Director: Prashant Singh

Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Parineeti Chopra, Aparshakti Khurana, Javed Jaffrey, Chandan Roy Sanyal

Not for the first time this decade, a Hindi film begins with Parineeti Chopra eloping at the dead of night. After playing a girl deceived by men in her first two movies (Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, Ishaqzaade), Chopra has spent years playing unreliable and heartless women (Shuddh Desi Romance, Daawat-e-Ishq, Meri Pyaari Bindu, Namaste England) who flake out on their heroes in the name of misdirected spunk. The sweet Hasee Toh Phasee was an aberration, but even in that she ran away from home a couple of times; she was a ghost, both literally and figuratively, in both Golmaal Again and Kesari. But Jabariya Jodi is a dreadfully acted and atrociously detailed movie that seems designed solely to atone for Chopra’s heartbreaking heroines and transport her back to her naive early days. Her character, Babli, is first ditched by her boyfriend at a railway station on the night she elopes. Babli then spends the rest of the film being fooled not once but twice into believing that she is marrying her childhood sweetheart Abhay (Sidharth Malhotra). The last time a fair-skinned heroine made such a basic-Bollywood-small-town-101 mistake in Bihar, she got married to Amrish Puri in Koyla. That’s how dated Jabariya Jodi is.

While Instagram and Facebook likes are used to provoke jealous lovers these days, nothing less than a wedding ceremony works in a Parineeti Chopra movie. When Babli isn’t wearing off-shoulder crop tops and denim jackets in Patna, she is in some sort of wedding lehenga (punctuated by a quick cut to a Manyavar shopping bag), on the verge of getting hitched to someone or the other. At times I’m not sure if she’s sure of who the potential groom is. Even Abhay joins the I’m-going-to-marry-the-hell-out-of-someone-else-to-hurt-Babli game by the end, but this matrimonial terrorism is possibly the least of this film’s problems.

Let’s start with the title. “Jabariya Jodi” is a nod to muscled goon Abhay’s profession – the guy, ruled by his corrupt father (Javed Jaffrey), runs a gang that is hired by brides’ families to force dowry-demanding Bihari boys into free wedlock. ‘Jabariya’ meaning forced. Not surprisingly, one of his clients turns out to be Babli’s dad (Sanjay Mishra), which is when Babli, being the perceptive genius that she is, assumes that Abhay has come to ask for her hand when she sees the two men together at a distance. She doesn’t know that Abhay has serious daddy issues and cannot commit to love.

Now let’s move to the setting for this film. I’m not sure how much is actually shot in Bihar, but just in case we forget that this is yet another “small-town entertainer with a fierce motor-mouthed heroine,” the word Bihar is mentioned a total of 14 times in the first 20 minutes by both Abhay and Babli in the sort of Juhu-aping-Patna accents that make me somewhat appreciate Hrithik Roshan’s (effort) in Super 30. Even the sex they have is an exoticized Breach-Candy-kids-on-rural-package-tour version – they roll in the hay between clay pots in a straw shack. He does ganja and she looks like she might grow old and write bad slam poetry. We hear variants of “Bihar mein toh yehi hota hai” by a gun-toting Abhay and his pals, while Babli breaks the fourth wall every few seconds to flash a glamorous television-reaction shot. Look closely and you might even see the wind blow through her hair when she’s asleep.

The performances sway between awful and not the worst. The couple’s chemistry is such a far cry from their previous pairing (Hasee Toh Phasee) that the film fills itself with side characters who keep cracking jokes in the kind of language that suggests how Bollywood writers view Bhojpuri accents as comic fillers. You see Sanjay Mishra sleepwalking (literally – this is his character trait) through his role. You see Chandan Roy Sanyal trying to distract us from Malhotra’s soulful eyes. You see Javed Jaffrey speaking like Javed Jaffrey would if he were to tell a hinterland joke to his friends. You see Sheeba Chaddha being typecast as the silently strong mother in a patriarchal household. You see Aparshakti Khurrana once again typecast as the emasculated bff destined to be the tissue for her tears.

And you see Sharad Kapoor making a comeback to Bollywood in a role so futile that his psychopath character from Dastak might have murdered everyone here in the blink of an eye. At one point, exasperated with life, he mourns, “my sister is waiting at the mandap for the second time today and you all are busy doing this family drama!”. I would have laughed if not for the fact that this was the 142nd minute of a film that has managed to make me feel like a Jabariya critic today.

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