Sunday, February 5, 2017

OK Jaanu: Review

Now that it’s in a film title, does that mean it’s acceptable to call someone jaanu in public? This term of endearment has always struck me as the sort of thing one would mutter, in a suitably embarrassed fashion, under one’s breath. Kanmani is a beautiful word, tripping off the tongue, affectionate and warm and fun. Jaanu, on the other hand, sounds like something people who wear friendship bands are liable to call each other.

After working as an assistant director on Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se.., Shaad Ali made his directorial debut in 2002 with Saathiya, a Hindi remake of Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey. Having since assisted Ratnam on two features, and directing three of his own (Bunty Aur Babli being the most notable), Ali has returned to reworking his mentor’s hits with OK Jaanu, an adaptation of OK Kanmani, a 2015 Ratnam film. I haven’t seen the original, which is probably for the better; Saathiya was fine, but only if you weren’t comparing it to Alaipayuthey.

For better or worse, OK Jaanu is one of the most uncluttered films in recent memory. The entire running time is given to the exploration of one simple idea: that a boy and girl can forge a deep emotional connection and yet be ready to snap ties when the time comes to advance their careers. Adi (Aditya Roy Kapur) and Tara (Shraddha Kapoor) first lay eyes on each other at a railway station. They then bump into each other at a church wedding, which results in a whimsically lovely scene, with a phone conversation conducted across the aisle. Soon, they’re flirting and doing Mumbai things like scaring pigeons and lip-synching on the steps of the Asiatic Society library.

It’s when they decide to move in together that the film, ever so slightly, raises the emotional stakes. We already know that Tara, an architect, wants to move to Paris, while game creator Adi is eyeing fame and fortune in the US. They’re on borrowed time—something that Ali and dialogue writer Gulzar underline through the example of the elderly couple subletting a room to Adi. Charu (Leela Samson) has Alzheimer’s; she’s hesitant but still mentally present, except for worrying episodes in which she wanders off alone. Her husband, Gopi (Naseeruddin Shah), knows she’ll be lost to him soon, but puts on a brave face. It’s a reasonable, if somewhat pat, parallel: an imposed expiry date for one relationship, a self-imposed one for the other.

For a film about people who’d rather move up in the world than make the kind of compromises relationships require, there’s one significant stumbling block: no viewer with a grip on reality would mistake either Adi or Tara for the career-obsessed sort. What will the millions of young people who actually have to juggle relationships and their careers make of these two, barely breaking a sweat, receiving nothing but congratulations from their bosses, with nothing as prosaic as a late night in office to disturb their pursuit of fun?

OK Jaanu is more froth than coffee— sweet and diverting, but lacking the kick of emotion. Apart from Baadshah’s version of "Humma Humma"—a remake within a remake, and a crime against nature—the soundtrack, with A.R. Rahman reworking his OK Kanmani tunes, screeches and thrums beautifully. Kapoor gives what might be her best performance (though there isn't much to choose from), the conflicting emotions on her face in the latter stages hinting at a complexity the film just doesn’t possess (Kapur prefers to submit one emotion at a time). All in all, a film that fits snugly into a category coined by critic Andrew Sarris: lightly likeable.

This review appeared in Mint.

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