoom song itself. That is what is called a true musical film and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom does that nicely. Jaaneman is another example of a real musical.

Early in the film, when Rikki and Alvira are talking about their love stories, Rikki says his fiance's name is Anaida and he saw her at the Ritz in France where was she taking care of Lady Diana and Dody. At first, I thought that the names Diana and Anaida are quite similar and there is some connection. Later, when Alvira talks about Steve, she compares him to Prince Charles. I definitely felt that there is some connection to Prince Charles and Lady Diana. It was only in the end that we got to know the link. I had seen the movie over the period of two-three days, and only the third day when I finished watching it, I realized that it was so obvious. The film's Facebook page also makes this point. Anaida and Steve, better known as Laila and Satvinder, embodied Diana and Prince Charles, and it is they who run away in the end. I am not sure but it is interesting how Jhoom Barabar Jhoom could be interpreted to have similarity with Lady Diana and Prince Charles's real life love story, who incidentally were also involved with different people in real life. Diana was involved with Dody and Charles was always in love with Camilla Parker Bowles that made Lady Diana make the famous statement,"There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." Like the four couples in the film. Unrelated Fact: A lot of people, even in the movie, refer to Lady Diana as Princess Diana. She was a princess but not Princess Diana because as per the English monarchy rules, she was Lady Diana, Princess of Wales. The use of the word princess with the first name is only used for the monarch's daughter, so calling Lady Diana as Princess Diana is not correct.

As always, I love finding references in films. Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was in so many ways paying a tribute to our mad Hindi cinema. I counted references to Sholay, Qurbani, Don, and Aradhana. At one point, Rikki and Alvira along with their partners Laila and Satvinder, go to the South Hall dance competition and they try to make each other jealous by canoodling with each other. I was instantly reminded of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna when Maya (Rani Mukerji) and Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) go to watch the ballet performance along with Rishi (Abhishek Bachchan) and Rhea (Preity Zinta), and make each other jealous, especially Dev who could not withstand Rishi touching Maya. What was fascinating was this time Rishi and Rhea of that film are played by the same characters in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. In another scene, the film pays a tribute to one of the most famous characters known for playing the villain's sidekick—Actor Sudhir—just like Zoya Akhtar did to Mac Mohan in Luck By Chance. Actor Sudhir is dressed in a hybrid of Elvis Presley and Rishi Kapoor's style. Qalandar makes such a fabulous point about Sudhir. He says, "The culmination of this everyday oddness is the dance competition, presided over by veteran character actor and villain sidekick Sudhir (known to and beloved by at least two generations of Hindi film-viewers as just that, and wholly independent of whatever any character he played was called). Sudhir spent his career in the shadows of more famous actors, and it is fitting that he and not Amitabh Bachchan, who opens and closes the film should take center stage here, in perhaps the only film featuring both of them where he has a speaking part and the Big B, none, fitting that Sudhir's dance competition determine which of these lives lived in the shadows of the Princess Dianas of the world will be acknowledged on a Southall-wide basis." Not only this, but the film also in a way takes us to a reverse dream sequence as if making a point about our fascination for foreign settings. The entire film is set in London, and when the song Bol Na Halke Halke comes, we are in India. If it had been any other film, we would be seeing the exact opposite, a film set in India with the dream sequence shot abroad. And, what is with Yashraj's heroines not liking Indian men? Alvira prays to God to not marry her to a kale kaloota as she liked white men. Remember Meera and Sir Jesus in Jab Tak Hai Jaan? 

The cast of hit BBC TV show, The Kumars at No. 42, make an appearance. So many years later, Kapil Sharma's Comedy Nights, a derivative of that show is scorching the TRPs in India.

The funny subtitle(s) for the week:

Teri Hamesha Phatati Kyun Hai

O billoni, billoni, billoni, hath maar de taaliyaan

Interesting credits

Story Development by Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia

The character of Huffy Bhai is a tribute to Khan Sahab

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is not a flawless film, it is slow and sometimes, tests our patience, but it is a mad, mad film. It is all in the details, it says, and it delivers on that front. I am not really sure even if I understood the movie's depth in its entirety. If nothing else, the song Bol Na Halke Halke with its gorgeous camerawork is worth the price of the ticket. I know I am eagerly waiting for Shaad Ali's next  Kill Dil.

More later.

Dialogue of the day:
"Chhoti chhoti cheezon me hi to bada lutf hota hai." 
— Alvira, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom

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