Director: Prashant Singh
Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Parineeti Chopra, Aparshakti Khurana
Bihar seems to be having a moment at the movies. After Super 30 comes Jabariya Jodi, about pakadwa shaadi – the unique Bihari practice of kidnapping grooms to avoid paying dowry. The film has been written by Sanjeev K. Jha who is from Bihar. Sanjeev said in an interview that he has seen or heard all the events portrayed in the film. His exact words were: "You cannot write a completely fake story. If it has got nothing to do with reality, then it appears artificial."
Debutant director Prashant Singh's first instinct is to make the film so colorful that you forget the lawlessness of what you are seeing
Artificial is this film's middle name. The pakadwa shaadi might sound like poetic justice, a fitting reply to the horrors of dowry, but it's also a crime. Debutant director Prashant Singh decided to juice it for comedy, romance, song and dance. His first instinct is to make the film so colorful that you forget the lawlessness of what you are seeing. So the leading lady, Babli, has streaks of flaming red in her hair, the hero Abhay Singh wears shirts with so many colors and patterns that it will make you dizzy. Even when two characters are having a serious conversation, the backdrop is twinkling lights. Basically Patna is a non-stop carnival. My favorite was the shaadi ka band – skinny, smiling men in sparkling pink outfits and heart-shaped goggles. And after over two hours of relentless color, we end with the Holi song 'Khadke Glassy', which is Punjabi, but cultural rootedness is not the aim here. It's almost as if Prashant was trying to make you forget that Prakash Jha's Bihar exists – you know the dark, oppressive, brutal landscape in films like Damul, Gangaajal and Apaharan.
But all the color onscreen can't compensate for the lifeless lead characters – Babli and Abhay. The two are defined by their surfaces – we know she's a firebrand because she wears green eyeliner and has a Kill Bill poster in her room. We know he's the local lothario because he has paan-stained lips and serious swagger. Anytime Prashant wants to make a point, he has them deliver a dialogue and walk away in slow motion. Abhay wears a gamcha around his neck and in one scene, the two eat litti chokha – this passes as authentic Bihar texture.
The narrative swings wildly like there is no one steering it. So one scene might be slapstick comedy and the next, an important social message
Honestly, you don't go into a film like this expecting realism and the lip service to authenticity would have sufficed if Jabariya Jodi wasn't such a crashing bore. You get momentary glimpses of fun – some of the dialogue by Raaj Shaandilyaa sparkles. Neeraj Singh has been credited with additional dialogues. The supporting cast is solid – Aparshakti Khurana, Sanjay Mishra, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Javed Jaffrey and Sheeba Chaddha. She plays Abhay's long-suffering mother. Sheeba tries desperately to infuse some emotional depth into the film but her sincerity seems misplaced because the writing is so sketchy.
Jabariya Jodi is over-plotted – characters keep getting married, kidnapped, nearly married and separated. Folks slap each other, which counts as humor. And the narrative swings wildly like there is no one steering it. So one scene might be slapstick comedy and the next, an important social message – honestly I long for the days when directors created fun, entertaining movies without insisting that they also include a public service announcement – I think Akshay Kumar has put too much pressure on everyone. So Jabariya Jodi includes lines about how pakadwa shaadi is a bad thing and no one should force anyone to do anything. To this khichdi, Prashant adds dysfunctional family drama – Abhay is commitment phobic because he has daddy issues.
Sidharth and Parineeti's bogus accents, body language and demeanor don't allow them to blend into this small-town story
There is a lengthy scene in which Abhay, drinking with his buddy, reveals why he is the way he is. Sidharth brings to it a degree of sensitivity and depth that this film doesn't deserve. Briefly, you glimpse an actor. But the rest of it is just posturing. Parineeti is even more synthetic. I think there was more work done on her styling than her character arc. Sidharth and Parineeti's bogus accents, body language and demeanor don't allow them to blend into this small-town story. They don't belong to these narrow lanes and open fields, which incidentally are in UP, not Bihar. The film was shot in and around Lucknow.
I was more interested in the peripheral characters – Abhay's sidekicks Guddu and Ghanti. And Aparshakti's long-suffering Santosh. In the film's climax, all are gathered at a wedding mandap – please don't tell me that's a spoiler. This film is all about weddings. Goons are beating up Abhay. Babli, who loves him, is watching looking stricken. And in the corner of the frame is Santosh, who loves Babli. He has this mournful, confused expression on his face, which is so unintentionally funny that I laughed out loud. He felt like my spirit animal because those are exactly my sentiments about Jabariya Jodi.