Cast: Ranveer Singh, Shalini Pandey, Boman Irani, Jia Vaidya, Ratna Pathak Shah
Director: Divyang Thakkar
Rating: Two and a half stars (out of 5)
Had Jayeshbhai Jordaar lived up to the claim that the second word of the title makes, it would have been an outright winner. At a time when Bollywood is facing an onslaught of loud, unabashed, testosterone-driven heroes of a recent spate of Southern superhits, it is refreshing to run into a male protagonist in a Hindi movie who does not believe that he has got to be a big-talking lout to be a man.
Played with consistent aplomb by an irrepressible Ranveer Singh, the eponymous hero of Jayeshbhai Jordaar isn’t a stud strutting around the village calling constant attention to himself. In fact, he is the exact opposite. He is adept at merging with the background.
Jayesh barely raises his voice in front of his regressive father, the village headman (Boman Irani), who throws his weight around without ever having a squeak of protest from his meet son. Jayesh is married, is a father of a girl child and is under constant pressure from his parents to father a boy.
Jayesh’s nine-year-old daughter Siddhi (Jia Vaidya) urges him to swing into action when things begin to turn really nasty for her and her parents. Jayesh’s wife Mudra (Shalini Pandey), who has had six abortions following illegal sex determination tests, is pregnant once again when the film opens. The sarpanch insists that she produce a male heir this time around.
Meant to be a scathing satire on patriarchy and superstition, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, despite Ranveer Singh’s unwaveringly spot-on diction and demeanour, lacks bite. The screenplay written by first-time director Divyang Thakkar is only intermittently successful in landing punches that count.
It throws in a Haryana village without men. The place is peopled by hunky wrestlers who are all unmarried. In another scene, we are introduced to a man who had bought a bride from Bengal for two lakh rupees. Subtlety certainly isn’t this film’s strong suit
The biggest problem with this production from the Yash Raj Films stable is its wildly erratic pitching. In one scene it wants to be funny as it confronts a deadly serious issue, on the next it is all earnest and preachy. It is almost as if it is the handiwork of two scriptwriters at war with each other.
One is extremely hard pressed to figure out whether Jayeshbhai Jordaar is trying to be flat out absurdist or merely over-the-top melodramatic in a conventional Hindi potboiler way. When it strays into the comic, it falls flat. And its emotive tropes – most of them are thrown into the mix in the second half – do not possess the power to offset the drearier passages.
To return to the sarpanch’s mild-mannered son, he is the sole figure in the film who stands out. This is certainly not only because of the strength that Ranveer Singh performance lends to the film. The script simply does not devote enough thought and space to the other charactersm which leaves them in a limbo that is difficult to conceal
Jayeshbhai does not have the courage to stand up to the headman but he does everything he can on the sly to protect his wife from a seventh pre-natal test and abortion. He flees with her and his daughter but does not have the presence of mind to elude the father’s men.
Jayeshbhai Jordaardeals with weighty matters in a flighty manner and that is why everything tends to come unstuck when it really matters. Sex determination, female foeticide and skewed gender rations are serious issues, but this film believes that the best way to spread awareness is to dumb down the delivery. Not surprisingly, what this ill-advised creative choice yields it isn’t a particularly salutary
The women of the hero’s village – they include Jayesh’s mother Yashodaben (Ratna Pathak Shah), who perpetuates her husband’s warped ideas and is beyond the pale of victimhood – are a sorority of silently suffering women who have learnt to take all their continuing misfortunes in their strides and lend each other their shoulders to weep on.
Is Jayeshbhai Jordaar enough to alter his own destiny and that of these hapless women who are reconciled to being pushed around? That is the question that the plot is centred on. While the character of the hero has facets that definitely fascinate, the other people orbiting around him are wobbly presences who pop in and out of the frame to merely support the protagonist.
Even the patriarch, as portrayed by Boman Irani, is devoid of a genuine air of menace. There are times when the man is more facetious than fearsome. He definitely is on one occasion, and without realising it himself, when he imposes a village-wide ban on beauty soaps, blaming the fragrant suds for making the girls smell good and forcing the boys to lose control over themselves.
Owing to the ineffectual nature of the tyrannical headman, the film does not have anything that can heighten Jayeshbhai’s plight and make his flight from it more urgent and palpable. The character of the sarpanch’s wife, too, is terribly underwritten, as a result of which even in the moments that promise to add up to something substantial, Ratna Patha Shah’s game efforts do not yield the desired results.
Jayeshbhai Jordaar is Ranveer Singh all the way, so it is far more Jayeshbhai than jordaar. It loses power far too frequently. The load that the star is called upon to carry on his shoulders is flaky and flimsy at the core notwithstanding the undeniable relevance of the ideas that the film is seeking to peddle.
Less fluff and more fire might have done the trick. Two stars for the lead actor’s class act and half a star for the film’s intent.