Cliché Ridden Perfection. Funny Too.

Review of Indian Movie ‘Jab We Met’

Jab We Met (2007)

Actors: Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor

Writer & Director: Imtiaz Ali

Jab We Met is a prime example of an Indian movie meshing traditional and modern India in its characters but coming off a little bit confused. Poor little rich boy Aditya (played with quiet dignity by Shahid Kapoor) and madcap Geet (a pitch perfect Kareena Kapoor) meet on a train, the singular motif in the movie and, as such, one which hinges on all the usual cliches: life equals train tracks, decisions equal getting on or off trains and, most banal, because Geet keeps missing her trains she and Aditya are thrown together on a journey which will eventually lead to their…but let me not spoil the hackneyed very last scene.

Geet is a scatterbrained, chatterbox if slightly irritating girl so full of life her words bubble over, her laugh is a nervous titter, and she sees good in everything and everyone even a stranger yelling at her to shut up, which is what Aditya does the first time he and Geet meet. Soon, however, Geet realizes that there are some lemons even she cannot make lemonade from, and suddenly Geet goes from bubbly to morose, an emotional condition which is tritely symbolized by her dress.

A bubbly Geet wears short sleeve shirts and tight jeans (in fact her old world grandfather wonders aloud that if Geet can dress like this at home then in Mumbai she’s probably roaming around naked), while a depressed Geet appears in shalwars and long sleeved shapeless kurtas draped with dupattas, her hair tied back and her gaze always turned demurely down. In other words a happy girl dresses Western (Indian-modern?) and an unhappy girl dresses Eastern (Indian-traditional)?

Geet’s whole character is muddle of old and new. On the one hand she’s presented as a strong willed woman not scared to confront rapacious louts by herself–- this is, I suppose to appease modern girls– and yet, in other scenes, Geet is so unworldly she has no idea she’s being mistaken for a prostitute or why couples are running wily-nily out of hotel rooms during a police raid–- this extreme naivety, I suppose, is to appease those who want their Indian girls to always come packed with a certain innocence even if it makes them look, at least on celluloid, completely ridiculous. More than ridiculous, in fact downright distasteful, is the way the word ‘rape’ is bandied around in the two occasions Geet and Aditya find themselves sharing a room. The first occasion follows incidents in which Geet herself has been confronted by the very real threat of rape.

But the unperturbed Geet sits on a hotel bed and informs Aditya that he shouldn’t get any funny ideas because she’s not that sort of girl. Not to worry, Aditya replies, he’s not out to rape her because he’s not that sort of guy. Later in the movie, in a mirror scene, Geet reassures Aditya that she’ll not rape him because she’s not that type of a girl. Rape being what rape is, these otherwise funny and cute scenes were completely ruined for me and illustrated perfectly the mismatch of the serious with the blase via ‘traditional values’ in the mouths of supposedly modern cool characters.

To its credit, Jab We Met doesbreak some stereotypes and so Geet tries to educate Aditya otherwise when he bad mouths his Mom for having an affair and abandoning the family. Also the Sikh Geet (from Bhatinda, no less) worries not a jot about being forgiven and accepted by her family when she returns from running away and marrying her boyfriend and refreshingly enough no time is wasted on scenes of Geet being chastised or disowned or anyone, thank Wahi Guru, crying or beating their chests about how she has ruined herself. Here the movie convincingly shows a family with it, and this is refreshingly nice, and all the lovely, laugh out loud Bhatinda scenes are the strong point of a movie.

I am quite smitten with Jab We Met, however I wanted to fall in love with it. I can’t because while thoroughly entertaining, Jab We Met is just too rife with an inability to convincingly handle the modern-traditional paradox that is India today ( a mishandling for which there is no excuse in the aftermath of stellar movies like Om Shanti Om, a movie which raises the bar with its near perfect depiction, albeit tongue in cheek, of that paradox (near perfect because Om Shanti Om does fall for a corny vilification: the villain is evil incarnate because in America he Americanizes his perfectly nice Indian name).

Jab We Met ends with Geet coming full circle as illustrated in her dress code. In the beginning Geet might run around in the most plausible of today’s sleepwear, a t-shirt and shalwar, but now our heroine is a wife and a mother and so the only uniform befitting this good girl is a demure mien, straight long hair and a Bharatiya nari sari. I just can’t help but me irritated moreover because this seems so implausible with Geet’s nonconformist character.

Please Imtiaz Ali, writer director of this quite lovely film, next time please leave out all clichés in order to make something truly lovely. On that note, songs that will make you get up and dance, lovely cinematography and Kareena is wearing a colorful need-to- buy-right- now wardrobe. Watch it. At least once. Chances are despite the clichés, you’ll want to watch it again. I did.

(originally published in Pak Tea House)