Director: Siddharth Sen
Writer: Pankaj Matta
Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Deepak Dobriyal, Sushant Singh
It’s been more than a decade since Delhi Belly (2011), Hindi cinema’s last great black comedy. The wait continues with Good Luck Jerry, a Punjab-based crime caper about a young woman who becomes a drug smuggler to pay for her mother’s cancer treatment. It’s never a good sign when your first reaction to a Hindi remake is to look up the detailed plot of the Tamil original (the Nayanthara-starring Kolamaavu Kokila, made in 2018). Strangely enough, this film falters similarly to other modern capers like Kaalakandi (2018) and Blackmail (2018). Despite an upbeat start, it loses the viewer in its mad dash to frame chaos as situational comedy. And unlike Ludo (2020) and Looop Lapeta (2022) – two recent streaming films that came the closest to genre success – Good Luck Jerry lacks the visual energy to paper over its glaring cracks.
The setup is short and sweet. Jaya Kumari, a.k.a Jerry, is a Bihari migrant living in Patiala with her vegetable momo-selling mother and younger sister. Much to the chagrin of her family, Jerry works at a seedy massage parlour. When Jerry’s mother is diagnosed with lung cancer, she chances upon a cocaine-smuggling business run by appropriately eccentric men. Under severe financial pressure, she takes up a job as a drug courier. It helps that the supplier, who doubles up as a local dhaba owner, is a Pankaj-Tripathi-ish gangster who nurtures a soft spot for Jerry. As the only female ‘agent’ in a notoriously patriarchal field and region, Jerry circumvents police scrutiny and becomes a top employee. Things get messy when Jerry, while trying to quit the trade, is forced into a do-or-die mission: Transport one hundred kilos of cocaine or else.
This is a difficult genre to crack because entertainment is often derived from a crescendo of narrative confusion. But there’s something fundamentally off about the storytelling of Good Luck Jerry. One can almost pinpoint the precise moment this film flies off the rails. The morning Jerry sets out to execute her final drop – with quirky family and friends in tow – the movie morphs into a blur of double-crossing, deceit, stylized violence (of course a nice song scores a slow-motion shootout) and feminist overtones. This is usually the home stretch that makes or breaks a black comedy. A degree of incoherence is part of the fun. Good Luck Jerry, however, seems to be missing entire expository scenes and transitions. This is more of a writing problem than an editing or structural issue. It’s as though the makers assume that the average viewer is familiar with the original film, so the gaping plot holes (or craters, in this case) won’t be a deal breaker. But it’s more likely that the makers themselves are so familiar with the original that they might have lost track of what needs to be revealed and what can be implied.
It’s a classic adaptation error – a story is so busy being retold that a lot of it fails to get told. Once Jerry drops off the motherload, three parallel gangs – distributors, suppliers, police – converge in an extended climax so disorienting that even the visuals need subtitles. Or is it four gangs? Who knows anymore. Everyone’s secretly made deals and counter-deals, but the audience remains in the dark about all these alleged alliances. The broad idea is to present Jerry as a migrant who isn’t as docile and subservient as everyone thinks. It’s also to present the three women as the unlikely heroes of an environment way beyond their wits. Jerry is supposed to turn the tables on the men who’ve been too busy counting cash on those tables. But it’s hard to tell the times she’s in control from the time she’s ‘performing’. Even her transformation from trembling girl to wily woman is unclear.
Casting Janhvi Kapoor as Jerry makes perfect sense on paper – the actress often does well to reframe chastity as quiet courage. But her Jerry overcooks this template, rarely going beyond a series of wide-eyed gasps and muffled sobs. It’s a curiously one-note performance, hampered by a script that lacks a sense of direction and emotional continuity. The secondary cast is colourful, led by veteran Mita Vashisht as Jerry’s dramatic mother, and the inimitable Deepak Dobriyal as the roadside Romeo whose only dream is to marry Jerry. Dobriyal’s antics single-handedly light up the women’s perilous journey across Punjab in a cocaine-loaded truck. Ultimately, though, the film forgets his character, just as it forgets to link one scene to the next in an overcrowded third act – and just as I forgot entire passages of action an hour after watching this film.
By the end, the fact that most websites erroneously list Good Luck Jerry’s director as Sidharth Sengupta – whose recent Netflix show, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, is my favourite black comedy in recent memory – feels like more of a black comedy than the film itself.
Good Luck Jerry is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar.