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Ranveer Singh steers a rocky dramedy

Express News Service

Film fans pride themselves on an excellent memory. They’d remember, for instance, that Ranveer Singh had played a Gujarati boy in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram-Leela (2013). They’d also remember three distinct things about his character from that film: his abs, his handiness with guns, and a stack of porn DVDs he peddled on the side.

All these associations— of pride, of virile masculinity — are undone in Jayeshbhai Jordaar. Ranveer, as titular Gujarati protagonist Jayesh, stays fully clothed throughout the film. He’s physically unintimidating (in a short moustache) and, more shockingly, has never even kissed his wife. He also rejects the film’s call of becoming ‘an action hero’. When cornered in a scene, with no way out, he escapes by threatening to cut his own balls off.

Written and directed by debutant Divyang Thakkar, Jayeshbhai Jordaar is a comedy about horrifying things. The film is set in the fictional village of ‘Praveen-garh’ (I was expecting actor Paresh Ganatra, famous as Praveen from Baa Bahoo Aur Baby, to drop by; he doesn’t). It’s a place of cruel and complete patriarchy. Jayesh’s father (Boman Irani), the village chieftain, and mother (Ratna Pathak Shah) are top offenders, forcing their son and daughter-in-law to bear a male heir. So Jayesh—along with his pregnant wife Mudra (Shalini Pandey) and firstborn daughter Siddhi (a fiery Jia Vaidya)—escapes, after a doctor at a sex determination clinic clues him in.

The film wrestles with the kind of abuse and orthodoxy that permeates this world. This is often softened for mainstream audiences to watch. In an early scene, Jayesh is impelled by his parents to beat up his wife—when we cut indoors, they are play-acting the whole thing (with Siddhi assisting). On the run, the trio frequently comes in the path of danger, and miraculously escapes. Divyang, it seems, is making a satire—on patriarchy, female foeticide, superstition, masculinity, marriage, rural politics. Yet his approach is that of slapstick comedy (and melodrama). The silly final stretch, with even the most abhorrent characters experiencing a change of heart, is laughable. And the mention of ‘Ladopur’—likely modelled on Bibipur, a real Haryana village dedicated to women empowerment—is subsumed in a subplot that feels way too contrived.

Ranveer is as watchable as ever, lending a real softness and believability to Jayesh. He has a permanent twinkle in his eyes, in scenes both funny and tense. When he holds forth at a women’s grieving circle, it really feels like he’s pouring his heart out and not speechifying as a social cinema lead. The mix of humour, emotion and excitability he brings is rarely reciprocated in plot. Jayeshbhai Jordaar takes aim at larger societal ills, but beyond its charmingly atypical hero, the film lacks punch.

Jayeshbhai Jordaar 
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Shalini Pandey, Boman Irani, Ratna Pathak Shah, Jia Vaidya

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