Happy Birthday Saif! Your Most Recent Happy Light Mature Witty Film, Jiwani Jaanemann!

Not saying this is a perfect movie, some bits are a bit rushed, and there isn’t enough Farida, or enough depth to it. But it’s on the whole a very pleasant happy movie with a nice modern message about growing up and family and good things. The kind of movie I wish we could see more of, and that I am very glad Saif is making.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you basically know what this movie will be like. And that’s a good thing! I should say, that’s a good thing if you liked the trailer. The trailer reveals basically the entire plot, but the film is so peppy and happy and entertaining and fun that it doesn’t matter that you already know the whole plot. I would happily watch it again, knowing everything that happens, just because it is such a fun ride. Here is the greatest compliment I can give it: Tabu is not the most entertaining part of the film.

Image result for jawaani jaaneman poster

Now, let’s talk Saif! Who IS the most entertaining part of the film. We had a discussion in the comments a while back about why the Bechdel test isn’t really a fair judgement for Indian film (or at least, I don’t think it is). It’s not a matter of female characters not being allowed to have conversations, it’s that characters in general don’t have conversations. Indian film is highly protagonist focused, you often have films where there is no one moment of screentime WITHOUT the lead being present, meaning a Bechdel pass would only happen if the lead is a woman, which is a different question. Anyhoo, this film is one of those that is totally lead character focused, and it only works because of how well that lead character is written and how well Saif plays him.

Saif’s character has to grow enough to make the film interesting, without being irredeemable at the start or boringly perfect at the end. To make all this work, the actor playing the role has to be humble enough to play the loser at the start, and charming enough to get us to stick with him through to the end. Ta-da! SAIF!

Which brings me back to the trilogy idea. This is the third time I’ve seen Saif play a deadbeat Dad. Which is kind of hilarious since in real life, Saif was the star who most rushed TOWARDS fatherhood! There are plenty of other actors who married and had kids equally young, but Saif is the one who fought the odds the most to make it happen, and presumably wanted it the most. I briefly considered that directors keep casting him this way thinking that everyone would be more forgiving because they know how unlike him it is in real life, but that doesn’t quite make sense based on his fame level. I think a better theory might be that Saif brings something extra to this performances because it is a “road not traveled” for him.

Maybe that is why his performances and characters are so over the top? In Kya Kehna, the film punishes him, he is supposed to be moderately sympathetic but not really that much. But in Salaam-Nameste (where I find him far less excusable), he is rewarded for his behavior! He gets everything in the end after all! And Saif plays it with this hedonistic horrible joy, he really feels no guilt for abandoning the mother of his child, until the very very last minute. However, this movie combines that “absolutely totally not him” version with another version that is him.

Saif, in reality, married at 21 to a woman everyone disapproved of because he loved her, and had a daughter with her right away. We have photos showing that he was a loving fun Dad through out her babyhood, and then they got divorced. He never disappeared from her life (again, based on photo evidence) but he wasn’t living with her, he wasn’t there day by day any more. And now that she is an adult, they are both trying very hard, with a lot of mistakes along the way, to build an adult connection.

Image result for saif sara young

Dragging it back to this movie, Saif’s performance is this perfect combination of over the top when he is doing the bits that are NOT him, and grounded and emotional when he is doing the bits that are him. It’s just lovely.

I focused on Saif’s performance, because there’s not a whole lot else to talk about with this film. Tabu is a kick, but really more of a one note comic cameo than anything else. Alaya Furniturewalla-Kabir-Bedi’s-Granddaughter does what she needs to do for her role, which isn’t a heck of a lot. Everyone else is generally good in the small bits they have. But Saif’s performance is the only one that really expands beyond what is in the script for him to do.

This is a movie to watch if you want to escape to a nice world where people are nice, where everything works out in the end, where London looks beautiful and never has seasons (we cover at least 6 months, and it is always summer), and where everyone ends up doing the thing you wished they would do from the start.

I want that world, don’t you?

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Whole plot in one paragraph:

Saif is a 40 something bachelor who goes out every night to party at his best friend Chunkey Panday’s bar, and spends his days working with his brother Kumud Mishra at their real estate firm. One night Alaya Furniturewalla comes on to him at the bar and he invites her back to his place, where she reveals that he is one of 3 men her mother slept with and might be her father. Saif is shocked, but goes along with a DNA test. The results show that he is Alaya’s father and that Alaya is pregnant. Alaya decides to have the baby, and that she wants to stay with Saif during her pregnancy. Saif resists, but eventually is won over. For 9 months he and Alaya live together and she wins over his larger family. At the same time, Saif starts up a friendship with Kubbra Sait his smart mature long time hairdresser and for once he seems to be moving towards an adult relationship. And then Tabu appears, Alaya’s mother who has been unreachable at a meditation retreat until just now, along with Alaya’s boyfriend who was also at the retreat. Tabu takes over everything, wants Alaya to come home with her, and blames Saif for abandoning them. Saif fights with Kubbra, and then fights with Alaya when she finds out that he lied to her about a real estate deal. He realizes his mistake (partly because he sees Chunkey Panday alone in the hospital and doesn’t want to be that alone), rushes to the airport and begs Alaya to come home with him. 2 months later, they have a big family party for Diwali, Kubbra comes and she and Saif might be starting something, Tabu is gone but Alaya’s boyfriend is still there and involved, and Saif is a very involved grandfather and father.

