Director: Nitin Kakkar
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Alaya Furniturewala, Tabu (Special Appearance)
Writer: Hussain Dalal & Abbas Dalal
Duration: 1 hour, 59 minutes
It is indeed rare to solely fixate on bad (or lazy) writing in cinema. Often bad writing comes hand in glove with either bad or worse direction, and/or acting of a similar bad-ness. So the attention given specifically to the writing dilutes.
But when the movie is acted and directed with earnest craft, but the scenes still linger without meaning, and the lines don't crackle, you achingly look towards the writer, for something went awfully wrong at their desk.
For me, Jawani Jaaneman was that rare film; a novel concept gone awry. It is the story of Jazz or Jaswinder Singh (Saif Ali Khan in a performance that peaks when he reluctantly brings out the reading glasses, or keeps the phone screen at a distance to read it) reconciling to his age. He starts off as a relentless playboy who refuses to accept the ravages of time- his greying hair, instead finding refuge in the elusive ravines of youth-hood, inked in an obvious spot, his hands, always wrapped in graphic tees, and his hairline betraying a past that, as his close friend and hairstylist says, is much longer than his future.
On one fateful drunken night, he finds out that the girl he got back home in pursuit of a gratifying hookup wants to tell him that she, Tia (an instantly crackling, and wholesome performance by Alaya) might be his daughter. The story then becomes of his coming of age, from denial to acceptance, catalysed by her. (Female-teaching-man is a genre waiting to be labelled. Even so, many of our cop revenge dramas are all catalysed by experiences of a woman, while slowly edging them into a fadeout as the actors foreground in machismo.)
But the thing about the youth that Jazz is trying to emulate, is that they are largely unmoved, and uncaring. Jassi's conscious, try-hard self-destruction feels even more jarring as a result. Almost to shove this contrast even more, we are given Tia who embodies the millennial nonchalance.
This movie is then, perhaps a study in misplaced genre. Postured as a comedy-drama, it would have served both, the acting and the film better if it was a drama-comedy instead. Before you register the drama of the scenes you are made to register its attempt at humour through the background score. I would be interested in knowing what the inverse would have looked like given such heavyweight emotive actors.
There's a non-emotiveness to her dialogues and therefore, her performance, which though initially frustrating (When she willingly goes to Jazz's house, is she aware that he is only looking for a hookup? She doesn't look or register even mild discomfort when he dims the lights and sprays the room with glitter from the disco ball rotating above their heads.) I found myself quite endeared by eventually. Nothing will faze her; no problem exists that doesn't have embedded in it, a solution. She takes rejection without much drama, in the same way she takes in her new family. Her emotions are muted, her dialogues are tonally flat (await an awful metaphor about her being sunshine waiting for rain, and instead finding a flood), and the only time she is really incensed in the entire film (remember, this is a character whose father is a reckless horny man-child, whose mother is a gruelling pagan hippie, and whose boyfriend with whom she is about to have a child is a pre-teenager in a post-teenager body) is when a tree is about to be cut. This is peak millennial.
But let me get back to the writing. I really wished the script of this film was given the luxury of a few more drafts. Two things specifically that needed to be mended- honing the humor, and toning down the relentless exposition.
I'll be more specific.
There are two pivotal scenes in the first half: one, where Jazz is told that he might be a father, and one where the doctor tells him he is not just a father, but about to become a grandfather. Both of these scenes are the stuff comic material blooms effortlessly out of. But neither of these scenes moved me to even break out a chuckle, or a weak smile. There's a deadpan-ness to it that even good acting cannot salvage.
Now, about the relentless exposition. We are told that Jazz loves his independence, not once but plenty of times. We are also shown it. There is also conversation around it. Metaphors, jokes, role-playing, alcohol competitions, and angsty rants. None of them adds any heft to his character beyond a point. We get it, people around him mock the anachronism of his age against his dyed hair. How many times does it need to be said? Registering a point is quite different from its onslaught. Perhaps, they were trying to drum up humour, but nothing twitched.
This movie is then, perhaps a study in misplaced genre. Postured as a comedy-drama, it would have served both, the acting and the film better if it was a drama-comedy instead. Before you register the drama of the scenes you are made to register its attempt at humour through the background score. I would be interested in knowing what the inverse would have looked like given such heavyweight emotive actors. Tabu is wasted in a caricature hippie role. (Despite being given a good chunk of screen-time on the trailer, and even having her name on the trailer title on YouTube, she is a mere 'special appearance' in the film. I felt cheated.)
This film, by no stretch of the imagination, is bad in the conventional sense. It's lazy. It doesn't make you groan, it just doesn't make you laugh. It is full of promise, but such a fragile, experimental promise that it cracks easily under the weight of a script that wasn't given enough time to brew.