Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, or, Vanity Fair on Mumbai Acid

At last the thunderstorms have blown over and I'm free to plug in the computer and rave about, quite simply, the coolest movie I've seen come out of Bollywood.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom came out in 2007. It stars Preity Zinta, Abhishek Bachchan, Bobby Deol, and Lara Dutta, with an extended cameo by Amitabh Bachchan (or "special appearance" as Bollywood movies call it).

Rikki Thukral (Abhi's character) is a London-based wheeler-dealer. He's the guy you would call if you wanted a copy of Lagaan that doesn't cost over $100, or if you wanted a place to crash that wouldn't bring the attention of Immigration & Naturalization Services, or maybe if you wanted to get your hands on some antiquities that come directly from India without all that red-tape legal hassle stuff. Rikki, together with his business partner Huffy Bhai, makes things happen--maybe not always the way you'd hope he'd make them happen, but, as he'll tell you and anybody else, "I've got class."

At the beginning of JBJ, Rikki's also got a problem. The train he's waiting for is over an hour late, he's hungry, and there's only one seat available in the whole cafe--next to a fellow NRI (he thinks) whom he inadvertently offended just a few minutes ago. Rikki wants the seat, so he moves in and sits next to Alvira (Preity). After they both clearly establish that they are engaged to other people--so no tension!--the two begin to talk about how they met their prospective spouses. Cue flashback.

Rikki meets his beloved, Anaida (Lara), at the Hotel Ritz on the night Diana and Dodi passed away. She's a manager there who busts him for trying to stiff the hotel on his bill. When she lets him go, on the condition that he returns to pay the bill, he runs to London and discovers that when Anaida confiscated his luggage she also claimed a winning lottery ticket that would give him a seven-day trip to Hollywood. Back Rikki jhooms to claim his ticket and Anaida's heart in the "Ticket to Hollywood" number. (And Abhi's performance in this song has made my week. Seriously. He's so stinking funny.)

At this point, I was a little suspicious but not much. After all, stranger things have happened in Bollyland. But then it's Alvira's turn to talk, and the minute she began to tell the story of how she met her Steve, I suddenly realized, not only was she lying when she told Rikki she never watched Hindi films, but she's also lying about being engaged. And so Rikki must be lying, too, because these two devious souls are meant to be together.

Bobby Deol, lookin' gangsta on the left!

Neither of them are as perceptive as yours truly, of course, so Rikki believes Alvira's tale about how she met Steve at Madame Tussaud's when a wax Superman almost crushed her. Their subsequent lawsuit against the museum brought them together in love forever, Alvira sighs. Time for the fantastic "Kiss of Love." And e-mail me if you figure out how to shake the tune from your brain, because darned if I can. It's now my MySpace page music.

How am I supposed to "stay away" from a song this catchy?

As the pair wait and the train grows later and later, they slowly realize that they really like each other. But what can they do? Each believes the other is taken. Aaand that takes care of the plot. Admittedly, there's not much to it.

This movie is one of the most visually appealing treats I've ever had the pleasure of watching. It's full of style and playful self-awareness--yes, we know we're in a Bollywood film, but don't be like Alvira and pretend you don't love it! The music is amazing. I watched the film with my husband and mother-in-law, neither of whom are Bollylovers, and they both loved it. My husband actually asked me to pick up the soundtrack today, which is so unusual as to be bizaare.

Two words: DANCE. OFF.

The picturizations for the songs are pure fun, like an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot set to Indian beats, with the exception of Bol Na Halke Halke (Say It Slowly Softly). This song is a brief fantasy excursion to India, glazed over with the sentiment common to expatriates toward their homeland (except that it's not Alvira's homeland--she's of Pakistani descent, even though Rikki's imagination has her in Punjabi clothes). It's affectionate, sure, but it doesn't hesitate to poke fun at some filmi conventions while it's there. My favorite moment has to be when Alvira lifts her face to fantasy-Rikki after offending him, a single tear trickling down her cheek, while he regards her darkly. So very Bollywood--and then, he bursts into uncontrollable laughter at the melodrama while she sheepishly punches him.

Amitabh's character is a sort of gypsy street minstrel, breaking in at appropriate times to mark transitions in the narrative. Can I just say that I love whoever costumed the characters for this movie? It's definitely the most cohesive vision for cinematic style I've seen in a single Bollywood film. And Amit-ji wears eyeliner! Yay for guys in kohl! Plus, the backup dancers are actually not all anorexic Eastern-bloc blondes--they're multi-culti like a real London crowd. Double yay!

The film is short for a Bollywood movie--only two hours, ten minutes or so. It's the cinematic equivalent of coffee-flavored ice cream: sweet, light, with a caffeine buzz. There are a few minor inconsistencies--I think Alvira's tattoo switches boobs about halfway through, but I could be wrong. The third act drags a little bit while the two lovers wind around the maze of their own creation, but when the view is this much fun, who cares if you're taking the scenic route? Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is worth every single penny, and maybe a few besides.


  1. I agree to disagree with you on this one :)

    Aki Narula- whom I used to design for, did the styling :) While I love Aki, I really didnt like his work here. He did better in "Bunty Aur Bubli, even Bluffmaster. - Maybe I have issues because I just didnt like this movie for some reason...

  2. Shweta--that is so cool that you used to design for him! And I really liked his work in BaB, too; I should've known it was the same person. Haven't seen Bluffmaster yet though.

    My family who watched it with me were so surprised to hear the film bombed at home, but I read most didn't like it... Still, like I say in my bio, I'm a Hindi movie ignoramus so most of the time my tastes are going to be completely uneducated. LOL

  3. Isnt this the movie where Abhishek wears a head-band? If yes, then I dont think I am going to like it! lol

    Hey Shweta, cool to know you used to design for Narula - were you in on any of his filmy projects?

  4. Bollyviewer--yeah, he's wearing a headband. LOL It took me a while to figure out that was what was going on with his hair--but in the end I was able to ignore it. :-D

  5. Totally agreed! I loved this film, and I can't understand why it didn't do very well. I guess it was a bit London-centric with crazy aesthetics (Vanity Fair + Mumbai acid, indeed!).

    This movie is the only film I've seen with Bobby Deol, and I LOVED him in it. I thought he was ace.

    I also love the bit when Abhishek's trying to sneak out of the Ritz with everything in his jacket. LOL his shoulders!

  6. PPCC--Ditto on Bobby! And the whole sequence in Paris had me giggling like a madwoman, esp. when he tries to go over the railing but can't bend at the waist because he's so overdressed. LOL I bought the movie and its soundtrack at Nehaflix while I was still watching the rental. It's the most movie fun I've had in ages.

  7. I really liked this too, it's total masala fun!!!! I don't know if it's because I'm a white girl, but I often disagree with the Indian public's's very strange. I should ponder more upon this phenomenon...

  8. Memsaab, I've found that most of my likes/dislikes in Hindi cinema don't tend to go along with the Indian box office receipts, so I guess I'm in the same boat. :-)

  9. I too love JBJ - and the headband! Lord how I love him in the headband. I hope he wears it on the tour this summer. Maybe I'll bring one to toss up on stage....

    Okay, snapped out of it. Yeah, this movie is great, and "Kiss of Love" is often lodged in my head too. The movie as a whole has such a tempered tone, with so few histrionics. Despite the mega-inventiveness of the characters as they spin their stories, the whole thing seems...realistic! Gasp! Love it.

  10. Me too, Beth! I read that it did better in foreign countries, so maybe it was just too NRI-centric for the home audience? I dunno. But JBJ is definitely one of my current faves.


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