India’s obsession with making even unhappy marriages work is not new. Indian Cinema dealing with the same isn’t unheard of either. Sixteen years ago, Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, however flawed, had four of Hindi Cinema’s leading actors play characters merely existing in unhappy marriages. In 2006 it was bold of a mainstream Hindi film to have its lead characters step out of their marriages. Raj Mehta’s JugJugg Jeeyo borrows heavily from KANK, the ideas it set and the stories it told. But JugJugg Jeeyo is not as brave as KANK. Apart from a few scenes, everything is surface level treatment of divorce and its aftermath.
I did like Mehta’s previous outing, Good Newwz. And on watching the trailer of JugJugg Jeeyo, I had some expectations. I thought this film will be our well deserved return to the big screen. I tried my level best to like the film, but couldn’t. I think we, as an audience, deserve better. Every time a big film gets negative reviews, there are talks about people not realising how much time, effort and money is spent on making a film. What these arguments don’t realise is that time, effort and money is also spent on watching a film. I know I wouldn’t want to pay for a film like JugJugg Jeeyo. It has its moments, yes. But they come and go, never really allowing us to invest into the journeys of the characters. The start is clumsy, predictable, yet when I watched Kiara Advani and Varun Dhawan’s Naina and Kukoo decide that they wanted a divorce, the first thought that came into my head was, “please be a good film, ending with these characters happily going their own way”. Does that happen? You can watch the film to know.
While KANK’s shadow looms large over JugJugg Jeeyo, it never allows its characters to explore their dark sides as the former film did. Naina and Kukoo have moved abroad because she has had opportunities come her way. She is on the verge of becoming the VP of HR in her company. He is a bouncer, and hence, in the eyes of a society, a failure. His father, while drunk, tells him that he started from scratch and became a bouncer in a demeaning manner. After all, Bheem (Anil Kapoor) owns a factory, has a sprawling house, an even better outhouse and what not. His only son being a bouncer isn’t what he would’ve thought because according to Kukoo, “tumhare (Naina) paiso pe ghar nahi chalana chahta tha, har Mard ko lagta hai ki woh kuch kamaye, kuch ban de dikhaye.” [This isn’t the exact dialogue, a word or two here and there]. In the beginning of the film, and for a very long time, Naina shows characteristics of Rhea (Preity Zinta in KANK). She doesn’t want to use society as an excuse for staying in her failed marriage. I genuinely loved the writing of Naina’s character until she became a stereotypical 90s heroine because this is a full-on family entertainer in Hindutva India and in our country tradition comes before self respect.
There are moments in which JugJugg Jeeyo shines! I’m going to list some of them – Each of Kiara Advani’s scenes!!! (extra exclamation marks for her act) – she tackles Naina with such a steely presence, it’s remarkable. You don’t just see Rhea’s influence in her character, but she’s seems to have learnt a lot from Preity Zinta, and I mean it in a good way. Advani is also a gifted crier. Even in loud scenes where she’s fighting with Kukoo and crying, I couldn’t help but think, “damn she knows how to cry”.
Neetu Kapoor!!! (more exclamations) – The woman knows what she’s here for. Even though she suffers in a neglected character in the first half, she owns the second half. With just one scene, with Kiara Advani and her discussing marriage, relationships, effort, trauma over a glass of red wine, she owns this film. KANK reference – again – Remember Preity Zinta and Kirron Kher talking about marriage and how she’s walked ahead and will have to wait for him to pick up pace and Zinta says that she’s tired of giving this relationship her everything and will withdraw until Dev (Shahrukh Khan) gives it time? This scene in JugJugg Jeeyo is a rewriting of that moment between Zinta and Kher. And even though it’s a great scene, Naina and Geeta (Kapoor) don’t match up to the complexities of Rhea and Kamal (Kher), not that they have to but the parallel is almost impossible to draw.
Anil Kapoor and Varun Dhawan are great in their parts. Dhawan is made for drama and there are no two thoughts about it. Under his unkempt hair and beneath his boyish eyes, there’s a lot of charm that he holds on to, as Kukoo. However, this seems like a character borrowed from the remainder of his own Humpty. About Anil Kapoor, this has to be one of his most captivating performances ever. When you look at him on screen, as a family man, you imagine this is how the drama unfolds in the Kapoor household in real life too (apart from the extramarital affair, obviously). It’s a home full of kulchas and whiskey and knowing his daughters, fashion.
But the performances and a few scenes here and there don’t take away from the fact that this is a very loud film. And I don’t mean it in a good way. It’s also boring. Perhaps crisper editing would’ve helped, but the damage is done. The film’s understanding of feminism is irritating as well. This is apologetic feminism at its peak. Every single patriarchal thought is accompanied by a joke. Bheem’s infidelity is justified because he hasn’t slept with with other woman yet. “Choti ungli bhi chua jaati hai toh current sa lagta hai,” he tells his son, justifying that Geeta is the only woman he has ever been with. And somehow we’re supposed to buy this? He hasnt slept with her yet, but is only ‘romancing’ her, whatever that means.
My only takeaway from the film is that, time and again, it tells us that the mistakes of one generation aren’t the responsibility of another. So when Bheem is in the hospital it is Geeta who stays there the night, not his son. That and the fact that Prajakta Koli is a damn good actor! She doesn’t get to do a lot but shows a lot of potential.
All in all, JugJugg Jeeyo isn’t the film I expected it to be – the big fat Indian film about big fat Indian weddings and the complexities and fate of marriages. In fact, it plays out as an obsession. Karan Johar’s obsession with benches, director Raj Mehta’s obsession with Kiara Advani, Dharma Productions’ obsession with Alia Bhatt, costume designer Eka Lakhani’s obsession with Abhinav Mishra. While some of these work, most don’t.
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