Cast: Rhea Chakraborty, Varun Mitra, Digangana Suryavanshi, Arjun Kanungo
Director: Pushpdeep Bhardwaj
Just before the opening credits start rolling, the theatre is startled by Rhea Chakraborty’s scream of agony. Mahesh Bhatt’s latest offering in the romantic drama genre, titled Jalebi: The Everlasting Taste of Love, evoked similar feelings within me after almost two hours of mindless torture. Based on Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s 2016 drama Praktan, Jalebi aspires to portray new-age romance and contemporary relationships. It aspires, but fails miserably.
At the outset, Jalebi‘s treatment of the protagonists seems completely bizarre. Chakraborty’s Aysha rotates in the perimeter of merely three characteristics — her love for hopscotch, her whining and her boredom with Old-Delhi life. Debutant Varun Mitra’s Dev is slightly easier on the senses while he tries hard to deal with Aysha’s spoilt, mercurial nature.
Writers Pushpdeep Bhardwaj, Kausar Munir and Suhrita Sengupta have created half-baked characters with such a complete lack of nuance that you end up empathising with absolutely no one by the time Jalebiends. Praktan’s story-line is beautifully embedded within a train journey. It specifically showed the inter-play between three couples — a newly married couple who are just beginning to understand each other, an old couple who personify years of understanding and companionship, and centered between them were the protagonists Ujaan (Prasenjit Chatterjee), Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) and Malini (Aparajita Adhya), who try to navigate through their emotions and insecurities to come to a definitive closure.
Digangana Suryavanshi, who plays Dev’s current wife, Anu, just seems to occupy screen space. Barring the glycerine-soaked sappiness, she provides nothing to the narrative. While Praktan beautifully narrated the intricacies of Malini’s naivete and the strong feminist streak that lay within her to make her own choices of coming to a compromise, Jalebi‘s Anu serves more as a prop for Aysha to angrily fume about when she realises that the former is Dev’s wife.
Aysha’s character treatment is by far the makers’ biggest flaw in Jalebi. In the garb of feminism and independence, she is just a bundle of confused energy. While the narrative develops and the marriage between Aysha and Dev starts crumbling, you seem to understand lesser and lesser of what she exactly wants – to an extent that you almost feel sorry for Dev, who has to deal with her mood swings. Chakraborty’s portrayal of the troubled woman trying to deal with marital life, passes off mostly as a spoilt brat. The only time that you do empathise with her is when after a sudden pregnancy, she declares she is not ready to bear a child.
However, this peculiar narrative thread is not half as mind-numbing as the one which portrays her in the present, while she sits across from Anu and her daughter, Pulti. Aysha, who still suffers from the trauma of separating from Dev seven years ago, simply cannot tolerate the truth about Anu and Pulti. A quick phone call to her best friend draws a conclusion that – “He never loved you. He was just using you.” Reluctant to believe her friend, Aysha disconnects the call only to try and attempt suicide. She is unable to take the pain that reality harshly flings at her . Yet, she goes back to her train cabin, to sadly mope and stare at the mother and child. Anu and Aysha, unlike Praktan‘s Sudipa and Malini, have no interaction. One cries, while the other just exists.
Mitra is by-far the only redeeming element in the film, that is if I can give myself the liberty to assume there are any. He seems fresh and earnest in his portrayal of the love-sick yet troubled man. But any admirable screen moments that he manages to deliver, gets promptly lost in the vortex of a disaster that Jalebi is.
Arjun Kanungo appears in an extended cameo in the film. His present ‘Devdas’ avatar (as his friends aptly point out) serves as a parallel mouthpiece to Aysha’s yearning for Dev. Kanungo’s presence, much like most other actors, comes sans context, plot-line or worthy dialogues.
The songs in Jalebi are better than the screenplay. Special mention to Jubin Nautiyal’s ‘Tum Se’, which succeeds in creating the atmosphere of anguish that often follows unresolved love.
Jalebi ends more peculiarly than expected. Aysha, whose sole concern throughout the narrative was Dev’s apparent nonchalance about her, is resolved through a botchy twist in which Anu confesses that Dev took her in with her child from a former relationship. This is followed by Dev’s confession that he had come to Kashmir to mend the disintegrating marriage but realised he was merely the wind under the ambitious wings of Aysha and that he would pull her down with his love for stasis. This explanation is enough for seven years of grief, anxiety and anxiousness and Aysha smiles. She happily departs and the audience is told, “Unse mohabbat kamaal ki hoti hai, jinka milna muqaddar mein hi nahi hota” (You love the one passionately, who you are not destined to be with).
Jalebi leaves no stone unturned in trying to establish the concept of unattainable love but does an abysmal job of it. It successfully crushes the original narrative of Praktan which charted a nuanced journey of a former couple’s path to resolution and empathy.