Friday, 27 January 2017

Ok Jaanu (2017) - Movie Review

As part of my continuing look at the Bollywood scene, considering the frequency with which they are being released at my local(s), I find myself actually stepping into somewhat familiar territory with this one. Not necessarily in terms of subject matter, although that does play a small part in it, but in terms of who is involved in the production. If I’m going to be making this a regular thing, I better start to recognize the names attached to Bollywood productions and, thankfully, there’s a name here that I’m sure most Western audiences will be familiar with: A.R. Rahman. In cinephilic circles, he is known for constructing the soundtrack to Oscar favourite Slumdog Millionaire. To everyone else, he’s the guy who collaborated with the Pussycat Dolls for Jai Ho!, a song that will always make me feel uneasy and, nearly 7 years later, I still don’t know why. At any rate, on our next step into the Indian-Australian connection (whether intentional or not), let’s look at this rom-com… you know, maybe our cultures aren’t so different after all.

The plot: Adi (Aditya Roy Kapur), a video game developer who plans to make it big in America, bumps into architecture student Tara (Shraddha Kapoor) at a friend’s wedding. After spending some time together, and sparks start to fly between them, Tara moves in with Adi… while he is renting a room with older couple Gopi (Naseeruddin Shah) and Charu (Leela Samson). The two couples start to get along, but things are about to get rocky as Adi and Tara’s respective careers could force them to part ways.

This is a very solid cast, even with how small it is within the mains. Kapur automatically wins points for playing a more down-to-earth depiction of the modern day geek, which will never not be appreciated in these parts, and Kapoor manages to work well with her practical joker of a love interest and keeps her actions from feeling too mean-spirited. Shah is standoffish at first and wears his aged ruggedness on his sleeves for the most part, but the way he brings the more wisened perspective to the core love story actually works really damn well, coupled with how he interacts with not only the main couple but also Samson as his wife. Samson herself, knowing how fiddly that character trait can be (read: Alzheimer’s), does valiantly with the role while maintaining her dignity and giving her past as a reputable singer some lip service with a still-stellar singing voice.

Between the reckless abandon of Adi and Tara’s romance and the more settled-in mood of Gopi and Charu’s, this film’s approach to the rom-com is to highlight the differences in what the culture defines as ‘romance’ between the generations. Now, even though I have been able to feign expertise in quite a few areas, Indian culture is one of those that I can’t even pretend to be studied up on so if any of the following observations sound like the thoughts of a guy whose only experience with the culture is through films… that’s probably because it is. In any case, considering what I’ve been able to gleam in terms of fixation on marriage (in particular arranged marriages) through the films I’ve discussed on here before, I definitely get why this contrast exists. I also get that this contrast is actually really well done within the film itself, setting youthful passion against elderly comfort while highlighting the joys and pitfalls of both. It helps that the two romances themselves are really good to see unfold in their own right, with Kapur/Kapoor and Shah/Samson being pretty adorable together. Knowing how bombastic Bollywood can get, I’m honestly rather thankful that this film balances the two as well as it does without really taking a side on the matter… for the most part, but we’ll get to that.

The sense of juxtaposing generational sensibilities bleeds into the music as well, done by A.R. Rahman, the only Bollywood producer that most Western readers will have heard of. I’m a bit torn about whether I should call this soundtrack “eclectic” or “all over the goddamn place”, but that tether involving the past crashing into the present gives it enough purpose to work within the film. We get a mixture of classical Indian music, flashy show tunes, a rap song that opens up the film, electro, even some dubstep with its signature warbling bass hits; trust me, it reads a lot more disjointed than it actually is. Most of the music is used traditionally (for the West, at least), save for The Humma Song which is “sung along to” (read: playback singing) by Adi and Tara as it plays on the radio, and the way these songs combine sitar instrumentation with more modern electronic beatwork sounds pretty good to the ear and the scene dedicated to Sunn Bhavara? Simply gorgeous, both in its simple visuals and its bare bones instrumentation.

Unfortunately, as much as there is quite a bit to like about this film, there’s just as much not to. Most of it equates to a whole mess of little nitpicks that just end up stacking on top of each other, like the odd camera shot or a few scenes and moments that seriously feel out-of-place like one of the earliest scenes involving possible suicide by train (and given the opening credits, that’s about as whiplash-inducing as you can get in terms of tone), but there are definitely some major issues at work here. Like, for instance, the way that romance as a whole is depicted. Through the details about how Gopi and Charu fell in love along with the scenes dedicated to Tara’s bordering-on-malicious need to play jokes on Adi, we get a reiteration of the perspective that relationships are built (to varying degrees) on deceit. I honestly wouldn’t have an issue with it, if it weren’t for the fact that this isn’t Gone Girl we’re talking about here; even with how tonally weird this can get, this is still too chipper overall to be taking that cynical an attitude on relationships.

And since I’ve brought up the prank angle of the story, there’s also how there’s virtually no tension to be found here. No matter what gets set up in terms of drama, it all ends up being inconsequential to the overall plot; if it seems like they’re preparing for something tense or dramatic, it’s either another one of Tara’s tricks or it’s involving Charu’s Alzheimer’s that, despite it getting worse as the film continues, ends up being dropped like a stone once the scene is over. Makes it easy is essentially the core tenet of this film.

All in all, I have a definite liking for the way they handle not only the romance aspect but also the romantic couples themselves with some solid acting aided by a pretty decent sense of humour throughout. However, once the film tries to be more dramatic, it begins to fall apart as the film feels way too fluffy to for the drama to really sink in. It may have a decent idea on how to deliver said drama with its look into how the idea of love has changed since the days of old, but there’s a very inherent weakness in how it’s executed.

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