“Watch this film (Jawaani Jaaneman)! It’s really cute,” a friend told us at dinner (which may or may not have been an early Galentine’s Day get-together).
“It’s got Tabu in it!“
Sold! Tabu is a goddess. Loved her in De De Pyaar De and all the movies she’s been in before. She even features in my dream casting for un-made films based on novels. Arundhati Roy, are you listening?
Jawaani Jaaneman starts 25 minutes after the posted time. Wall-to-wall trailers are followed by the 15-minute opening credits—mandatory viewing for any Hindi film these days. Hajaar partners and sponsors have to be thanked, and audiences granted the spectacle of a close-knit community of Bollywoodwalas supporting and profiting from each other. I must’ve missed the important details of who directed the film (we were chatting) or those details came at the end (I had to dash out for a massage date with another group of friends. Galentine’s Day tha, yaar!).
Maybe it was the company, maybe it was the film. But I soon noticed something I’ve never experienced before. The men in this film are total gadhe (stupid), but the women were lovable.
Bollywood loves its aging male stars. They are given the nubile-st co-stars and the kindest treatment by whoever’s behind the camera.The male lead’s a jackass. He’s 50-ish (the film tries to fudge that), an overgrown frat-boy, tattooed, encased in tight tees and pants.
Bollywood loves its aging male stars. They are given the nubile-st co-stars and the kindest treatment by whoever’s behind the camera.The male lead’s a jackass. He’s 50-ish (the film tries to fudge that), an overgrown frat-boy, tattooed, encased in tight tees and pants. If he’s not in his hair colourist’s chair, he’s in a club every night, leering at women young enough to be his daughter.
And that’s the punchline! That is it.
It’s in the night-club scenes, where the female audience might cringe at Jazz (Saif Ali Khan) grinding away and creepily hitting on young women. And it is here that the film flirts with the female gaze. We know what he doesn’t. The plot of Jawaani Jaaneman unravels that, one of these women is his child.
What is Female Gaze? Does it Even Exist?
My rough take: it’s almost impossible to sustain. Or maybe I’m only reversing the male gaze. If the male gaze looks at women as objects, ‘meat’ to be consumed, then the female gaze must look at women as humans, and men as douchebags—at least that’s how my female gaze works. The night-club moments in the film are the female-gaze moments for me.
The girls from Jawaani Jaaneman on screen are not here as random eye candy as in countless Bollywood productions. You wouldn’t notice their skimpy clothing, sexualized gyrations and acrobatics. No porn-y camera angles slither up bare legs or down cleavages. Your gaze is pretty much fixed on this 50-year-old uncleji trying to hit on kids half his age. And these kids on the dance floor seem fine with him trying so hard. He’s a comfortable fixture. Unthreatening. Safe. Even the pissing contest he enters, he bombs at.
The film clearly mocks his sorry life choices: aging playboy pretender who’s broke. A hotshot broker with no real connections. Even all those times he probably gets lucky—I suspect they are just stories to pat his ego. There is no evidence he gets any action in his brothel-styled boudoir.
But Jazz is not as cool as he thinks he is. Sure, he has great skin and hair for a middle-aged guy. The camera is on the joke though—why else fetishise Jazz’s hair appointments? Or the 1990s—the time of his real jawaani days? The film clearly mocks his sorry life choices: aging playboy pretender who’s broke. A hotshot broker with no real connections. Even all those times he probably gets lucky—I suspect they are just stories to pat his ego. There is no evidence he gets any action in his brothel-styled boudoir. The girls who flirt with him back at the club seem way too comfortable with uncleji—they cosplay with him, but that’s as dirty as it gets.
Jawaani Jaaneman treats its male lead as a gentle buffoon to engage more with the women. I mean, look at that poster! In stark contrast, the delightful women here are not judged for their choices!
Women Characters in Jawaani Jaaneman
The stylish hair stylist, Rhea (Kubbra Sait) is smart, sensitive and sexy. She knows her mind. She knows Jazz’s mind too. She friend-zones him because he’s a border-line lech who lusts after twenty-somethings. In this #MeToo era, Jazz is just a few degrees shy of being sued or slapped. But once he gets his act together, she’s ready to go steady.
