Zindagi koi aaloo pyaaz nahin jiski keemat hoti hai. Zindagi jis kisi ki bhi ho, priceless hai. (Life is not like onions and potatoes that a price can be placed on it. Every life is priceless.)
You can almost imagine the creator of these lines patting himself on the back after having come up with them. The speaker is Kalki Koechlin’s character in Jia Aur Jia. The second half of the film is filled with such dialogues, trying hard to impress listeners with their wisdom.
They fill up the empty space in a 92 minute saga that could have added up to something if writers Mudassar Aziz (credited for story and dialogues) and Farahjaan Shiekh (screenplay) had known how to flesh out their concept: two young women with sad secrets on a road trip through Sweden. After a mildly promising start though, they struggle the rest of the way. The result is a flimsy girl bonding flick that is so vacant, it may as well have not been made.
Koechlin plays Jia Garewal, owner of a small bakery in Panchgani. Ms Garewal is on a tight budget and hooks up online with a banker called Jia Raghupati Venkatram (Richa Chadda) to split the cost of a Europe sojourn. It is clear from the word go that Ms Venkatram is nursing a tragic past. Be that as it may, she is at first exasperated and then gradually charmed by the crazy creature in her company who lives life with such abandon while she herself is so stiff-necked.
It does not take a genius to guess that we will at some point discover that Garewal has a secret too. Jia Aur Jia is about two strangers meeting, and how one of them changes the other’s life forever.
Choreographer Howard Rosemeyer makes his directorial debut with Jia Aur Jia, featuring a lead pair with impressive credentials and an amateurish screenplay. Garewal is the film’s idea of cool and chirpy, which means she talks a lot, steals food from a café (this is not a spoiler, the scene is even in the trailer) drinks a lot, blows smoke into her roomie’s face and wakes her up in the middle of the night by chomping loudly on chips. Of course she is constantly smiling, laughing and dancing on camera.
In short, she is the standard Bollywood idea of cute, a cliché of youthful energy that we have seen in film after film over the years, the kind of person who would rightfully be considered irritating in real life, but who we are expected to fall in love with when we meet her on screen. Trite though the woman is, the screenplay leaves us guessing about her long enough and Koechlin’s natural charisma gives her just about enough likeability to keep the film floating through its first half.
Venkatram is completely boring, her past far less interesting than Team Jia Aur Jia seems to think it is, and Chadda – who was so striking in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur films and in a brief role in last year’s Sarbjit – is unable to lend her character an iota of charm. Making matters worse is the contrived male character called Vasu Krishna Bergman (played by Arslan Goni) who is forced into the narrative.
Despite Koechlin’s verve, a kinda sorta curiosity the director manages to conjure up in the first half about what may possibly come as the story moves along, and some pretty visuals of the Swedish countryside, the film fails to lift off at all.
Jia Aur Jia’s saving grace is that it resurrects Jiya o jiya, the title song of the Asha Parekh-Dev Anand classic Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai, for its background score. The music makes the opening scenes memorable, but when the entire remix of the song is sung along with the closing credits, the effect is completely ruined: Nisschal Zaveri’s Jiya o jiya reprise – performed by Jyotica Tangri and Rashid Ali – is flat in comparison with the original. Jia Aur Jia is flat, full stop.