Just two months ago, if you’d told me I’d not only go to see a Kareena Kapoor-Shahid Kapoor flick in a theater but have a good time watching it, I’d have wanted to know what you’ve been smoking. Except that’s exactly what happened and I feel no guilt whatsoever.
Director Imtiaz Ali’s sophomore effort, Jab We Met is a sharper, wittier, better made version of the movies he’s written so far: Socha Na Tha and Ahista Ahista.
***Mild spoilers follow***
Meet Aditya, a young man who appears to be experiencing some sort of trauma as he silently walks out of an angry boardroom to pay a visit to some chick’s wedding reception before winding up where every good citizen of Mumbai eventually finds themselves: Victoria Terminus.
He boards a train for the lack of anything better to do and lapses into a blue funk. Unfortunately for him, he’s chosen a seat next to the ultimate Co-Passenger from Hell: an extremely talkative Punjabi maiden full of grating good cheer who goes by the name of Geet.
Try as he might, he can’t get her to A) shut up and B) leave him alone. Finally, her overwhelming desire to be helpful lands the two of them in a right awful mess that sends them on a road trip to Bhatinda. Geet turns out to be a rather nice girl and we learn that she’s on her way to see her tradition-bound family in Punjab before she runs away to marry her lover. Aditya finally breaks down and confesses that he’s something of a tycoon whose father died last year and mother ran away with some guy a while back. He has Issues.
This is where the neon lights flashing DRAMA! DRAMA! DRAMA! would go off in any other movie but fortunately for us, Geet is a loudmouth and Aditya has a sense of humor so we live to cry another day.
Next up is Geet and her loud family, including a properly forbidding patriarch (a hilarious, scene stealing Dara Singh) and loads of people who manage to sort themselves out in spite of dancing all over the screen. Then Geet runs off to Manali and Aditya accompanies her on her flight so that he won’t face the fallout.
Nine months later, her family sees him on TV and fetches up at his doorstep to beat the whereabouts of their daughter out of him. Aditya sets out once again to find Geet and is shocked when he finally tracks her down. Gone is the eternal optimist who once talked nineteen to the dozen – instead, dumped by her boyfriend and too proud to return home, this Geet is a shadow of her former self.
She teaches school! She lives in a working women’s hostel! Run by nuns! She washes dishes! She doesn’t paint her nails! She wears no makeup! She looks like a washed out rabbit… er, um, I meant to say, hand her a baby in a shawl already coz this is obviously a girl that’s hard done by.
Anyway, Aditya convinces her to come back to Bhatinda with him and tries to play Geet to her traumatized Aditya with mixed results. The movie then hurtles to a not so traditional end in an “I saw that coming” sort of way that’s very entertaining.
Groundbreaking, experimental cinema this is not. If that’s what you’re after, then you might want to give Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking, the other release this week, a try. But if you’re in the mood for a well executed rom-com, then this is the movie for you. It’s enjoyable Bollywood fare that doesn’t allow its multiplex roots to lure it away from the fact that this is a Hindi language movie. Annoying posers like Heyy Babyy, with their lamentable trick of using self-consciously delivered English lines to convey major plot points should take a look at this movie.
Imtiaz Ali’s characters are thoroughly average Indians who speak multiple languages, move between urban and rural environments, offer unnecessary advice, feel touchy about their womenfolk, aren’t above a bit of eve-teasing, and listen to each other. When Aditya finally meets Geet’s lover, Anshuman, you can see that class has reared its head – but while Geet and Aditya are on their road trip through rural India, they find a way to relate to each other as equals: she asks him if he’s a Bachchan fan, tells him how to save his money and offers to introduce him to her sister. Couched in your average rom-com terms is the tale of an optimist who has never had her optimism challenged and a man who’s not quite a pessimist but is in a situation where he can’t find any reason to be optimistic.
As the situations reverse in the second half, we’re reminded that resilience is not always reflected by tight-lipped stoicism and life is not merely a biological function. Sometimes, one discovers one’s inner strength with an explosive round of abuse and shared laughter. What strikes you most about Geet and Aditya is their affectionate friendship, their comfort with each other, their recognition and subsequent acceptance of each other’s sadness and failings as an integral part of them. When Geet cons Aditya into taking the fall for one of her problems, his only reaction is a rueful shake of the head – he knows Geet is a bit of hustler.
There were a couple of moments in the film that took me out of it. One was when Aditya returns to face the wrath of his shareholders after going walkabout on their ass and Shahid Kapoor (who otherwise did a fine job here) lapses into his Acting! persona. Watching him trying to convince a roomful of people that although their company, under his leadership, was all but bankrupt, it was nothing that a smile and bit of enthusiasm wouldn’t fix was a bit painful. Thankfully, Ali seemed to get that and glossed over it with as much finesse as he was able to muster.
The second thing that gave me pause were the songs: I think this is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard all year and it mirrors the film in walking the fine edge of traditional Indian music vs. hip western. But if ever there was a movie that demanded that nobody lip-sync, this was it. But at least the script recognized that need and actively addressed it. Good save there.
In the maybe category falls the director’s decision to cut all “iffy” bits of dialogue. There is no filler in this script, it’s all pared down to a lean, satisfying whole. And while I approved of most of it, like the fact that the ex-girlfriend didn’t get to make the speech that all ex-girlfriends get to make in movies of this sort, I think I’d have liked to hear the mother’s voice. Just her saying “Thanks” or something. Nothing especially profound but just a little throwaway line so I got to hear the character’s reaction to her estranged son.
Casting is perfect – Kareena Kapoor’s natural ebullience, which can turn her into a shrill ham on most occasions, is admirably leashed to perfection; Shahid Kapoor is still five inches tall and has a trout pout but has developed the acting chops to convincingly inhabit the role of a quiet young man; and I’d like Dara Singh to be my grandpa.
I’d like to give a special shoutout to editor Aarti Bajaj – dude, you need to hold editing classes in Mumbai. For the past while I’ve been watching Bollywood movies that are so crappily put together, there’s inevitably some scene left dangling somewhere that makes me wonder if it was some kind of afterthought that someone forgot.
The Scene That Time Forgot. In The Movie I Can’t Wait to Forget.
Happily there’s no such thing in Jab We Met. I’m so happy when I get crumbs like that. Sad, I know. I think it’s a perfect date movie – and it’s even better if you don’t have a date.
PS – Shahid Kapoor has nice hands. And I saw the trailer for Jodha-Akbar and I’m actually interested in it. Do you think I’m coming down with some mysterious illness?