Jab Tak Hai Jaan :: A tribute to Yash Chopra

By Saswat Pattanayak

Yash Chopra’s last, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is by far his greatest creation. In many ways, it is one of the grandest experiments in the history of Hindi cinema. However, the aspects that are revolutionary about this movie have not really been deliberated upon by the critics so far.

For one, Jab Tak Hai Jaan addresses ageism and sexism that affect a large section of Indian audience. Piyasree Dasgupta for FirstPost writes, “a self proclaimed 25-year-old, who looks 40, gets to kiss a girl who seems to have walked out of Vogue….(the girl) despite all her Mercedes and Gucci glory, can’t keep her hands off a waiter who has an annoying habit of speaking like he is perpetually in an art of living class.”

The patriarchy subsuming the likes of Dasgupta cannot make room for anyone subpar in their look books. Therefore, not only is a 40-year old not acceptable – let alone attractive or not (which again are extremely subjective adages) – enough simply because he “looks” a certain age, he is not allowed to kiss a girl who again “looks” like a fashion model. Not just a good-looking woman, but one who looks like a Vogue cover. Objectification of women (and, men) does not end here. The man is also derided for being a waiter with an unpolished accent. Clearly working class folks must not aspire for wealthy “beauties”, concludes Dasgupta. Classism has become classy in such reviews.

Except, there is a problem here. Yash Chopra has addressed issues of class society in almost all his movies. Too often the highbrow critics have pronounced Chopra movies to be silly tales of romantic love, and our competitive academic standards coupled with parental strictures have made our educated audience to believe in the notion that there is nothing revolutionary about love as a construct. Love therefore gets relegated to the stature of an Indian myth, connected vaguely with the days of yore. Young folks who would otherwise fall in love have started singing the tunes of “friendship” to appear cool, a live-in to refrain from commitments, and aspire for individual career growths while leaving behind their mutual feelings as “impractical”. Yash Chopra did not fail to depict Anushka Sharma embodying this position. But he took this narrative one step further – he suggested that the old recipe still works today. And that, it should.

To bring home that point, Chopra added a Rishi Kapoor-Nitu Singh pair to the plot. He even broke any stereotypes about the “old” marriage-forever love. Nitu Singh is portrayed as a married woman with a child who preferred to run away with her lover leaving behind her husband and daughter. Not because she was abused in her relationship; in fact she was well taken care of. Hence, under ordinary circumstances, Anupam Kher, the deceived husband would have earned all the sympathy for being the sufferer and for being the father who single-handedly raises a daughter. But no, Chopra makes Kher look like a capitalist crap who did not deserve either the wife or the daughter. So much so that Katrina Kaif, the daughter, ends up learning the lessons of love from the very man who had separated her from her mother. Intriguing, yes. But progressive, very much. This point is clearly lost to most critics, including Anupama Chopra (who writes an otherwise favorable review in the Hindustan Times) when she says, “You don’t go to a Yash Chopra movie to delve into realism or the messiness of relationships. You go to partake in a fantasy of swooning, idealised love – and Jab Tak Hai Jaan delivers plenty of that.”

Yash Chopra movies are brilliant realisms and his love stories are necessarily messy. As a matter of fact, love and realism are not contrasts, they are intertwined. As Che Guevara used to say, “the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.” What Yash Chopra has consistently done through his movies is project love and its variously complicated manifestations (the realisms, so to say). Chopra started his career as a director with the brilliant Dhool Ka Phool, whose Sahir Ludhianvi (who worked with Chopra for all his movies until the poet passed away) number “Tu Hindu Banega Na Mussalman Banega” still holds torch for the only hope in an increasingly divisive India. Dhool Ka Phool was a love story with all the characteristic messiness Yash Chopra went on to embrace in all his movies. A scenario where a woman abandons her own child simply because she had got carried away with her partner, broke several taboos in a society where motherhood is considered a virtue by all means. And yet, Chopra never made this woman a villain, and he even made an example of a Muslim man who brings up this abandoned child with humanist values – a child who subsequently is accepted by the society. One may argue it is all too idealistic, but Chopra made this convincingly real and urged upon the audience not to just reflect on what is prevalent, but also to consider what is required for a world after his vision.

