Jabariya Jodi Movie Review: A boring, frivolous film
Set in Bihar, this romantic comedy about the state’s groom-kidnapping menace is superficial and exploitative
Real-life subjects have become the mainstay of Hindi films. The journalistic impulse has revived a sunken form, but it has also become a bit of a bait. Jabariya Jodi, written by Sanjeev K Jha and directed by Prashant Singh, is ostensibly about the groom-kidnapping menace prevalent in Bihar. It's fascinating ground: Burdened by exorbitant (and illegal) dowry requests, families of eligible brides turn to professional hoodlums. They whisk away moneyed grooms and marry them off at gunpoint. This happens with alarming frequency, and while the ironies of such a depraved custom are aplenty, they are hardly explored at length. The ‘subject’ of Jabariya Jodi is a mere plug; it’s a welcome drink, not the buffet.
Led by Sidharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra, this film is a love story, the kind where social realities exist only to add colour and weave conflicts, not to make a point. Which is fine, as long as the romance holds up and the world is fleshed out respectfully. Jabariya Jodi slumps on both fronts. You don’t feel much for the characters, despite the occasional glycerin that shows up on Parineeti’s eyes. And since the setting is Patna, marketplaces and temples are painted excessively orange (like an extended Gold Spot commercial from the ‘80s). Also brace up for a hellish ‘Zilla Hilela' remix and references to Dinesh Lal Yadav, the Bhojpuri star popular as ‘Nirahua’.
Cast | Sidharth Malhotra, Parineeti Chopa
Director | Prashant Singh
Sidharth is introduced as ‘desi hero, Al Pacino.’ It’s a telling mismatch for an actor predominantly known for urban-centric roles. Here he gets to sport a trident tattoo and smoke clay pipes. Sidharth plays Abhay Singh, a matrimonial Robin Hood committed to punishing greedy dowry-seekers. But instead of instilling genuine fear in his hostages, he clinches them close like a chatty tour guide, making jokes about condoms.
The girl is less friendly. She thrashes a no-show boyfriend on TV, and has Kill Bill and Mission Impossible posters in her room. At a wedding, Babli (Parineeti) is reunited with Abhay, her childhood crush. They hit it off again, but are interrupted by Babli’s father (Sanjay Mishra, expressive even as a somnambulist). More conflict ensues when Abhay’s gang — led by Jaaved Jaaferi as a bearded patriarch— gets wind of his distraction.
Jabariya Jodi is laboriously written and performed. Each line is unnecessarily nasalized, making simple words sound like accusations. Some lines glimmer with sharpness (the severing of a head is likened to Jharkhand parting from Bihar), and there’s a nice joke about the alcohol ban in Nitish Kumar’s state. The quips are mostly rhyme-y: ‘dhokha’ over ‘litti chokha’, that sort of a thing.
The film squanders a strong ensemble. Aparshakti Khurrana plays a muted, emasculated lover; the great Sharad Kapoor drops by; and Chandan Roy Sanyal — for reasons best known to it — mimics Salman Khan’s entry look from Kick. The usually cantankerous Sheeba Chaddha gets a quieter role, similar to Lovleen Mishra’s in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (2019). Jabariya Jodi has crummy humour, but its falsest notes reside in the emotional asides. With his flashy anti-heroism beginning to wear thin, Abhay is given a redemption arc. Sidharth, otherwise coolly committed to an alien part, bungles up these scenes. “Such sentiments suit Arjit Singh, not Abhay Singh,” Chandan jokes.
Hindi cinema needs to get real about getting real. It’s exploitative to borrow a milieu and short-change its people. Such meanness belongs in politics, not art. “Forced anything is bad,” we are told towards the end, “marriage or love.” The rationale should extend to filmmaking — bonded labour for many, romance for a genuine few.