The “Jaal” of Jai Gangaajal

Jai Gangaajal the last release of Prakash Jha the man of many hats in this project, produces one more in the line of movies that try really hard to take a stance on an issue but end up being a farce.

I don’t really get the appeal of going into topics only to belabor a simple point in a mostly haphazard manner but that is all one sees Prakash Jha doing most of the times with his “social issue” based movies. I recently watched Jai Gangaajal his latest, which is considered a spiritual successor of Gangaajal as both movies deal with the same story with a few things shuffled around to make things look slightly more current.

As I watched and re-watched both movies respectively, I find that both the movies carry a similar set of plot points with minor deviations, the main protagonists in both the case are propagating against retributive justice, although in Gangaajal the main protagonist “accidentally” does kill the culprits but that is after a long drawn out exposition trying to explain why retributive justice is bad and the end voice over telling that he had to live with his reality after all was said and done.

Let’s deviate for a moment to look at what is meant by retributive justice, it’s when you appeal to the baser notion of an eye for an eye especially in cases that are in the extreme like murder. That is you appeal for one life for another, there is no scope for improvement and this is the final solution. There are other theories of justice but we’re not concerned with them and this makeshift definition should do the trick for our purpose. Jha tries to startle the line, although it barely looks like there is a line between revenge and law. Things that happen to the poor seem to be very predictable from the get go, the term “suicide” gets thrown around like candy, people die and live at the whim of the writer without much effect in the society.

There are usually the part which propagates mob justice and retribution and the other its exact polar opposite which ends up creating overall confusion throughout. Punchline at the end leaves pretty much everything the film that was preached till then as inconsequential. After pulling out all my hair I thought to myself that Jha would have something to say about this, but I couldn’t find a single interview that point blank asked him what his stance was on retributive justice was. People where either praising the movie or praising the aesthetic setup. Considering his movies aesthetic seems to be stuck in a bygone era of film making this is surprising thing to laud. Be it the melodramatic scoring or shoehorned comic relief, I can’t make sense of what the authorial intent here is.

Overall from what little I could gather it seemed that his voice was the end note exposition where the protagonist is trying to deter people from committing retributive act of mob lynching in the first film or in the second film where the main protagonist literally unties the noose from the villain’s neck. One still doubts this though, considering Jha goes as far as to play the dirty cop in this one there is essentially no depth to this character. A slime ball that gets a second chance to reclaim his past glory but what movie fails to do is build any back story for the man nether do we get why the main protagonist allows this character to be redeemed in a manner. In the first movie there is a similar character which gets killed, that character at least has some sort of arch, there is an established past where he was actually good and why he deserved a chance at redemption and is subsequently redeemed by his action while the character played by Jha just gets mad one day and his character just turns around and starts shooting at people he was buddy-buddy with till the other day. Even with suspension of disbelief on my part, this doesn’t really explain the overall build towards the retributive end and the unbelievable subversion of what was building up to be death of the antagonist.

I think most people have went as far as to conspire that this film was only made so that Jha could get to act. I mean seriously the main protagonist isn’t even present in half the movie. I guess that’s what Jha wanted perhaps, subversion in a very deadpan and illogical manner. It’s as if he’s trying to tell us that having expectation is the sin that we all commit, don’t believe the hype.

At the end of it all it is just another inconclusive Jha movie, which only try’s to say something but fails to pack an impact in the most bombastic manner. Jha should stop directing and focus on his acting career, although it was an empty character, Jha wasn’t actually that bad.

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‘Piku’ pulls off a successful tight rope walk, after fumbling a few times.

So let’s talk about ‘Piku’, It’s a film directed by Shoojit Sircar & written by Juhi Chaturvedi , the duo come together once again after the train wreck that was ‘Madras Cafe’ and one of the more surprisingly earnest movie that was ‘Vicky Donor’. This movie try’s to follow the latter’s footsteps.

From the get go you get a pretty distinct feeling that it’s not at all about ‘Piku’, but about her father know in the movie as ‘Bhaskor Banerjee’. Opening is disruptive same as the character of ‘Bhaskor’ as he intentionally or unintentionally comes out as a self-deluding liberal who makes claims of being a liberal and having a open disposition while being a regressive and overbearing parent. ‘Bhaskor’ is clearly a classist and contains hints of castist undertone in him as well, but all this is essentially ignored or filmmaker just play it for laughs as in ‘haha look at the old fart being a dick’ perhaps to keep the plot moving I guess. As if it’s in a hurry. Well…to be honest it is. As ‘Bhaskor’ is an old man and his story must be told before he dies…what? The movie is called ‘Piku’ ? Well shit ok we’ll focus on her for a bit, I guess…

So, coming to ‘Piku’ the character. As it starts to develop, it is quite evident that “Piku” is a part of patriarchal structure in which ‘Bhaskor’ is the head of the family that makes everyone bow down to his will. This is made evident on multiple points in the story itself to the extent that it is just out right said in one of the dialogue of ‘Bhaskor’. Back to ‘Piku’, she keeps having to side step her fathers will and often just keep getting enraged by the old man’s constant blithering & things like calling her mother “low IQ” throughout the movie for not living up to her(Piku’s Mother) potential. Meanwhile ‘Piku’ has to follow the same path as her mother to a lesser extent perhaps but still she (‘Piku’) has to do it out of some sort of paternal love towards her father.

