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Biweekly Binge: Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil, a most violent voyeur- Cinema express

Biweekly Binge: Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil, a most violent voyeur

A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week it is Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil, currently streaming on Netflix  

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Published: 28th August 2019

It is past lunch time on a Saturday and she is still at work nervously taking notes. The boss who looks like a 70s Hindi cinema villain is ordering his minions around, and a colleague rubs his shoulder suggestively against hers. She looks at the clock, then at her boss and then at the colleague, trying to get him to stop harassing her. She's already late for her date. He'd be waiting and he'll have a few choicest of words to say to her for being late. She puts on some make up in the bus, more nervous this time than she was with her notes. She is played by Khushboo Upadhyay. He is played by Rohan Kotake. They remain unnamed till the last frame. As they should be because they are two among millions that we see around us every day and pretend not to have noticed. They are invisible to us, director Aadish Keluskar seems to suggest, men and women who have complex, even toxic lives that we take for granted. Faces that we glance rather than gaze at, assuming it to be another sanguine cinematic romance.

That clean Bollywood romance is what Keluskar wants to challenge, Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil is an antithesis to every beloved film in the genre. Keluskar insists that most relationships are not as sweet or as optimistic as they are made out to be. Not in cinema. Not in life. The film reminds you that every coupling is grey - rarely can one pigeonhole what two people share between them into neat columns of good and bad. At one point he says there are possibly bad qualities to Aamir Khan and some good qualities to Salman Khan. It's a hilarious but discerning turn of phrase. This couple's life is also not messy in the way relationships in passably complex mainstream films are - where the messiness is still couched in a form of privilege. Keluskar's duo are interlocked in passionate, intense and often toxic love. We learn bits and pieces about them through their engaging and at times troubling interactions. They've been dating for almost a year. Theirs is possibly an inter-religious relationship. Right from that fact, a lot of things about the film gains political undertones, Keluskar not missing the chance to observe how apolitical most mainstream Hindi films are.

It traverses familiar spaces - the Marine Drive, the beaches, the cafes and the taxi rides - and the people around the couple form an integral part of the mise-en-scene. Keluskar takes us through long shots of the couple walking and talking or sitting and arguing, and the film extracts a voyeuristic pleasure out of the way it zooms in and out of the couple. People pass them, live their lives around them, and this makes the protagonists somebody and nobody at the same time. They are at once people we know and don't know, people we turn a blind eye to on the streets. They are people who crave for an inch of space in an overcrowded city. Even the film's title asks the all-important question - where do we go? A cab driver says how his car, during the night, transforms into that sought after space for gay couples. The film is interested in interrogating the couple's behaviour in all spaces — in broad daylight, a simple conversation about electoral politics suddenly transforms into a sexual act. And behind closed doors, the man switches between role playing like the understanding, gentle lover that he is not, and teetering on the edge of consensual behaviour till that gratuitous leap. Sex too is unlike what we see in a conventional romantic film bursting with hope. It is dirty and awkward with irregular spasmodic beats.

The walk and talk, the zooms in and out, are a conscious stylistic choice that colours (there is also the questionable idea of actress Khushboo Upadhyay in black face) the way we perceive their story. The camera sweeps through the deep, terrifying schisms between the man and the woman. It remains a kink between them, the man likes to film them having sex, much to her distress. The idea is reflected in every portion of the film, sometimes giving the impression that the couple are out here filming themselves. They are their own voyeurs. The frames are bathed in minimal colours and natural outdoor lighting. The indoors sometime seem sepia, and at times turn crimson with violence. In Aadish Keluskar's Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil, the blocking and framing do the heavy lifting of defining the power equations between the couple. It is cinema at its purest, so disturbing that you cannot take your eyes away.

Jaaon Kahan Bata Ae Dil is streaming on Netflix

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