Director: Tarsem Singh
Writer: Amit Rai
Cast: Pavia Sidhu, Yugam Sood, Gourav Sharma
Runtime: 132 mins
Romeo and Juliet has an enduring legacy as a framework for forbidden romance not just because of its status as a literary classic. It also enjoys that legacy because at its heart it has an organic space for people who fell in love and were separated by the evils of socially constructed bigotries. So it serves as an organic template for director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s approach to the real-life tragedy whose injustice and shock still reverberates decades later.
It was a meet cute in December 1994, a simple glance between Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu (Pavia Sidhu) and Sukhwinder Kaur Sidhu (Yugam Sood). They couldn’t stop thinking about one another and kept in touch. And upon realising that Jaswinder’s family would never accept Sukhwinder as a son-in-law, the two of them got married in secret. It did not last, this secret; and while Sukhwinder survived his murder attempt, Jaswinder did not.
Dhandwar lets the audience know from the beginning that the film is going to end in tragedy, that there is no happy ending for a couple who dared to breach the nonsensical rules of the patriarchal and classist society around them. That the film lulls you into a sense of complacency and therefore renders the final moments even more of a gut punch is a testament to Dhandwar’s skills as a storyteller.
Less effective are the social elements that delve into the bigotries that divided the two families to begin with. There’s moments where Dhandwar trusts the audience’s intelligence to gather what social constructs are occurring and they’re quite effective (there’s one with a teacup and saucer that is especially poignant). But there are moments where opportunities to delve deeper into those divisions were only touched upon or passed over, especially as they relate to the eventual murderers in Jaswinder’s own family.
Nevertheless, Dear Jassi is an impactful, emotionally shattering film. It’s a story about people who simply fell in love and what was wrought against them by people who would rather see their children dead than be happy in a way they do not approve of. It’s a sobering enough story on its own, but it’s not a vestige of the forgotten past. Jaswinder was murdered in the year 2000 and there are many, many more women whose lives have been robbed through these so-called “honour killings” whose stories have yet to be told.