OK, deep cleansing breath...This movie sends all the wrong messages or, when it sends the right ones, it does so so late that the viewer no longer believes or cares. This is going to be FULL OF SPOILERS because no one should waste their time watching this movie if they haven't already.
Essentially, you have a film about eight people looking for love, companionship, sex, escape. First you are introduced to Rahul who works in a call center and lives in a flat that he is babysitting for someone else. He allows men he works with, who are in a position to help his career, to use the flat as a place for them to have sex with their girlfriends, mistresses, hookers. So, yeah, he's only about three steps removed from a pimp. By the time we find out his motivation, we no longer care because he's been so sullied by what he allows others to do in his home. He seems to maintain a clear conscience by figuring he's not hurting anyone because he's not the one bringing women to the flat. He learns that it's not that simple, however, when someone he cares about gets hurt within the walls of the apartment. But then he turns around and tries to get a promotion out of "dealing with the situation" for his boss who was the cause of it. Eventually, he changes his mind, quits his job and vows to go back home because he can't handle life in such a city. This implies that it was the evil city that made him do what he did. Sorry, I'm not buying it. We make our own choices in this life. At least be decent enough to take responsibility for your actions. In the end, he gets the girl though it's hard to see how he deserves her. Or is it?
It's Neha that Rahul is in love with. In the beginning of the movie she is oblivious to Rahul's feelings because she is having an affair with her and Rahul's married boss, Ranjit. She and Ranjit meet in Rahul's apartment for sex. During one of their meetings they argue and Ranjit offers her money for her services and then leaves her. She is so distraught that she drinks poison she finds in the apartment. Rahul finds her and calls Ranjit. Ranjit tells him to handle it and keep her away from her roommate, Ranjit's sister-in-law, until Ranjit can get back to town and fix things. Rahul balks and Ranjit reminds him that this is the kind of thing a junior manager does. Rahul takes this opportunity to extort a promotion out of Ranjit by saying it would take a senior manager at least. Neha, we already know, has tried to commit suicide at least once before because she just keeps choosing the wrong men. Well, I have some advice...stop it! Oh, and by the way, you don't get to feel sorry for yourself or get the audience's sympathy when you sleep with a married man...on his anniversary...when his wife, your roommate's sister, is at home hosting an anniversary party for all of their friends. Especially when you accept perks at work because of your relationship. Drinking poison....really? Get off the cross honey, someone else needs the wood! Maybe Rahul deserves you after all.
Ranjit, oh Ranjit. You make Gabbar Singh look like a sweetheart. Ranjit is so reprehensible that I have to transcribe some of his dialog to make it believable. Let's start with his inner monologue about Neha:
"Why am I with this girl? Because with her I get the happiness and peace that I don't get at home. Whether it's the house or the office there is always irritation, anger and tension. (Gee, I wonder why?) The mind is always thinking about the future. When I am with her, I feel like 20 again, free and full of joy. Is it wrong to be happy in life? This cannot be called deception, because nobody is getting hurt. So what the hell."
So, he's that rather pathetic specimen, "middle-aged man trying to recapture youth by sleeping with 20-something mistress". Fine, be the sad stereotype.
My real problem with Ranjit is the awful comparison that is made in the movie between what he does in carrying on a sexual affair for 2 years and what his wife, Shikha, does in having a 5 week flirtation with a man, Aakash, that never goes further than a few kisses. (As for Aakash, I don't believe Shikha was in love with him. He is an escape for her. An artisitic, passionate man to make her forget about her awful life at home. That's why she couldn't go through with sleeping with him or leaving with him. He is just one of those totured artist types who cause their own suffering because that's what they're truly in love with, their own pathos.)
I also have major issues with the scene where Shikha and Aakash almost sleep together. First, he takes her to a friend's apartment that is in such a seedy looking neighborhood and is, itself, so derelict looking that it looks like where you would find hookers and their customers. There are no other women anywhere. Outside the window there is a giant neon sign that says "LIVE" which is just lame. Throughout the whole scene they are bathed in red light which either means stop, warning or passion I guess. But what it really feels like is Shikha being labelled, not so subtly, as a scarlet woman.
But, back to my main problem. In the scene where Shikha is wrongfully made out to be just as bad, if not worse than, Ranjit, Ranjit has confessed his affair to her ONLY because he thinks he's already been outed by her sister. Shikha feels compelled to tell him about her flirtation with Aakash. The guilt and regret on her face as she confesses disgusts me but it's the righteous indignation that Ranjit gets to express that pisses me off. Again, the dialog is transcribed below because you have to read it to believe it:
R: "What she said to you is true. There is a girl in my life for the past 2 years. It isn't an emotional tie. It's a mistake. Can we start a new life? Can we put this behind us?" (Ranjit is expressionless the whole time)
S: "Shruti hasn't said anything to me." (Ranjit gets a "Why am I doing this then?" look on his face)
R: "Well, in that case, will you forgive me?"
S: "If I said the same thing to you, would you forgive me?" (She starts to cry and physically crumble)
R: "What is it?"
