Director: Keshav Panneriy
Cast: Manjari Fadnis, Arbaaz Khan, Ashutosh Rana, Prem Chopra, Himansh Kohli
You know how, decades on, fortunate survivors of a plane crash or horrific concentration camp meet for a teary reunion to celebrate their long lives? Maybe they thank their brave pilot (Sully) or scrappy rescuer (Schindler’s List, Argo), dedicating their entire existence to this angel. Similarly, years later, 30-odd film critics will meet, older but not wiser, at the venue their spirits all but perished forever. They will laugh and cry, hug each other emotionally and tell tales of that fateful evening in 2017 at a Mumbai suburb, for they have shared an experience that will connect them to each other till the end of time.
This movie pivots on women empowerment with the elegance of a sex comedy nobly utilizing the relevance of a Sunny Leone item song.
But they will have no hero to thank; their endurance is what led them to pull through this ghastly ordeal. And they will ironically note that the Hindi film that almost broke them was called Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai.
This movie pivots on women empowerment with the elegance of a sex comedy nobly utilizing the relevance of a Sunny Leone item song. The ageless Manjari Fadnis, who I had wished a lead role for when I saw her in Kapil Sharma’s awful film debut, plays a Rajasthani catholic girl named Alia. It begins with her being felicitated in uptown America for not one but two Pulitzer prizes, children’s literature books, as well as a distinguished career in social activism, looking great, wide-eyed and being an NRI billionaire’s (
Federer Arbaaz Khan) inspirational wife. Hubby receives an urgent phone call that makes her rush back to India to attend the funeral of a mysterious village woman. And hence, we go into a 170-minute long flashback about how she managed to arrive at this dusty village in a swanky limousine.
The flashback, for some absurd mathematical reason that will never be explained, begins in the 1970s when she is an unwanted daughter (sad violin, insensitive father, entitled brothers, no pocket money), shows her as a retro bell bottom-wearing college girl in the 1980s, a cruel Royal’s young wife in the 1980s, a single Manhattan-based mother during the Gulf War, and presumably culminates in this age – which effectively makes Alia around 40 when she marries again.
Nevertheless, the wealthy first-time filmmakers, who clearly seem to have found an efficient way to get their cash around demonetization roadblocks, pick an era according to their moods and cinematic ambitions. They pick their geography, too.
Rana lives in a palace whose interiors resemble one of those garage-themed pubs. He even has a dining table equipped with an exotic pond. Seafood dishes floating across – now that’s a novel idea.
At one point, when Alia (Fadnis) romantically tells her Uday-Chopra-ish college sweetheart that she’d rather marry the misogynistic ruler of the land, they are standing in between what looks like two separate countries and climates. To their left is Udaipur’s famous lake, and to their right is a (digitally superimposed) Prague cathedral. As they separate, it begins to snow – on perhaps only the European side. I don’t remember the last time snow appeared in an acceptable Bollywood film.
At another point, to show that “my life is now full of love and colour,” we see a random black-and-white frame appear out of nowhere, and turn coloured in a film already shot in Technicolor. Before that, in lengthy verbose scenes that seem to have served as student-short-film practice for the director, the villainous presence of Kunwar Vikram Pratap Singh (Ashutosh Rana; a C-grade Amrish Puri) is established with a tremendously imaginatively bankrupt sequence: he stabs a pixelated tiger mid-air while hunting. Rana lives in a palace whose interiors resemble one of those garage-themed pubs. He even has a dining table equipped with an exotic pond. Seafood dishes floating across – now that’s a novel idea.
When Arbaaz tries to woo Manjari initially, he does so while resuscitating a man having a heart attack at an old age home. “If he lives, you agree to a date,” he declares, as he caresses the chest of the fast-fading chap.
In a Koyla-ish twist, he buys the loyalty of her greedy parents, marries her, mistreats her, gets her pregnant, threatens to abort their unborn girl, before she escapes to Bombay (cue ‘Mumbai nagariya’ monologue) to pursue a writing career with an Urdu publication run by an overly poetic editor (Prem Chopra). She also gives birth to a daughter who conveniently disappears for long periods of time – surely subject to their overseas shooting schedules. After all, who needs to see a kid when the film is all about a strong woman? In between, Alia is aided by fiery ‘iron-lady’ Laxmi (Supriya Pathak), the submissive servant of the palace, yet a feminist legend of sorts in her own village.
I’m not making this stuff up. When Arbaaz tries to woo Manjari initially, he does so while resuscitating a man having a heart attack at an old age home. “If he lives, you agree to a date,” he declares, as he caresses the chest of the fast-fading chap. The septuagenarian lives, promptly sits up and tells her to give Arbaaz a chance. I can’t make this stuff up. Nobody can. When you lose respect for a film within the first five minutes, the rest is delirious history. I’m recording all this for posterity, so that I can read it out at the reunion in 20 years – as a survivor. A hero of my own accord.
In the meantime, I’d like the disillusioned cast members to take me out to a lavish dinner with their fat paychecks. Or they could buy me a new brain from a neurological science facility based in the futuristic time-dismissive universe of this film. Or they could just buy me a cinema hall, make a less offensive movie, screen it in this hall and bring sensation back to my shocked muscles.
Watch the trailer of Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai here: