If awards were given out every year for the most skillful and successful marketing campaign for a film, then Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na would certainly have won it in 2008. Were it not for the all pervasive hype surrounding the release of the movie, perhaps it wouldn’t have enjoyed half the success it did at the box office. This doesn’t mean that JTYJN (as the cool kids say it) is a bad movie, or undeserving of success, but the marketing campaign certainly helped.
Jaane Tu… begins with a frame tale; five friends on their way to the airport telling the newest potential girlfriend of one of their group the love story of the couple they’re going to meet. “Hang on,” I thought to myself as things got underway, “haven’t I seen this plot device before?” Indeed I had, in Aziz Mirza’s Chalte Chalte five years ago. I can just imagine Abbas Tyrewala sitting through that debacle and thinking he could do one better on the classic Bollywood cliche love story.
What is the classic Bollywood cliche love story? Boy meets girl, or boy and girl have been friends since they were tiny (may or may not include pre-credit sequence where newborn babies are placed next to each other in the maternity ward). Boy and girl fall in love or fall in love with other people, and then realise they’re in love with each other but due to their own pride/sacrificial nature or other mishaps they never say it. Whatever the case may be, it always ends with the girl ready to jet off to a foreign country, and the boy desperately racing to and around the airport until he screams her name and finally professes his love for her.
And yes, that, more or less, is the plot of Jaane Tu… “Brilliant!” I hear you say, “you’ve ruined the film for me (but saved me the cost of a ticket).” Not so fast. This really isn’t spoiler material per se, in the same way that you always expect the good guys to win and only one pretty person of each sex to survive in any horror movie. Jaane Tu… is still worth watching, not because of what it does, but how it does it.
The director knows its a cliche, and he relishes in it (in fact, he makes fun of that very plot right at the outset). Everything you expect to happen does happen, but thanks to some clever dialogue, a breezy pace and interesting nuances to the main character, the film is a treat. It’s pure, unadulterated Bollywood comfort food. Sure, except for that main character everyone is a bit of a stereotype, the casual banter usually seems forced, and the zaniness of the climax ramps up a bit to quickly (Oh look, a horse! Oh look, bungling commandos!), but this isn’t rocket science* — it’s a Hindi movie!
*(actually it’s pretty much the polar opposite of Rocket Science)
The performances are good, but most of the cast doesn’t have much to do beyond their stereotypes, including, sadly, the heroine. Much of the hype surrounding the film was the debut of Imran Khan, nephew of superstar Aamir Khan (who produced the film under his banner). He’s a promising young actor, but he’s just not of the all-singing all-dancing Punjabi machismo variety. In many ways he reminds me of one of my other favourite young actors, Abhay Deol. If Imran Khan takes a page out of his book, doesn’t try to be a standard Bollywood hero and chooses interesting, more down-to-earth roles (as he has here in Jaane Tu…) then he will shine.
Other standout performances include Prateik Babbar as the heroine’s moody artist brother (despite the cliched role he brings a certain rakish charm to the proceedings), and Renuka Kunzru as the frustrated audience of one for the frame tale. Her timing and delivery is spot-on when everyone around her is hamming it up.
Though the film is mostly broad and straightforward, there are a couple of very subtle touches that I caught. A lot of the best jokes were between the big laughs, for instance. And there’s one character who is possibly homosexual, but the hints at this were so well done that most people won’t even notice. While it’s getting to be a tired cliche that every strong, single female must be a total lesbo, man! …it’s nice when somebody doesn’t hit you over the head with a sign, or worse, hint at it with some terrible jokes.
But as soon as I give Abbas Tyrewala marks for that, I’m going to have to take them away, because — speaking of hitting you over the head with a sign — the last shot of the movie does exactly that, inserting a literary reference that is so out-of-nowhere that you end up leaving the movie with a big, “Huh?”
(Also, this just a personal niggle of mine, but don’t have an airport climax if you’re setting everything in South Bombay. I’m talking specifically here about the poor horse who had to gallop all the way from Colaba to Sahar. It’s a wonder the poor thing was alive, let alone that our hero arrived on time!)
I’m splitting hairs, of course. Is Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na a profound, philosophically deep and life-changing movie? No, not for me at least. But it is a well-made piece of entertainment whose rough patches are smoothed over by its more endearing qualities.
There are several other boy-meets-girl-climax-in-airport movies, but this the definitive one.