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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Review: A ban on soap and kisses instead of foeticide

Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Review: A ban on soap and kisses instead of foeticide

Even a relatively small budget film from Yash Raj Films (YRF), with only two known names to tout, succeeds to a large extent in highlighting the hideous Indian social practice, seen predominantly, in a few states, of killing/aborting the girl child. Since marriage involves a large sum as dowry, which is given by the girl’s family to the boy’s family, the birth of a girl child is considered the genesis of a major liability. She is to be raised, educated and then married off, with the dowry as the necessary accessory. A boy, on the other hand, brings in the booty, so is welcomed with great joy. Jayeshbhai Jordaar (Brother Jayesh, the strong man) is set in Gujarat, in a village where such a practice is in place, and the protagonist rebels against it. Had it not been cluttered with slapstick and co-incidences, it would have made greater impact, but even as it is, it is watchable.

Son of the village Sarpanch (Headman) Pruthvish and Jashoda, Jayesh has one daughter, Sidhhi, about 11 years old, and has had to abort six female foetuses, because his family will not allow him to father another girl. His wife Mudra is pregnant again, and his parents want to make sure the foetus is that of a boy, before they sanction its birth. If it is a girl, it will have to be aborted. The family wants an heir, and only a man can be an heir, so they egg Jayesh to keep producing children. A sonography, which is illegal in the country, does not reveal the sex of the child, and the doctor says it will take a few weeks more to be visible. But Jayesh has been told in secret by the doctor that it is a girl again. Unlike most men in such situations, he realises that it is no fault of Mudra, who he loves dearly. So, the two together keep planning how to allow the girl to take birth, without earning the wrath of Jayesh’s parents, and, by extension, of the entire village.

The families in that village have another custom. Marriages are decided at birth, and if there are a boy and a girl born not too far apart, they are paired with a similar boy and a girl from another family. When they grow-up, the marriage is solemnised. The rule is, “We will treat your daughter, our daughter-in-law, exactly as you treat our daughter, your daughter-in-law.” Jayesh’s sister is married to an alcoholic, abusive husband. So, when she sends a video of her battered face to her father, he orders that Mudra be given the same treatment. Far from carrying out his father’s orders, Jayesh only pretends to beat her up behind closed doors. Not only that, he makes elaborate plans to escape with his wife to Haryana, where there is a village with no women, and where every villager is a trained wrestler. Their leader, Amar, offers protection to the couple and their daughter, and, of course, their daughter-to-be, and the skeletal family sets off on that journey.

Having directed two Gujarati films, Bey Yaar (Two Friends) and Chaasnee (Syrup?), this must be the Hindustani debt of writer director Divyang Thakkar. On the writing front, he has contributed the bulk, the additional stuff coming from Anckur Chaudhury. What could have been a family drama, with some involvement of the village council, is given a much larger span by converting half the film into a road movie. To counterpoise the four central characters – Jayesh, Mudra, his parents and Siddhi, there are five others in the story – Jayesh’s sister Preeti, the Haryana village headman AmarTau, a couple where the husband is Gujarati but the wife a Bengali and a Sardar dhabevaalaa. Of course, there are many other minor characters, like the doctor and one hapless person who is treated like the village idiot. What Jayesh does as a vocation is never revealed, leading one to believe that he merely lives off his father’s earnings. The road movie begins with Jayesh teaching his wife driving, at dead of night, and then the three of them sneaking off, en route to the Haryana village, which is 1200 kms away. Doesn’t sound a bit far…fetched? There are some funny and suspenseful twists to the tale, as the trio are chased by a posse led by Pruthvish, but then there are an equal number of incredible scenes and several coincidences.

