Abbas Tyrewala’s Jane Tu Ya Jane Na released in 2008 completed its tenth year this July. In this Bollywood hit, college friends find their way into adulthood and try to keep their friendship going as they leave college. Much popular, this heart-winning rom-com explores complexities of citation and the cultural practices of romantic love in the new millennium.
Allusions to Hollywood, transnational romcoms, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Mills and Boon fiction abound in the film. Simple yet self-reflexive in its meta-filmic dimension the film help reexamine the issue of how love is arrived at in the world of young adults.
The comedy drama is also instrumental in revealing how destiny is structural, giving shape to its narrative and its romance as a whole. The supporting character Mala’s presence in the film is a reminder of how intertexts are constructed.
When supporting characters Jiggy and his friends interact with Mala at the airport and convince her to listen to Jai and Aditi’s unconventional love story in flashback, we discover that there are sophisticated insights into fictional layers of romantic love and its sexual politics. What the film foregrounds to its youth audience is a horizon of expectations about what constitutes or what we essentially understand as “romance”.
Hence Jaane Tu may be read as a critical commentary on South Asian love culture, relationships and its representations in popular media. Mala’s preconceived notions of romance and the frame within the frame narrative leads to her transformation and helps her to reconstruct her notions about romance. Initially Mala is not fascinated by the romance genre but ultimately develops a keen desire for romance and introduces herself to Jai and Aditi as “Jiggy’s girlfriend” as the frame-tale comes to an end.
Interestingly but not quite evident, Mala gradually evolves as a desiring subject. The audience and Mala share a cognitive activity, which relies upon strategies of understanding that the perceiving audience may have learned through experience.
The cinematic experience of “romance” to millennial youth in Jaane Tu involves intelligent framemaking and frame-breaking. When the story-withinthe story begins both Aditi (Genelia D’ Souza) and Jai (Imran Khan) the best of college buddies, firmly believe that they are not in love.
As the film proceeds the spirited, impulsive Aditi attempts to frame masculinity as she nurtures her own notions of masculine behaviour. The peace-loving Jai’s restraint shatters Aditi’s illusions making Aditi all the more confident that Jai is not the “man” Aditi craves for.
The latter believes she loves the macho man Sushant and Jai imagines himself to be in love with Meghna. Sushant exists as a foil to Jai and Meghna is a pleasant counterpoint to Aditi. As Meghna makes multiple uses of fiction, she engages Jai in imaginative verbal games of image-making to distract herself from harsh realities with all her unworldly charm.
Consequently, the Jai- Meghna, Aditi-Sushant subplot develops and reaches a satisfactory climax. The Meghna plot cautions its viewers not to shut one’s eyes off to the fictional world of romance to the extent that one can no longer see the harsh reality. The Sushant narrative tells us not to blindly believe in the world of romance narratives that romanticise alpha-heroic males. Such a romance/fantasy world may have its own dangerous consequences involved.
The film gradually shatters Aditi’s notions of normative masculinity. Much of the comedy in the film is derived in the way the film upsets youth assumptions about masculinity or the assumption of their friends that Jai and Aditi are in love with each other.
It invalidates such common/ easy inferences and many such, like Mala’s assumption in the frame-tale that romance or notions like “made for each other” is all “c**p.”
She snaps “Happens in Mills and Boon, not in real life”. Mala’s irreverence and resistance to romantic love’s predestined outcomes establishes equivalence between romantic love, popular romance fiction and visual pleasure. The film, though not the first among its genre, is an honest attempt to subvert formulaic notions of conventional romance.
We are amazed by this meta-textual romance’s intelligent deployment of visual imagery, in its dream sequences. Many of us remember the recurring dream, a masked figure on horseback usually chasing and then beating a wicked character (reminding us either of inspector Wagmare who insults Jai’s mother; or Aditi’s boyfriend Sushant who slaps her).
Much later it is revealed to Jai and the audience that the masked character is Jai himself. Inspector Wagmare kept criticising the non-violent Jai of real life for his “violent streaks”.
Therefore, the dream sequences in the film demand a deeper probe on the part of Jai and his viewers. The audience is not easily duped into believing that this meta-filmic world of romance is a world of fiction.
