Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jai Ho! Democracy: Review

Ranjit Kapoor was responsible for much of the eminently quotable dialogue in Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983). He also wrote the dialogue for Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994), introducing a tougher, earthier screenwriting idiom that took about a decade to catch on. His directorial debut, Chintu Ji (2009), had a song whose chorus was simply "Akira Kurosawa, Vittorio De Sica", repeated four times. These are all signal achievements. Jai Ho! Democracy is a signal failure.

The film, co-directed by Kapoor and Bikramjeet Singh Bhullar, has a mildly promising first half-hour. A chicken has wandered into no man’s land on the India-Pakistan border and soldiers on both sides are convinced that it belongs to their country. The Indian contingent sends a man to retrieve it, but he’s fired upon by the enemy and forced to take cover. News of the incident reaches New Delhi, where a special parliamentary committee is appointed to look into the matter. The rest of the film concerns itself with the infantile bickering in the committee and the skirmishes on the border.

Kapoor has come up with silly gags in the past—the telephone scene from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro is funny precisely because it’s so ridiculous—but they had bite, an element that’s sorely missing here. Jai Ho! Democracy aims at everything in sight, from overzealous TV anchors to porn-watching MPs, and misses every time. The weak writing and stagy direction (a possible by-product of Kapoor’s work as a theatre director) is further compounded by the miscasting and misuse of the actors who make up the parliamentary committe: Seema Biswas, Om Puri, Adil Hussain, Satish Kaushik, Grusha Kapoor and Aamir Bashir. Only Annu Kapoor, in full Mehmood-in-Padosan mode as chairperson of the committee, manages a couple of laughs.

There’s a desperation to most of the film’s scenes, as if the writers were being forced to come up with material on the spot. I’m not sure why Om Puri agreed to act in a film in which his character is forced to do 17 squats by way of apology, but he did, and it’s brutal. But the film really begins to lose its marbles when a Pakistani army cook risks his life to bring food and water to the Indian fowl-fetcher in no man’s land. Ending a film with Indian and Pakistani soldiers in each other’s arms is the laziest kind of daydreaming imaginable.

This review appeared in Mint. 

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