How can he teach his wife driving, even if it is at the dead of night, for several days, if not weeks, without anybody in the family or the village getting a whiff of it, is hard to digest. The appearance of a black cat on cue, saving Jayesh from sure capture is, well, a co-incidence, to say the least. Again, how does Jayesh manage to arrange in advance for Preeti to help him knock-out the entire posse when the trio land up at her house is another unbelievable development. Both these narrative points are thoroughly enjoyable, though, and even hilarious. It is hard to believe that the entire village in Haryana has no women, that all the inhabitants are body-builders and wrestlers, that they believe in non-violence, and will stop anybody who uses any kind of force to achieve his objective. Very few women in the village? Acceptable! None at all! Incredible! Here’s report from the web, dated around the same time when this film was launched, 2019: Haryana has historically had one of the lowest sex ratios in the country--it had 833 girls for 1,000 boys at birth in 2011, according to the government’s Civil Registration System (CRS) data. However, for close to a decade now, the state has shown a steady improvement in its sex ratio at birth, and reported 920 girls for 1,000 boys in August 2019, as per state-level CRS data.

Hindustani films have tackled the subject of female foeticide many time in the past – Me and My Sister, Kajariya, and more – so Divyang Thakkar had to be ‘different’. He decided to make it a road movie, with comedy as a strong under-current. As a result, while the film definitely entertains, it does not focus on the dead serious theme enough. Doing so can lead to a documentary-like treatment, which is the last thing the producers Adiyta Chopra and Maneesh Sharma might have wanted. So, when the roadie part runs out of petrol, he leads us to a never ending climax, inspired from Mirch Masala, Gulaabi, Gulaabi Gang, and Hellaro Gujarati), which should have been at least 10 minutes shorter. Also, there is little justification behind naming the film Jayeshbhai Jordaar, and having the actors speak with that touch of Gujarati accent, unless this problem is widely prevalent in Gujarat and the film is a symbolic representation of a larger malaise.

A welcome departure from his mannerisms and wardrobe, Ranveer Singh puts in an understated performance, and will prove many of his detractors wrong. He is never in full control of anything and is just hoping against hope that things will work out in the end, an uncharacteristic Ranveer screen trait. Neither is Ranveer Gujarati nor is his wife, Shalini Pandey from Gujarat. She makes a fine debut at the age of 28, looking just about right for the part. Shalini emotes well, though it will take more than this film to assess her potential well. Both parents of Ranveer are played by Gujarati speaking actors – Boman Irani is a Parsee, who speak their own version of Gujarati, while Ratna Pathak-Shah is a proper Gujarati. Boman gets to bulge his eyes very often, while Ratna is the strong yet submissive wife.

In the supporting cast are Puneet Issar as AmarTau, who maintains a physique that would be the envy of many 62 year-olds. In an interesting departure from the normal, he plays a strong-man sworn to non-violence, like his fellow villagers, and that leads to some very funny moments. Deeksha Joshi as Preeti draws applause due to some favourable writing, while Jia Vaidya as the precocious Siddhi is a delight, never mind the over-the-top and way above her age lines she is made to mouth. The Sardar character and the couple where the wife is Bengali are not identified, though the abuses she hurls at her spouse, in Bengali but sub-titled in Hindi, will tickle the funny bone.

Looking behind the camera, we find Siddharth Diwan ready for the chase, and sending-up the drones. Editing by Namrata Rao has surely massacred a lot of undesirable footage, yet left the film longer than desired.  Background music score by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara is often loud and tries hard to enhance the effects of the on-screen goings on. Vishal–Shekhar (spelt Sheykhar in the credit titles, if I recall correctly, have done a great job with the songs. Both versions of ‘Firecracker’ are infectious. ‘Jordaar’ is a bit overdone, though. Frankly, the film did not need 18.15 minutes of song-tracks. Including the following ten lyricists and singers, twelve talents have pooled in to give us these songs: Kumaar, Vayu, Vishal Dadlani, Shekhar Ravjiani, Jaideep Sahni, Priya Saraiya, Keerthi Sagathia, Katyayni, Jonita Gandhi.

YRF’s Jayeshbhai Jordaar is no path-breaker or milestone, partly because it defies being classified in any genre and exuding appropriate, identifiable vibes. It is difficult to accept a long discourse on the important of conjugal kissing and a ban on the use of soap by females, squared with the condemnable practice of female foeticide. Throwing in a road show and some twists in the tale does sustain interest, but, in the end, the coincidences, the improbability and the precociousness prove too much to swallow.

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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