The characters’ development of friendship seldom pushes past insights predicated on a fundamental tension between characters.
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Richa Chadha, Sudhanshu Pandey
Director: Howard Rosemeyer
Despite having come a long way, Bollywood gingerly attempts telling stories that are not formulaic, or digress from the tried and tested formats. Therefore, judging purely on the merits of its title, I was expecting this week’s release Jia Aur Jia to be a thrilling ride, or a perfect thriller that has two starkly different women sharing the same name as its leads.
Choreographer Howard Rosemeyer may have been a creative person in the past, but his debut film as a director, is a non-starter right from the word go. The opening scenes trip on the dainty feet of its two lead actors — Jia Venkatraman (Richa Chadha) and Jia Garewal (Kalki Koechlin) who are seen excitedly gung ho about a twin sharing arrangement on a vacation to Sweden. Together, as they embark on a life-changing journey, one begins to explore the numerous possibilities that such a tale could possibly gravitate towards. That they are exact opposites and bear nothing in common, besides their names, is made clear by Chadha’s stoic demeanour and Koechlin’s unnecessary ebullience in the opening scenes. That they could also be hiding secrets is known with the help of varied contrivances as we also get to know that Jia Garewal runs a bakery in Panchgani, and the other Jia is a corporate honcho. Soon, the film veers from verbal wrangling to Stockholm, Kullaberg and Ystad and a few nondescript locations in Sweden where they are forced to share rooms, and end up empathising with each other and becoming friends in the bargain.
As two young girls, shouldn’t they be having loads of fun along the way, more so, since they don’t exactly have a mission, or any specific purpose? Their holiday, as it turns out, is a getaway from either hurried life that they have led, or from the unspoken but the preceding distressing times of yore, which they are obviously running from. In the new unfamiliar land, they also run into a fellow Indian Vasu Bergman (Arslan Goni) who although comes from a rich background, but looks equally unsure about himself. Strangely, the script doesn’t add some heft to their scenes together to warrant some bonding between the two: while one Jia who loves to smoke and guzzle drinks, is trying hard to make a point of being rebellious, the other struggles to look sombre and thoughtful, for whom, it seems, life is encumbered with a heavy load but moves along at a measured pace. Chadha, who has proved her mettle in several films in the past, is pathetic in displaying her plaintive existence. If the characters here are often sparing with their words, or even withholding, the visuals could have spoken volumes.
For a road movie about the metaphoric journey and the accompanying and its correlated bonding, it’s silent on what brings people together. The smooth talk and worldly wit that gets the affairs started and keeps them going remain invented, illusory and dispassionately emotionless.
Kalki’s whole trope of the liberal woman who loves alcohol and sex is quite corny, specially since she is made to do scenes that are completely out of context. Like for instance, her jumping into bed for a one-night stand with a man she has barely known, but still professing undying love for him is out-of-sync with the film’s pace and the back stories that they both seem to be burying.
The job of convincing us that he could juggle two beautiful women is Rosemeyer’s. But as far as chick flick escapism goes, it’s hardly challenging work for him, considering even with Aziz’s interesting premise about two diametrically opposite characters on a journey together he is way out of his depth. As is Koechlin, who is simply unable to make her sassy lines and sexy outfits come together and convince us to laugh. She overplays throughout but is still marginally better than Chadha, who too looks and acts surprisingly dated, predictable and in a one-key manner. Given the cast involved, it’s nothing short of a disappointment.
The characters’ development of friendship seldom pushes past insights predicated on a fundamental tension between characters. This is arguably the phoniest film you’ll see this year, marred by clumsy direction, over-obvious acting and a wooden script that skews, and is downright boring.
The screenplay by Mudassar Aziz relies on clichéd passages of negotiating a story — an accident, a forced reconciliation between characters, the constraints of finding a semblance of understanding and love, etc. Throughout its running time, the narrative never shirks the sense that its scenes have been most unimaginatively penned, and hence depicted in its entire 93 minutes of runtime. Just why was made into a full-length feature film, one fails to gather. Perhaps, a television series with two sexy anchorpersons cruising along cities and trying out new recipes on a travel and cookery show would have been a better deal!
The writer is a film critic and has been reviewing films for over 15 years. He also writes on music, art and culture, and other human interest stories.