India (2020) Dir. Nitin Kakkar
Being a parent means adopting a new level of responsibility not just for your life but that of your child. Some people are built for it, others need adapting to it, but what of those who fear it? Who are they most afraid of letting down – the children or themselves?
Jaswinder “Jazz” Singh (Saif Ali Khan) is a 40 year-old real estate broker living the free and easy life of a confirmed bachelor with no intentions of settling down. By day Jazz works with his stuffy older brother Dimpy (Kumud Mishra), his nights are spent at the club run by his friend Rocky (Chunky Pandey) where he parties with any girl who falls for his charms then it’s back to his place.
One night at the club Jazz meets 21 year-old Tia (Alaya Furniturewala) and returning to Jazz’s place, Tia reveals she is searching for the biological father she has never met, and according to her mother, it could one of three men. Jazz refuses to believe he could be a candidate and accepts a DNA test, which not only shows he is Tia’s father but also Tia is pregnant! Jazz has to decide which the bigger dilemma is for him – being a father or a grandfather.
Naturally, a film with this plot will be a comedy – at least that is how Jawaani Jaaneman is being labelled – but with Bollywood’s recognisable penchant for excessive style over substance the danger of this being handle with degree of sensitivity is quite high. There is, of course, every chance of being presumptuous about this will lead to a surprise so why not give it the benefit of the doubt?
This is not prejudged Bollywood as inherently shallow as they have proven capable of delivering sturdy tales within the domestic comedy milieu but let’s be honest, you think Bollywood, you think bright colours and randomly inserted musical numbers. And yes, they feature here too without fail. For the sake of balance, Hollywood and other film territories can be just as vapid with such a plotline too.
Unfortunately, the very first look at Jazz with his ironically worn Iron Maiden T-shirt, dyed hair, beefy frame, and smug looks screams cliché at high volume, and this is before we get to the slow motion montage of his various nightclub conquests, which, with the setting being London, sees his tastes not limited to just Indian women.
At work, he arrives late and leaves early to Dimpy’s chagrin, but has the patter to charm his way out of any situation, except when it comes to fobbing off his parents at a family dinner he has long put off. Just to enforce his commitment-phobe status for our benefit, Jazz has to fend off an inquisition from his mother (Farida Jalal) as to when he will settle down, since Bollywood has taught us this is the Indian way.
Suddenly discovering you have a 21 year-old daughter would come as a shock to most people, especially one who insists he “never goes to bat with a pad”, but Tia’s conception took place in Amsterdam so maybe he was too baked to notice if he wrapped up or not. Tia is forced to move in with Jazz when her current landlord makes unwanted advances towards her, arriving just as Jazz is about to score with Tanvi (Rameet Sandhu), who is more sympathetic towards Tia than he is.
Everything pretty much writes itself from here – Jazz’s wavering reluctance to playing father, Tia charming everyone around her, including elderly Mrs. Mallika (Kamlesh Gill), the one person refusing to sell her home and allow the new tower block Jazz’s firm is building to be constructed. And as if Jazz needs more encouragement to change his ways, he alienates his hairdresser fiend Rhea (Kubbra Sait) when he mistakes a friendly gesture as a come on.
But there is a conflict in the way Tia is being framed as the lone flower in a garden of weeds, aside from being an unmarried mum-to-be. Tia’s mother Anaya (Tabu) suddenly shows up with the baby’s father Rohan (Dante Alexander), both are potheads, Anaya in particular espousing platitudes about the power of spiritualism. Jazz may take exception to her Hippy ideals, but neither parent sets a good enough example for Tia if this is the world she is bringing a child into.
If only the comedy was much stronger and less reliant on every hackneyed convention and paint-by-numbers development, the absurdity of the script would be much easier to swallow. The only genuine giggle comes from Tia having to introduce her parents to each other as neither were apparently recognisable after 20 years, everything else can either be seen coming a mile off or is lost in translation.
For the star Saif Ali Khan, this was a labour of love as the first film project for his newly formed production company, putting his reputation on the line in more ways than one. I don’t know much about Khan or how big he is in his native India but he hasn’t had a box office hit for a few years and this didn’t reverse that trend, failing to break even on its budget even after global takings, despite positive critical response.
Personally I am surprised as this seems to cater to every Bollywood checklist as a light, aesthetically eye popping, crowd pleasing film with faces familiar to local audiences, yet the general paucity of originality – possibly from being a remake of Argentinean comedy Igualita a mi – a robust moral conflict to provide drama, and the askew messages about middle aged hedonism and parental responsibility, doesn’t discount why it ultimately underperformed.
There is nothing offensive about Jawaani Jaaneman being so bland and uninspired when the cast are typically committed and production values are glossy enough, it comes down to how high your expectations are and will prove to be polarising if your prefer more steak then sizzle.