I sometimes wonder whether some of us (film reviewers especially) are losing the ability to be entertained. Or whether we like to set ourselves up as tough customers, who put up intellectual barriers between our minds and a movie, where having fun is not a virtue unto itself. What else could explain the negative/wishy-washy/pursed-lip reviews that Jhoom Barabar Jhoom has been getting?
Is it because we no longer enter a theatre with a little skip in our pulse, and when the lights go dim, our hearts do not thud with the anticipation of being whisked off into a different world? Is it because 'real' can only be equated with dark, gritty, gory, violent, depressing? Is it because we ourselves have lost faith in the power of fantasy, and we no longer believe in simple premises like girl-meets-boy-at-a-railway-station?
Or was it because some of us are so alienated from our own cultural contexts, that we just do not get the 'reality' of this fantasy? A fantasy in which ordinary people tell lies, not necessarily to get out of trouble, but also because those lies are their dreams. Dreams in which your lover is rich, foreign, exotic. And willing to marry you. Dreams in which you acknowledge your hard-headedness, your greed, your crookedness, even your self-defeating racism.
Is it that a whole generation has grown up without those classic, allovertheplace, Bollywood films that this film is contantly referencing? Do they not understand the slightly accented Punjabi peppering most of the dilogue? Do they not hear their mothers talking, when the mothers in the film talk? Do they not hear their own happy, romantic subconciouses tumbling towards the inevitable happy, romantic climax?
I, of course, loved Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Saw it last night and could see it again tonight, if only movie-watching was not so expensive. If only I had the option of a third-rate theatre where tickets cost Rs 12, or even Rs 25, and the cold-drink man comes 'cold-ddrrrrink' clinking glass bottles with the metal opener during the intermission... If only, I could go see it again and again, every weekend for the next month.
Lest it appear as if I'm saying that 'it's a Hindi movie, so why not leave your brains outside the theatre', I'm not! This is actually a fairly intelligent movie. Not only does it experiment with the story within a story mould (which many people have done before in different ways, and of which Roshomon is the most obvious, most famous example), it also seeks to tweak the mould. I don't think we have seen this particular format of storytelling in mainstream Bollywood, so far. Nor have we seen a single theme song being used so cleverly, so successfully, so constantly in any other film. It is terribly hard to listen to the same song - high on beat and lyrics, low on quiet melodiousness - for half an hour or more. But here, the audience is begging for more of the same, because it never is quite exactly the same.
What's more, the filmmaker Shaad Ali has his finger on the pulse of the people. Not the whole nation; I don't mean that he's familiar with, or bringing to life, each class and caste in each corner of our very diverse counry, but he's very definitely got a grip on one vein - that of the aspiring, small-town Indian, who may not be hungry for food but is hungry for love and adventure and exotica and money and bigger, wider canvases. This was very evident in Bunty Aur Bubli (beautifully summed up in the song - chote chote shehro.n se, khaali bhor-dupahro.n se, hum to jhola uthaa ke chale), and to a smaller degree, in Saathiya (two subtly poignant scenes are stamped upon my memory - one is when Rani Mukherjee's family is sitting down in the evening, playing cards; her father is drinking alcohol, the mother and sisters are drinking tea. The other is the scene in which Rani wants to hug her husband in the film, after a hard day at work, and he is embarassed because she's doing so in the balcony, with other peole looking on; her resentment and frustration is a remarkably fine mix of just about everything in that frame, that moment, that life.) In Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Shaad Ali has taken one step further, and opened the door between the audience's fantasy and that of his characters. For instance, there is an obvious reference to Punjabi illegals (immigrants) in the UK, and this was all the more delicious for me, because I have covered that story, and know just how big that aspiration - and that racket - is, and what a huge deal it is, to have made it from Punjabi Indian or Pakistani, to British Citizen.
Speaking of characters, all are well-sketched, well-cast. All four of the major roles are meaty in their own right. Of course, they're stereotypical too. But the beauty of it is that, because they're a fantasy, because they are and are not themselves, they have the scope for stereotypical, overthetop representation.
For those who like to read stuff in lists and boxes, for the following reasons, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is immensely enjoyable:
1] The title came to the screen studded, as if with little fake diamonds.
2] Abhishek Bacchan's mobile phone's ring tone. It goes 'Ae Handsome! Ae Handsome!'
3] Hearing Lara Dutta abuse - like a good, authentic desi. The scene where Preity Zinta attempts an impromptu slanging contest with Dutta is particularly, er, endearing.
4] The guy playing Abhishek's friend-mentor, Hafiz Bhai. His tone, his diction, his dialogues, his expressions are priceless. (what's his name?)
5] Amitabh Bacchan is NOT playing sutradhaar, again.
6] It's funny. I was laughing out loud every five minutes.
7] The boys' costumes are to die for. The women's clothes are nice too, but to see silk and colour and glitter on men, for a change, is such joy.
8] The theme song (and dance) grows on you, and it assumes a special growth curve when you 'see' it. Listening to it is just not the same thing. Once you've seen it on the big screen, the song somehow slips into your blood and throbs there, willing you to get up and jhoom-o-fy.
9] Bobby Deol as he is in the second half.
10] The sizeable flirty young desi girl, with the spectacles stuck in her cleavage, and her Punjabi invocation of mum's advice.
11] The Mr and Ms Southall contest.
If anybody hasn't yet, go watch it. And if you've been to see it, and didn't like it... oh, forget it. Go see Roshomon.
Footnote: I hadn't been keen on film initially. The half-wit print interviews with the stars of the film had a lot to do with that, I suspect. None of the fun, none of the spirit, none of the cheek with which the film was made shines through.
UPDATE: Saw it once again! Yay!
UPDATE 2: Saw it once yet again!