So, in a sense ‘Bhaskor’, out of habit is enslaving those who love him, who’re considered to be a part of the “low IQ” club, don’t know if its deliberate or not, but my disposition towards ‘Bhaskor’ leads me to lean towards the former i.e making the ‘Bhaskor’ a slaver is a deliberate choice that the filmmakers make.

Again getting back to ‘Piku’ everything from her sex life, who she chooses to socialize with, seem to essentially be dictated by her father, be it direct or indirect. She takes her time to make this i.e. her being overly attached to her father, explicit to ‘Rana’ who is the main love interest by the end by saying something along the lines of if you wish to marry me you will have to adopt this 70 year old manchild with me.

Ok, so I think that’s enough of ‘Piku’ for the moment lets shed some light on ‘Rana’, who was a civil engineer in another life and ends up handling his father’s business with an overbearing family of his own that wish to belittle him along with that he gets belittled by ‘Piku’ for the good chunk of the early half of the film. The filmmakers go for a ‘will they won’t they’ vibe from the get go, but in a subtle manner as its only when the road trip starts is when the sparks start to fly and this love story starts to stand up on its own two feet. ‘Rana’s’ love for ‘Piku’ seems to be more of an infatuation at the start, but slowly it turns towards a mutual relation of love and respect by the end. This love story was very well done, subtle and not overbearing at all, doesn’t fall for the usual tropes that Bollywood movies tend to fall for, nothing overly dramatic happens, even at the ending there is nothing solid said or done, the story can either carry on in your head or end, its left open to interpretation, which is often not done with taste if ever done. There are moments when you see ‘Rana’s’ character be classist as well though, but it’s often moved along in a hurry or it isn’t really focused on, a very minor part of the whole story but still it irked me, but I guess it is but a sad truth of our lives that we as humans are often forgetful and will overlook moments one person is being intolerant towards the other.

Explaining The Poop Tech

Beside this I would say one of the major strengths of the movie was the humor, the moments between ‘Rana’ and ‘Bhaskor’ were particularly well done, be it either one of them cracking wise or the moments where ‘Rana’ is giving advice to ‘Bhaskor’ on how to get the perfect motion. The musical cues are quite well done too if you are talking comparatively to most Bollywood movies, there is always scope for improvement, but they had the subtlety down at least and there wasn’t anything that felt offensive throughout the movie sound design wise. Lots of ‘laugh out loud’ moments that keep the movie never get too dark but helps it in the pacing of the overall plot.

One scene in particular the knife scene just doesn’t add up though. ‘Bhaskor’ doesn’t really seem like a pacifist to me, I don’t know why he is surprised by finding a knife in a taxi on a highway, and subsequently just overreacts and asks ‘Rana’ to get rid of it, and it seems silly. But I guess ‘Bhaskor’ was but an unreasonable character throughout the movie, hiding salt, indulging in homeopathic remedies, calling people “low IQ” just because they’re affectionate towards him. I guess it makes sense on that level also. So, later on in the scene ‘Rana’ finally caves in after ‘Piku’ asks him to, from here on out it seems like their love story really kicks into high gear. ‘Piku’ in Kolkata keeps making googly eyes whenever interacting with ‘Rana’ and he keeps cracking wise to keep getting a laugh out of her, its adorable.

Piku Breakdown

Coming to the linguistic problem that I have with this movie and many other Bollywood movies. I don’t know why more films can’t be like Court and just go in the bi-lingual direction rather than enslaving themselves to Hindi just to chase some sort of despotic gold standard. ‘Hindi’ should be but a lingua franca in supposedly proud Bengali family, which is deeply entrenched in its Bengali-ness, for a movie trying to have some sort of authenticity attached to it, I think it fails miserably at the point when it muscles out Bengali even when the characters are in Kolkata. They continue on converse in Hindi, but I guess with suspension of disbelief we can overlook it, but then why the accents? Have some consistency in your world logic is all I’m saying. If this movie where to be bi-lingual I would’ve liked it even more than I do, is all I’m saying.

At Ganga Ghat

The ending can be construed as good and/or bad depending on how you look at it I guess, for me it was more or less good in the sense as the ending is as abrupt as the start. Just as the arc of ‘Bhaskor’s’ character. As he dies and so does the life of the story, both metaphorically and literally. As I said in the beginning the story isn’t about ‘Piku’. It’s about ‘Bhaskor’ and his relation with the world, which include ‘Piku’ and the rest, they exist for him and their(people other than ‘Bhaskor’) real story begins after ‘Bhaskor’ passes, which is left to the imagination. The wake at the end just seems slapped together but perhaps it shows us a glimpse into ‘Piku’s’ mind as she has been all her life subconsciously just going for guys that are somewhat like her father, but that’s just my interpretation, and isn’t explicit in the story itself, but certain scenes are suggestive of the same.

Apt Kyam Churan Product Placement

Overall I would say it’s a great movie with great writing and great acting, its pitfalls are far and few between. One can look at the movie as a whole and say that this is one of the better movies that came out of Bollywood this year. It certainly is straddling a line, walking a tightrope falling, brushing itself off and then getting back on there to achieve its task. It does it with dirt on its face but even so it works out in the end. I would rate it 3.5/5, but remember this is but an opinion, I would highly recommend it for a somber afternoon.

PS : I had a conversation with someone I know about this movie. Have a listen if you want to find out how I came to some of the conclusions in the review.

PSS : Hey! If you have something interesting for me or something interesting to say hit me up on twitter (@Crit93)