Banners: Vishesh Films, Viacom10 Motion Pictures
Producers: Mukesh Bhatt
Director: Pushpdeep Bhardwaj
Cast: Varun Mitra, Rhea Chakraborty, Digangana Suryavanshi, Mahesh Thakur, Pravin Deshpande, Farida Dadi, Yusuf Hussain, Arjun Kanungo
Writers: Kausar Munir, Pushpdeep Bhardwaj, Suhrita (Additional Screenplay and Dialogues)
Music: Tanishk Bagchi, Javed-Mohsin, Jeet Gannguli, Abhishek Mishra, Samuel & Akanksha
If you thought that gone one are the days of love stories laced with over-the-top melodrama and mushy shaayaris, you were wrong! Debutant director Pushpdeep Bhardwaj’s Jalebi is all about that. The film begins by acknowledging that it is inspired from the 2016 Bangla hit film Praktan. This is the reason why your heart keeps sinking as each frame unreels. For those who have watched the original, Jalebi is its blasphemous version. After packing in too much sappy drama and events in one hour and 52 minutes film, Bhardwaj ties it up with a bow that says: ‘A tribute to Rabindranath Tagore’. That is when your heart finally shatters. To do justice to the title, the characters are seen gorging on and walking around with plates of jalebis throughout the film. These things are funnier than scenes that were intentionally scripted to be funny.
The film opens in a plush apartment in Mumbai where the female protagonist, Aysha is seen weeping after breaking off her engagement the night before. She tells her father about how her marriage eight years ago to Dev, a tour guide from Purani Dilli, left her torn, broken and disturbed. Once a rich and brash brat and now an author, much to our surprise, she takes a train from Mumbai to Delhi for a book reading session. By a sheer stroke of coincidence (and this is just the beginning), her ex-husband’s present wife Anu and daughter Pulti share the same coupe with Aysha. When she learns of their identities, she starts reminiscing about her good and bad days with Dev. The drama intensifies when Dev joins them at Bhusawal station to surprise his wife on her birthday. As the train journey gathers momentum, we learn about what led to their divorce through flashbacks.
Manoj Soni’s able cinematography is one of the very few highlights of the film. His lens captures the narrow alleyways and stunted yet sprawling vintage bungalows with aplomb. Every nook and corner of Netaji ki haveli, as Dev’s humble abode is called, is framed beautifully.
The best thing about the film is its music. The songs blend seamlessly with the narrative. Tum se stands out and leaves an impression long after the film is over. The background score is impressive. The other songs, however, fail to leave a mark.
There are certain sequences in the film that could have been done away with. Aysha and Anu share the train compartment with other people whose stories serve as major digressions from the main plot. There is an old Muslim couple - the elderly woman is seen sulking with the fear of losing her grandson and her husband spouts shaayris at her to pacify and cheer her up. A religion-based stereotype like this is an unwanted ornamentation. It is an unimpressive device to embellish an already lackluster love story. Sub-plots involving a newly-wed Sikh couple and a band of musicians (one of whom is Arjun Kanungo) are monotonous and are poorly interwoven into the film. A crisper editing, among other things, could have saved this one. After a point, when the drama escalates rapidly with too many coincidences thrown in, you just want it all to end. The twists in the film fall so flat that the narrative becomes painfully predictable and acutely uninteresting. The only taste that Jalebi leaves behind is that of bitterness and resentment.
The screenplay and dialogue by Kausar Munir, Bhardwaj and Suhrita are weak and make the film even more jaded. Lines such as ‘Unse mohabbat kamaal ki hoti hai jinka milna mukaddar mein hi nahi hota’, ‘Mera jism, mera dil mujhse jhooth bolta raha’ and ‘Samandar ko koove mein koi kaise samet sakta hai?’ that are infused into the narrative with the intention to bring on the tears end up being unintentionally comical. The funniest part is the climax. A random board in the middle of Kashmir says: ‘If you love a flower, don’t pluck it, water it’ and that changes the lives of the protagonists. We wish it had changed the course of the narrative too!
At a time when cinema is striving to be unusual, different and realistic, Jalebi is outrageously regressive. The basis on which the couple divorces is outdated, askew and done to death. Dev’s mother reminds you of a clichéd and orthodox mother-in-law in a tear-jolting family drama. Aysha, on other hand, is a prototypical and caricaturish version of a rich and modern Mumbai girl who tries too hard to be like an exaggerated version of Jasmeet, straight out of Namastey London.
Performance-wise, Varun Mitra is the hero of the film in the truest sense of the word. As a middle-class tour guide, a loving son and a doting husband, he is top-notch. Jalebi would have been completely insipid had it not been for him. Rhea Chakraborty’s Aysha, on the other hand, is the weakest link in the film. She hams in most of the scenes. Leave alone the emotionally loaded ones, she seems too synthetic even in the lighter moments. She single-handedly brings down the energy of the film. Digangana Suryavanshi as Anu seems wrongly cast. Her pain is too superficial to tug at the heart. Mahesh Thakur, Pravin Deshpande, Farida Dadi and Yusuf Hussain are wasted.