That the dream sequences have a deeper significance and that the rider on horseback would turn into reality sooner or later is quite evident. Jai towards the end of the movie, as he unwittingly and unintentionally fulfils all the “conditions of masculinity,” realises that it is his past vision in the structure of a dream that has forever haunted him and has now come true.
For Jai, the dream is not an arena of subjection nor of fantasy, but instead denotes his capacity to frame mental representations of events yet to be realised — they take shape as mimetic representations of reality. Such recursive images through dreams, or mise en abyme,directed by debutant Tyrewala are mimetically powerful.
They are capable of moving us, like any real act of chivalry, by the activation of our imagination and prompt us to reflect on what we see and anticipate as to how Jai would mirror such act of bravery/chivalry.
In its comic scenes that are metaphorically burlesque, the recurring “Ranjhore ka Rathore” trope defined in a pompous manner by Jai’s late father (Naseeruddin Shah) that happens to be his royal clan’s characteristic masculine code “ride on horseback, thrash someone and get arrested”.
These conditions Jai must fulfil some day in order to be a true Rathore. In the mise en scenes here, Naseeruddin Shah’s portrait repeatedly comes to life as he interacts with Jai’s mother. Contrary to his mother’s belief, Jai’s father announces with an amusing grandiloquence that “his”apparently polite son will uphold family tradition by adhering to “Ranjhore ka Rathore” masculinity conduct and prove himself a true Rajput.
However, it is Jai again who unwittingly imitates such a code that apparently defines Rathore manhood. In doing so however, the film affectionately spoofs and ridicules such code of conduct. In its unique style it meaningfully parodies the absurdity of such comic exaggeration.
First, Jai had been breaking that mould (though not consciously) by refusing to be “masculine” (to Aditi’s disdain). Earlier Jai, using his grey cells and not his fists, escapes fighting the macho cowboys in a disco.
Secondly, a reflexive frame-break occurs when Aditi’s expectations that Jai would be the macho male to save her are not met by Jai. Thirdly, much later, when Aditi expects the least, Jai thrashes Sushant when he gets to know that Sushant has slapped Aditi.
Finally, a simple twist in the tale occurs when Jai fulfills all three conditions of Rathore manhood and prevents his lady love Aditi from leaving for New York film school at the dramatic, airport climax sequence. He unknowingly becomes a party to this framemaking process. It culminates in Jai’s father’s victory speech from the photographic frame.
With its coming-of-agetale, Jai and Aditi discover that they actually love each other. Among characters who remain close to our heart is the tongue-in-cheek social activist Savitri Rathore ( Ratna Pathak) Jai’s protective mother who always comes up with cool advice but is never overbearing.
Complexities of sibling bond portrayed in the Aditi-Amit relationship, Meghna’s helplessly falling in love with Jai despite a troubled childhood all continue to strike a chord among youth audiences of all times.
Aditi and Jai’s wonderful chemistry and spirited performance make us conscious of the spark that went missing in Hindi cinema for almost a decade. Remarkably bouncy, is A. R. Rahman’s musical score with “Pappu Can’t Dance” and “Kabhi Kabhi Aditi” numbers.
Jaane Tu reminds one of other increasingly globalised, sleek, youth-oriented buddy movies like Dil Chahta Hai, 3 Idiots and Om Shanti Om- -movies which affectionately parody conventional romance and popular Hindi movie styles through its filmwithin- the -film song sequences.
These films have song sequences which are both citations and parodies of past Bollywood film songs Who Ladki Hai Kahan (Dil Chahta Hai), Zooby Dooby (3 Idiots) and Dhoom Taana (Om Shanti Om). With its refreshing, unconventional take on romance Jaane Tu is a witty celebration of romance and contemporary youth culture.
It is an investigation of how the frames of representation and our expectations of the genre and the intertextual dialogue with romance fiction, Mills and Boon, other romance narratives that the film foregrounds all unite in creating our experience of the cinematic frame in which its urban, globalised youth rediscover “romance”.
The author is Associate Professor, English, St Xavier’s University, Kolkata.