Nushrratt in a still from Janhit Mein Jaari. (courtesy: YouTube)
Cast: Nushrratt Bharuccha, Vijay Raaz, Anud Singh, Brijendra Kala
Director: Jai Basantu Singh
Rating: Two and a half stars (out of 5)
First-time director Jai Basantu Singh, working with a screenplay by Raaj Shaandilyaa, crafts a 'socially relevant' film that for the most part makes the right noises. That is commendable no doubt, but the delivery of its essential message could have used more finesse and precision.
Janhit Mein Jaari employs comedy as a device to communicate its take on safe sex and women's reproductive health. It tries hard, too hard, and comes unstuck because of its tonal inconsistencies and the visible strains that it suffers as it stretches itself thin in a bid not to sound overly flip all the way.
Lack of uniformity, in terms of the writing, the acting and the thematic treatment, is indeed the bane of Janhit Mein Jaari. At the outset, it does feel like the comedy that it aspires to be. It, however, banks more on shallow wordplay than on authentically earthy humour of the kind that web shows like Gullak and Panchayat thrive on. This lacuna chips away at the film's intended sharpness.
The makers of Janhit Mein Jaari are driven by the belief that they are doing women's empowerment a world of good - to a certain extent, they aren't wrong at all - but by straying into terrains that only serve to take the focus away from the important central premise, the film irretrievably undermines itself and the thrust of its message.
Barring the female protagonist played by Nushrratt Bharuccha, none of the principal characters, not even the one that the solid-as-ever Vijay Raaz essays, is granted a convincing arc.
Raaz dons the garb of a reactionary patriarch who is out to scuttle the heroine's crusade to liberate women from the whims of the menfolk in their lives. His postulations are predictable, as are the platitudes that are articulated by the protagonist in response to his regressive ideas.
The man the heroine falls in love with and marries - a feckless folk theatre performer who impersonates powerful mythological heroes but is a pathetic pipsqueak when faced with his father's whims - exists merely to serve the larger purpose of the film.
The weak lover/husband is played by Anud Singh Dhaka in his first lead role. He does not do a bad job in a role that seeks to redefine notions of masculinity, but he is hamstrung by the superficiality of the character development that he has to reckon with. Scattershot methods rob the actor of an opportunity to stamp himself on the film.
A small-town Madhya Pradesh girl Manokamna 'Manu' Tripathi (Bharuccha) has a mind - and a life - of her own. Her best friend is a man, with whom she spends many a balmy evening guzzling beer on a terrace and discussing the ways of the constricting world that they live in.
With jobs difficult to come by, Manu, a "double MA", accepts a position in a condom company to avoid being hustled into marriage. Her decision does not go down well with her parents (Chittaranjan Tripathi and Sapna Sand) and puts her at odds with her nosey and orthodox neighbours.
Only two men stand by Manu - her childhood chum Devi (Paritosh Tripathi), who is secretly in love with her, and the avuncular owner of Little Umbrella Pvt Ltd (Brijendra Kala), where Manu works. Then, along comes Ranjan Prajapati (Dhaka), an actor and a drifter. Manu falls in love with him. They soon become man and wife.
The trouble is that Ranjan is too meek to stand up to his cussedly conservative father Kewal Prajapati (Raaz), a man with political ambitions and a medieval mindset. He sees his daughter-in-law's vocation as a threat to his public image in the run-up to the election. He demands that she quit the job forthwith.
The two main conflict points in the film - the disagreements between Manu and her father-in-law and Ranjan's inability to take a stand against his father - are over-emphasised and overstretched as the assertive woman fights for herself and all the other women whose uplift she espouses.
As a result, in the second half, the tone shifts and the film turns into an all-out, laboured social issue drama. A young woman dies due to abortion-related complications. Manu, disturbed by the tragic development, decides that it is time for her to use her condom saleswoman's job to champion the right of women to demand the use of condoms and do away with unwanted pregnancies and illegal abortions.
Janhit Mein Jaari admittedly raises crucial questions on the need for contraception as Manu decides to slug it out with the naysayers, push her husband to shrug off the shadow of his overbearing father, and go all out to educate the women of her town about the benefits of safe sex and planned parenthood. On paper, there isn't much here that can be dismissed as superfluous. On the screen, however, the tenor of the narrative is untenably wayward.
As a result of its missteps and tentative detailing, the film swings between the perfunctory and the cringeworthy, especially so in a second half that is devoted to a raging battle of attrition between a resolute Manu and her rigid father-in-law, a man who believes that his bahu's place is inside the home.
For a woman who is at home in the world, the domestic diktat is a red rag. The film waves it way too vigorously for any subtlety and nuance to become a part of the picture. On the other hand, the seriousness of the subject is frequently diluted by the comic interludes, which play out like disjointed skits rather than like fully integrated parts of the storyline.
Be that as it may, Janhit Mein Jaari isn't a wasted effort. It does have something to say and much of it is definitely in public interest. If only it had found better ways of enunciating its concerns the film would have driven home its point with far greater verve.