An easy fit
I came out of the Hindi premiere of the Aishwarya-starrer Jeans at Metro on Thursday wishing I could have seen the Tamil original instead.
Prashant and Aishwarya in Jeans. Click for bigger pic!
I also came away wishing that the human mind was not so comparison-oriented, that it had the ability to view and judge in isolation without the needless burden of prior expectation.
I'll go into the whys and wherefores of that later, but first the storyline.
Rajamani (Nasser) is a restaurateur in an unspecified US city. His twin sons Vishu and Ramu, medical students both, help him out in the evenings. Vishu goes to the airport one evening to check on the family's supply concession. Madhumita (Ash), her brother Maadesh (Raju Sundaram, brother of Prabhu Deva making his screen debut) and their grandmother (the Lovely Lakshmi of Julie fame) fly in from India and straightaway hit a problem -- the address they are supposed to go to being misplaced.
Vishu, seeing fellow Indians in trouble, pitches in to help. Lakshmi and family have arrived there so that Lakshmi herself can undergo a crucial brain surgery.
The story shifts to the hospital where Vishu, an intern, visits Lakshmi's room after the operation, sees that there has been a mix-up and that she has been operated on the wrong side. By way of aside, the hook for this story, though director Shankar never specifically says so, is the similar experience of the mother of Bollywood heartthrob Sridevi.
Vishu raises the dust, has the error corrected by another surgery and then spearheads an angry fight for compensation which the hospital gives in preference to a messy court case.
The inevitable happens, Vishu and Madhumita fall in love, the benign grandmother, realising it, extends the family's stay in the States.
With the lovers thus getting time to themselves, it is a cue for songs (including the much talked about "seven wonders of the world" number), little romantic touches, the way Madhumita meticulously collects the used Coke tins and chocolate wrappers of Vishu's coming across as a particularly cute one.
The vehicle of love hits the inevitable speed breaker in the form of dad Rajamani, who objects to the budding romance. His reason: he wants his son to marry identical twins (rather novel way to introduce hurdles into a romantic story. But funnily enough, in my own personal experience, I know of an almost identical situation where one of a pair of twins ended up forsaking the girl he loved so that he and his twin could marry identical twin sisters as his family insisted.
Nasser feels he has a valid reason for his objection: he himself is one of a pair of identical twins. In their youth, they married for love. The twin brothers are now estranged because of the tyrannical behaviour of his twin's wife towards his own.
A still from Jeans. Click for bigger pic!
Lakshmi solves the problem by telling Nasser that Madhumita has an identical twin, Vaishnavi. The story spun by Lakshmi is that Vaishnavi has been brought up in an orthodox Brahmin household. At this point they ring in Madhumita's alter ego, contrasting the hep Madhumita with a very demure, typically traditional Indian version.
Somu, predictably, falls for the changeling, unaware that she and Madhumita are the same. The bluff finally explodes. How it is all resolved forms the rest of the story.
When it comes to reviewing the highs and lows of this film, some elements are easily disposed of. For instance, Ashok Kumar's camera -- hugely competent throughout and outstanding in capturing the marvels of the "seven wonders" -- the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal, the Sphinx, the Colosseum of Rome and the Leaning Tower of Pisa -- and in those scenes placed around the Grand Canyon.
An interesting sidelight was that during that part of the song set on the Great Wall of China, I overheard members of the audience speculating that the whole scene was computer simulated and that the cast hadn't actually made the trip to China.
Subsequently I checked with Venky, the FX expert, who laughed and told me that not only had they actually been to China but had, in fact, almost bankrupted themselves shooting roll after roll of stills in one of mankind's most spectacular architectural efforts.
A R Rahman's music is part funky, part be-pop and almost entirely hummable.
The dances have been choreographed for the most part by Raju Sundaram himself. The highlight is Aishwarya's performance in the dances. Ash must be next to Mohammed Ali, the closest we'll come to a human being floating like a butterfly. Her incredible lightness of feet is the one memory that stays long after much else is blurred.
FX expert Venky's skills in a virtual reality dance number has the audience guffawing and applauding.
When it comes to performances, my earlier expressed wish that I had seen it in the original Tamil is revived. It is something like the difference between traditional south Indian fare on a banana leaf with the traditional arrangements and eaten with the fingers, and the same thing served atop styrofoam plate and eaten with a spoon. Not quite the same thing, you'll agree. For one thing, there is the twin Aishwarya factor.
In Tamil, there is a considerable difference between the language that would be spoken by a today girl in Madras and a more traditional Brahminical number. Lip-reading, I realise, for instance, that Aishwarya, as Vaishnavi, was using Vannakam, a traditional Brahmin greeting familiar to any Tamilian. But in Hindi, the version pranam is almost entirely restricted to the older, fictional writing.
A still from Jeans. Click for bigger pic!
This is merely one instance of how the delineation of twins, which works in Tamil, loses its impact in Hindi. There are many others.
More on the same theme comes when you examine the performance of Radhika who plays the virago wife of Rajamani's estranged twin. And in a startling cameo, sweeps the acting honours. Unfortunately, the down home and earthy Tamil character that she plays does not come across as well in the Hindi version.
The others -- Lakshmi, Aishwarya, Prashant and the ever-dependable Nasser -- have done exactly what their characters were expected to do.
All of which leads us to director Shankar's own contribution. And this, in turn, reverts to my earlier wish that the human mind was capable of judging in isolation.
Take a quick look at the three Shankar films that have preceded this one. In his debut Gentleman, he deals with the angst of forward caste trapped by reservations, quotas and such. In Kaadhalan, he mixes the J Jayalalitha-Marri Chenna Reddy face-off in Tamil politics in the former's tenure as CM, with the story of a very artistic but not very presentable young man and his romantic longing.
In Indian, the theme is corruption, not so much of the multi-million variety but of the petty sort Joe Citizen encounters in everyday life. All three films have strong themes, strong messages, delivered with sledgehammer impact.
Perhaps that is why before the curtain went up on Jeans, I anticipated another stunning tour de force. At movie's end I felt like someone who had gone to a restaurant, ordered a five-course meal and ended up with cotton candy.
I love cotton candy. Perhaps if my mind had anticipated it, I would have enjoyed it. Which leads me to wonder -- is the director to blame because I was unable to accept what was offered as opposed to expecting what the director had no intention of delivering?
The fact that Shankar had made three strong films earlier is no reason why he cannot make a light, frothy romance now. And viewed in that perspective, with my mind vacuumed free off pre-conceptions and expectations, I think over Jeans. And I realise that Shankar's trademark strength -- seamless scripting, perfect flow of narrative and a penchant for demanding and getting perfection out of every element of his cast and crew -- are all present in his latest outing.
All in all, Jeans is one easy fit.