We were just talking about this in the comments yesterday, how exciting it was to see Imraan when he was first launched. Which got me thinking about this movie in general, and how good it was, and how strange it is that no one involved in this promising first film really lived up to their promise. At least, not yet. There’s always hope!
I got to see this launch up close because it happened while I was visiting India for the first time. Not like I met Imraan or anything, just that sitting around the guest house watching TV I saw a bunch of interviews and ads. And then I wanted to see it at the multiplex, but it was sold out (thus seeing Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic instead, an odd film to be my first in theaters in India), and we ended up watching it at the old unairconditioned single-screen in the floor seats. Super fun!
The end result was that I enjoyed this movie at about the peak level you could possibly enjoy it. I knew all the songs, I knew the really good song we were waiting for, I was pumped to see Imraan onscreen after seeing a bunch of charming mini-interviews, and I was surrounded by a bunch of people who also knew all the songs, and started cheering and whistling as soon as “Kabhi Kabhi Aditi” started up.
I don’t think it was just me enjoying this movie because of the situation I saw it in, I think it is a sincerely good movie, and also kind of an exciting movie. It didn’t exactly break the mold, but it did a very good job within the mold. A college romance, sure, but with distinctive characters and a fresh look and a perfectly balanced narrative that never fully moved into “I can’t believe how stupid these people are being” while at the same time showing conflicts entirely of their own making. It made me eager to see what this director/writer would do next.
And it made me really eager to see what the actors would do next! All of them, but especially Imraan and Genelia. It was his launch film after all, so he got the really good bits. But Genelia was no slouch, and as the other half of the romance she had a fair amount to do too. To me, then, she was a fresh young actress in her first role and I was very impressed. Of course now I know she had been acting since she was 14 and being the female lead of a young romance was no big deal for her.
(She’d even been the female lead in a young romance with an AR Rahman soundtrack before)
This seems shallow, but part of what was exciting for me was the pure look of them. Genelia has such a distinctive look, big eyes and expressive face and so much personality in it! Very different from the buffed smooth and perfect look of the other actresses I was used to. And Imraan, his face was different too. Like his uncle’s, but not at the same time. And with a kind of imperfectness to it that was very appealing, like that guy in college who is really cute and funny and you kind of have a crush on him, but you can’t explain why exactly since he isn’t model handsome. It felt like we were seeing something old (the romances from the early 90s and 80s and 70s where people looked imperfect) and new (young people who talked and dressed and acted like the young people of today).
Everything about the film was exciting! I wanted to see more of Imraan and more of Genelia and more of them together. I wanted to see more films by this director/writer. I wanted to see the rest of the cast in more stuff, Pratiek Babbar especially, but everyone else too, all the friends and parents and everyone.
And then nothing happened! That’s what’s so odd about this movie, it’s a magical moment of promise, promise that turned into nothing for all involved. That’s the biggest difference in watching it now instead of then. We know that this is one magical perfect film that will never be recreated for anyone involved. In a way, it makes it even more valuable, that we know now how rare it will be, not the start of a series of wonderful happy films with these wonderful happy people in them, but the only one that will ever be like this.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
The essential structure of this film is very old-fashioned. A boy and girl are friends along with a whole bunch of other college friends. Eventually they fall in love. The boy rescues her from her evil fiancee, and they admit their love for each other. It’s the middle part that is so interesting, the “eventually they fall in love” part.
There is nothing really keeping these two people apart. Right at the beginning, Genelia’s parents try to arrange their engagement, fully supportive. Even their friends kind of assumed they were together. And they are together, really, they talk constantly spend all their time together know everything about each other and so on and so on. But that last step, the acknowledging this connection that is already in place and figuring out what to do about it, that is so difficult.
And here is where the script is so good. Because we can see from these characters why they would have such a hard time with this final piece. Imraan is middle-class, lives with his single mother in a tiny apartment. Genelia lives in a big house with her parents and her brother. Imraan is struggling to find a job or get into a grad school program, get his life together. Genelia is just enjoying her time and not thinking that much about the future. Imraan is practical and calm and smart. Genelia is quick and crazy and impulsive. And they each know all of this about each other.
What is really wonderful is that over the course of the film we see them grow up into the person the other one needs. Not because they want to be that person for the other, but because they are young and just post graduation and this is when you do grow up a little, fill in those gaps in your personality. And so Genelia learns how to keep emotions to herself, to maintain control, to solve her own problems and take the mature approach. And Imraan learns that he can let go of his anger, he doesn’t have to stay the sweet little boy his mother wants him to be.