Image result for jawaani jaaneman poster

In the broad strokes, this is an extremely predictable story. Man finds out about long lost daughter, resists acknowledging her, gives in, makes one last mistake, then redeems himself. And grows up a little, starts a real relationship, learns the importance of family, becomes more ethical, etc. No big shock there.

Where I admire these filmmakers is in the small touches that make the story feel solid. For example, when Alaya first starts talking to Saif he explains how he knew her mother, he failed his college exams and took a trip to Amsterdam to forget. He also says he is sure he isn’t her father because he always used protection. Those two things ever so slightly fill in the picture of Saif as better than he had to be for this plot. Later we see a woman he picked up at the club come by his house a second time, and a different women greet him by name and vice versa at the club. He isn’t a man who might have children he doesn’t know about everywhere, although he is sexually active. He maintains relationships with his sex partners, they know how to reach him if they are pregnant or need anything, and he takes basic measures to ensure there are no serious consequences to a casual encounter.

In the same way the little bits we learn about Alaya fill her in more than is strictly necessary, but enough to make the plot feel full. She shows up as this magic perfect plot device, casually confident in telling Saif her story, impossible to hurt no matter how much he rejects her, and a little bit unbelievable in her determination to fight her way into his life. But then we meet Tabu, and it all fits together like clockwork suddenly. Alaya in her first meeting with Saif told him that she had been wanting a father since she was 15. Then we see her be very happy to meet her paternal uncle and grandparents and all the rest, and immediately lose herself in Saif’s life and family in a way that serves his journey almost too perfectly. But it’s not because that’s what Saif needed, Alaya as a character has her own needs, and in Saif and his family she found the opposite of the world she was raised in, that is what she wanted.

It is Saif’s movie ultimately, but the filmmakers were smart enough to realize that for Saif’s journey to feel realistic, Alaya couldn’t just be a perfect plot robot. They still needed her to do the plot things they needed, they just had to build a character backstory that would explain it. Everything clicked for me in a late scene when Tabu is ordering Alaya around to prepare her for a natural home birth. Tabu is being a loving mother, but she is also not considering that Alaya might disagree with her. And then Saif comes home and cuts through all of it and yells that his daughter is giving birth in a hospital. And in the background, Alaya’s face looks suddenly relieved. Aha! Mystery solved! Alaya was raised by a very loving but also dominating, and just plain odd, mother. The fact that her boyfriend is also her mother’s protegee says something about how limited her life was. Natural she would dream about an alternative, a father. Her mother’s calm confidence and disinterest in following society’s rules explain why Alaya was so quirky and ready to accept this new father, and turn her whole life upside down to be with him. And her mother’s self-absorption, isolation, and unreliability (disappearing for 6 months on a retreat) show why Alaya was so excited to find this solid traditional family structure with Saif. Saif got a lot from her, but we see that Alaya got something from him too, enough to explain why she stuck around.

Everything has those little things that make sense of it. Kubbra Sait’s character, we learn she had an unhappy divorce, we can see that she understands and knows Saif like no one else just because of their weekly hair appointments (and she knows he dyes his hair), she isn’t some perfect woman for him, she is someone with her own baggage and they both have to move slowly to get comfortable with the idea that a long time acquaintance/friend could be something more than that. Alaya’s boyfriend, we see him try to talk over Tabu and be bulldozed, and at the end we see that he has stayed in London with Alaya and left Tabu, we can fill in that he was pulled into their orbit and has had his own journey of committing to Alaya and their daughter over Tabu’s magnetism. All the characters are figured out like that, clear even if there are no big monologues to explain them. It’s just very well-constructed.

Image result for kumud mishra
Not a surprise in the case of Kumud Mishra, he always makes his character “real” with just a few lines. Only person I cared about or took seriously in all of Rockstar

The only flaws I can see is that there are a few too few scenes in some places. Not even too few, that’s worse than it is, more just on the bare minimum of acceptable while still being acceptable. We know Saif and Alaya are going to have one final fight and it’s going to be massive, that’s how these plots work. And the fight is very well-done, and makes sense from both sides. Alaya promised a neighbor that her tree wouldn’t be torn down for a development Saif is organizing, and Saif lied to her that he would make it happen. This is a very big deal for Saif, he needs the money and it could change everything, it’s also just how real estate functions and it’s not ridiculously unacceptable behavior from him to lie about this small thing. From Alaya’s side, she isn’t making some crazy hippy complaint, she isn’t even caring about the tree itself, she cares that Saif lied to her and that’s a big deal. It all flares up and Saif says he doesn’t owe her anything, and Alaya leaves. Fine, perfect.

The only thing is, I would have liked to see one smaller similar fight before this. Both knowing who these characters are and from the way this fight is written (as though they don’t realize how big it’s going to be until they are into it), we know they must have had smaller similar fights all along. Over what milk to buy, what movie to watch, missed doctor’s appointments, whatever. I would have liked to see a fight flare up, and then the two of them compromise, so we get a sense of the pattern that is leading up to this big final fight.

In the same way, I want one more scene of Saif hanging out with Kubbra during their “just friends” period so we get a sense of them as people who enjoy each other’s company. I want one more scene of Alaya with her newly discovered grandmother Farida, so we see her be fully accepted into the family. And so on and so forth. I got it, I understood who the characters were and the story the film was telling, I just wanted slightly more to feel full.

But even that is a compliment. I liked these people and I liked this world, I just wanted more of it.

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Saif! Your Most Recent Happy Light Mature Witty Film, Jiwani Jaanemann!

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