S: "I didn't go to the movies with Shruti. I went with someone else. I've been seeing him for about 5 weeks. I don't know when it started. Ranjit, I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I love you." (She looks so guilty and collapses onto his chest practically begging for forgiveness)
R: "It's ok, ok. Have you slept with him?" (He puts his hands lightly on her shoulder blades but then removes them as if she's too disgusting to touch)
S: "Ranjit, no." (She looks devestated)
R: "So this was going on while I was at work. Did he use my bedroom?"
S: "Ranjit, don't say such a thing." (He swipes a dish off the counter in anger)
R: "Is my daughter really mine?" (Their daughter is 8 years old and they've been married for 9 years.)
He then proceeds to leave her having every intention of shacking up with Neha permanently.
At first, when she said,"If I said the same thing to you, would you forgive me?" I was cheering. I thought, "Yes, great point." Men are always getting away with this behavior and their wives are expected to forgive them and welcome them back with gratitude and open arms. If a woman cheats, however, she is considered dirtied beyond redemption. I thought the filmmakers were going to take this opportunity to have Shikha take a stand and be strong and highlight this inequity but instead we got a disgusting reinforcement of the very double standard I was hoping they were about to criticize.
Shikha is such a victim in this scene. As she grew more distraught making her confession, I grew angrier and angrier, watching in disbelief as she was made out to be as bad a Ranjit. She allowed her lesser betrayal to be equated with his absolute betrayal, not just equated but somehow she is demonized and made out to be the more despicable of the two. She is ultimately left shattered and weeping while he runs off to his mistress feeling like the injured party, escaping the consequences of his actions.
In the end, Ranjit comes crawling home after Neha chooses Rahul instead of him. Shikha, of course, takes him back. Early in the movie the filmmakers make a point of telling us that Shikha quit working because Ranjit wanted her to and that she was actually capable of making a better living than he. So what should have happened is Shikha should have left him and made her own way but, no. They end up back together presumably because she feels that she's no better than he so if she wants to be forgiven, she has to forgive or maybe that old gem of "staying together for the children." Whatever the reason, the filmmakers utterly failed to do the right thing.
Next we have Amol and Shivani. They were childhood sweethearts until he left for American one day telling her he'd be back. She didn't hear from him for 40 years until he sends her a letter out of the blue asking her to meet him. They meet, they still have feelings for each other, he reveals that he's come back to India and to her to die. While I felt like I was supposed to like this couple, I couldn't help thinking how selfish it was of Amol to come back after 40 years of silence so he could spend his last days being cared for by Shivani and leaving her alone with her grief...again. Oh, how romantic, how tragic...how full of crap! Where was his regret for abandoning her 40 years ago with no explanation? As it turns out, Shivani dies first. We don't hear a peep about his regrets until Shivani's dead and for obvious reasons, she never hears an apology. I guess outliving her is his punishment?
Finally, meet Shruti and Monty. They are using a website a la Shaadi.com to meet potential mates. They meet for coffee. We see Monty ogling a woman's legs on his way to the coffee shop and when he gets a peek at Shruti's cleavage, he falls silent and stares openmouthed. I don't like Monty at this point and neither does Shruti. The coffee date ends abruptly but then they keep running into each other. He later explains the ogling by confessing that he's a 38 year old virgin. So, I guess we're to forgive men who stare at our breasts as long as they have the excuse of 38 years of unrelieved horniness. Give me a break! Even if I was willing to let the lechery go and let myself get sucked in by their slow building friendship that blossoms into love, I am then expected to just forget that Monty has jilted and humiliated the woman he promised to marry when he rides away on his horse from his wedding procession to let Shruti know that he returns her love. Sorry, nice guys don't do that.
I probably should be bothered by Shruti's "Egads, I'm an old maid and better get married now" thing she has going on but I'm not. Yes, 28 is a bit early to panic about becoming a spinster and it should be enough that she supports herself and has her own apartment and life but different cultures, different standards. It's ok, I get it.
So there you have it. A film about love stories with some of the most unloveable, undeserving of love characters that I have ever encountered. I still cannot believe the message they sent about Shikha's small indiscretion compared to Ranjit's ongoing affair. This idea that a woman who is anything less than an absolute paragon of virtue is a whore is utter bullshit and the filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves for perpetuating it. I'm talking to you Anurag Basu!
Some final random notes:
1. Based on the background music, I think the montage of Rahul trying to reschedule everyone at the fuck pad was meant to be humorous. Frankly, I just found it seedy and disgusting.
2. Now I know why Hindi films have stars lip synch and playback singers are hidden. The guys who sing the songs in this movie are, quite frankly, suitable only for radio. I'm still wondering if the singer is blind because of the way he squints. Add to that the body movements of Bob Seger and you can imagine how scary looking he is. They look like the guys who had a hair band when they were in high school in the 80s and decide to get back together for the 20th high school reunion complete with pot bellies and long, thinning hair.
3. The whole storyline of Shruti's boss setting her up, unknowingly, as a beard for the gay RJ that he's secretly dating and who she has a huge crush on is just awful. What a horrible thing to do to someone. And the Brokeback Mountain poster in the boss's office...real subtle.
a list of some thoughts about Jab Harry Met Sejal
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