This is a journey they had to take separately, even though it hurt. Genelia had to be lonely enough to reach out to and understand her older brother, to learn from him how to keep things inside and hide pain if it might hurt others. And desperate enough to take a risk on the kind of guy that she thought she wanted in order to learn that he wasn’t what she wanted at all. And Imraan had to live the fantasy for a while, the sweet beautiful girl who loved him, life being perfect and easy and right, in order to see that it was a fantasy and life required fighting, just as Genelia always said.
The focus is on Imraan, he’s the star kid being launched, and he is the character with the clearly defined movement towards maturity. We learn early own that the men in his family have to do 3 things before they are “men”: 1. Get in a fight, 2. Go to jail, 3. Ride a horse. And so the whole film is building to those things. Not a complete rejection of the peaceful methods he has learned from his mother, but an acknowledgement that he has something else inside of him that has to come out, as shown through his recurring very-Zanjeer-influenced dream of a cloaked figure on horseback. It feels “filmi”, but really it is just growing up, learning that the way you thought you would always be isn’t actually everything that you are. That the world won’t always fall into happy perfect place the way you thought it would. And that this isn’t a bad thing, that knowing everything that is inside of you will help you, not hurt.
But around Imraan, everyone else is going through their own growing up. Genelia, she is learning that the world won’t always adjust itself for her, she has to make compromises. And not make compromises. She will agree to the arranged marriage, she will make an effort to spend time with her brother, she will try to please her parents, all of that is good. But when her fiance is truly terrible to her, and when she realizes that she just does not want him, she will not compromise. She won’t throw a tantrum the way she would before, but she will find a middle ground. Just as Imraan, in the end, gets into his fight, but in the politest calmest manner possible, not impulsively.
The one I find most interesting is Manjari Phadnis, Imraan’s girlfriend. She seems like a perfect match for him, a dreamy sweet girl. But then Imraan starts to grow up and get complicated emotions, little moments of jealousy over Genelia, sudden surprising anger when a police officer disrespects his mother, things that don’t fit in a perfect happy view of the world. And as he grows up, he becomes more irritated with the way Manjari stubbornly refuses to grow up. What was at first endearing becomes hateful to him. A very realistic view of a breakup. Especially a post-college years breakup, when people are growing up at different rates.
What makes this film over the top to “boy, I want to see what this director does next!” is that Manjari’s refusal to grow up isn’t shallow, and isn’t a last minute complication. It’s threaded through out their romance, they bond in the first place through Imraan using a story to help save her in a club. Manjari likes stories, likes fantasy. Her favorite game is looking at an everyday object and imagining it is something wonderful. And we learn in the end that this was a defense mechanism, she saw her parents’ terrible marriage and couldn’t live with it, so she retreated to fantasy. She and Imraan were two people both running from reality. But he was running from the reality inside himself while she was running from the reality surrounding her. He had a much easier time recovering than she did, and once he had recovered, he couldn’t go back.
Genelia’s journey and romance are the same, to a lessor degree. She is also running from something in her family that she doesn’t want to acknowledge is in her, this time the softness of her brother who used to be her best friend and quietly accepted it when she found her new group of friends. But now she is learning from him, about acceptance and moving away and letting people grow. And her romance is with someone who, briefly, seems to be on that same moving away and letting people grow and accepting track. Her fiance is agreeing to an arranged marriage because he is ready to settle down and his friends and girlfriend didn’t work out. Only Genelia is on her way back to realizing that she does want and need her friends, and that she should fight for her romance with Imraan instead of just accepting that it doesn’t make sense. While her fiance is on a journey of making this part of his fight, getting engaged not sincerely but to spite his ex-girlfriend, and to take his anger at her out on Genelia.
The title of the movie is “Jaane Tu….Ya Jaane Na” (you know….or you don’t know). And that’s kind of what it’s about, all of these people who both don’t and do know all at the same time. They are at that point of growing up where they are beginning to see the truth but haven’t fully accepted it yet. And the whole film does a wonderful job of capturing that moment.
In “real life”, all these characters and actors and artists are trapped in amber at that point. Imraan and Genelia as actors never moved beyond their arrested characters here, not so far. The director Abbas Tyrewala never moved past this storyline of immature friends helping each other. All that promise on the cusp of happening in this film ended up not actually happening. But that makes it more meaningful somehow, going back to the moment when the world was full of possibilities, Imraan was going to be the next Aamir, Genelia was going to be the next Kajol, and Abbas Tyrewala was going to be the next Karan Johar.