Next up, Tia (Alaya Furniturewala): Cute, petite, and charming! She’s looking for papa, and doesn’t judge Jazz for not growing up. No sanskaari bhashans on reckless irresponsibility and squandered opportunities. She accepts him for who he is: a super-flawed narcissist whose life is barely held together because of macho this and chauvinist that. Tia’s a good kid. And because she’s a daughter; she’s not sexualised into gratuitous eye candy either. Again, look at that poster—ironic homage to her mom’s iconic scene from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. Nor is Tia judged for turning up pregnant
out of wedlock and wanting to be a single mom. She can support herself and even bails out daddy with rent money.
Tia’s a good kid. And because she’s a daughter; she’s not sexualised into gratuitous eye candy either. Again, look at that poster—ironic homage to her mom’s iconic scene from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. Nor is Tia judged for turning up pregnant
out of wedlockand wanting to be a single mom.
Everyone’s favorite mom (Farida Jalal) is adorable as usual. She’s not one of those dadis who turns up her old-school nose at a newly-found, unwed and pregnant granddaughter. She’s got heart. It’s pretty cool that the opening line of the film’s trailer is mom wondering if her Jassi puttar is gay.
Mrs. Mallik, Jazz’s landlady hates his awara guts. She loves her gin and tonic, Punjabi songs, and the willow tree outside her home. A one-woman army, she won’t let Jazz get away with murder and brashly stands in the way of his solvency. And of course, as audience members we’re rooting for her. We’re not barbarians.
Tanvi (Rameet Sandhu), the meow-girl with a heart of gold is in the movie for only two minutes. Jazz propositions her at the club, brings her home, only to be cockblocked by a pouty Tia who needs to crash for the night because hello, she’s just had to fight off gropey paws (remind you of someone?). Jazz is Jazz. One booty call looks like another. He slips up, and calls her Tan-ya. And the audience in the theatre goes: “TAN-VI!”
Told you, the women in this film are memorable!
But The Audience is Not Happy. We Pipe Up: “But Where’s, Tabu?”
We’re here for her, after all.
Here she comes as Ananya at the end of Jawaani Jaaneman. She’s the hippie-dippy, hashish-smoking, smoking-hot mom. Readers, I actually whistled. Okay fine, there were only 7 of us there in the hall, so it wasn’t that embarrassing. She’s gorgeous. She makes everyone else look small. Her voice! When she says, “qaidi,” with that enunciated “Q” sound.
To die for.
She’s not there for more than 3 minutes. Tragic. She has only a few lines but hey, it’s Tabu! I’ll take it.
“Time and space are just a concept,” she announces. I am d-e-a-d.
Major missed opportunity to put her in a couple more scenes at the end. Why would you squander this? And this is where my female gaze gets pissy. Did they have to rush the ending and do so without Tabu? I mean, come on.
But seriously, by the end of Jawaani Jaaneman I wanted to hang out with all the women in it under that willow tree. Each is smart, warm, sassy, and a welcome relief from men. And that’s what made me think of the female gaze. I want to have drinks with Mrs. Mallik and listen to her sing. I want to meditate with Ananya and stare at her too, and definitely get highlights by Rhea, as Tia and Tanvi hold each other up against gropers. The baby is a girl too—yet another non-sexualised human being, yay! Men are unnecessary. Chunky Pandey and Kiku Sharda scenes should have been trimmed, chopped, dropped, whatever, and Tabu given more screen time. I mean what is even the point of Chunky Pandey?
Back home, I have only one mission: google the director. Because only a woman can give other women breathing room, right? Wrong.
We’ve come a long way, baby. Maybe. Is there hope for Bollywood? Who knows. Maybe Jawaani Jaaneman won’t pass the Bechdel test. Maybe there’s no female gaze either. But for about an hour or so, it feels good to watch a Hindi film about three-dimensional women and forget spoiled men.
Featured Image Source: Hindustan Times