Likewise if in Daag, Chopra explores issues of bigamy, in Aadmi Aur Insaan, he tackles love’s intersection with class. In Kabhie Kabhie, a daughter from a pre-marital relationship is made as acceptable as the old lovers turning friends, within a highly complicated series of love stories spanning two generations. In Trishul once again, Yash Chopra makes an “illegitimate” son the protagonist, who then takes revenge by destroying his rich father’s capitalistic setup. Kaala Patthar, another outstanding cinematic treatment of social justice, engages love stories within a framework of socialist realism bringing the miners to progressive prominence. Equally compelling is Mashaal, where the decent protagonist turns to arms with no other purpose than exposing the misdeeds of the socially venerated. In Faasle – although considered his cinematic worst – Chopra throws positive light on secret relationship over marriage despite the inherent challenges. Chandni treats disability as a social location and how oppressed it is when it comes to juxtaposed love. Lamhe was revolutionary in its examination of age and stereotypes, where it is not considered in Yash Chopra’s vision any unnatural if the younger men love older women or younger women fall for older men. Darr brilliantly humanizes an otherwise villain as an ardent, misunderstood and irreconcilable lover. Dil To Pagal Hai, Veer-Zaara and Silsile are in their own unique ways romantic masterpieces but have at the same time challenged existing conventions of friendships, patriotism and, loyalty respectively.

To dismiss Chopra as someone who does not complicate relationships in his movies is as blatantly fabricated a charge as there can be. And apart from the complicated love story, what Jab Tak Hai Jaan provides for is even more radical, which unfortunately has escaped the critics so far.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan profoundly challenges the divine belief systems that usually dominate Bollywood. Rituparna Chatterjee for IBN Live says the movie could have a different ending. The “ending falls flat” because the audience were waiting for a tragic twist instead of a happy ending. Well, the ending was a deliberate mischief on part of Yash Chopra but its foundation was laid from the very beginning. Throughout the movie, Katrina Kaif makes promises to Lord Jesus and is rewarded for her religiosity. Shah Rukh Khan, her vagabond lover is a self-proclaimed non-believer and even challenges “Sir Jesus” (a sarcasm) that he will win in the end. Unlike all the movies in the past that have taken up such a topic where the god is challenged, in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, the god eventually loses. Jesus would have won, had Shah Rukh died while diffusing the last bomb because Katrina had broken all her divine promises. Chopra deliberately had this unpalatable but a necessary ending where a man openly and unrepentantly challenges the divine plan, and prevails.

Yash Chopra forces us to rethink the concepts of the vagabond, reminiscent of Raj Kapoor’s experiments with Aawara (which in turn was influenced by Charles Chaplin’s). But he takes up this unenviable task in an era of corporate aspirations where programmatic mindsets and technical expertise and systematized greed rule the day. And he again deliberately poses a struggling Pakistani as a friend-in-need, something which has not gone down really well with the critics. Rituparna wonders how a “struggling Pakistani, who could not hold down a job long enough to save some money to send back home, makes it big as the manager of a posh eatery in London in 10 years’ time with the help of a fist full of bank notes”. Well, guess what, there are numerous rags-to-riches stories in the world, and this one did not even begin with rags.

What is worse, Azzan Javaid for the “Parallel Post” goes one step further to describe this character as “a fat and good for nothing Pakistani who lives on the money of his good Indian friend”. So not only is this person now “fat” (which is to say, he/she does not fit into the fascist standards of acceptance), but the fact that he is unemployable or at the moment unemployed, makes him a “good for nothing”, and make no mistake, here comes another slur – Pakistani (who lives on the money of his Indian friend). And our elitist reviewer Piyasree Dasgupta for First Post fails to digest this phenomenon and caricatures working class heroes as “freeloading floozies to Michelin-starred restaurant owners”. To begin with, “floozies” is an utterly sexist remark and “freeloading”? What are we now, Mitt Romney? Not to mention Dasgupta’s disdain for “taller women with hotter legs” as the Firstpost review describes the women in the movie.

That said, I certainly have utmost respect for Javaid’s arguments regarding Kashmir – although in Chopra’s defense, the vagabond was playing his tunes from Ladakh to London and that is what vagabonds are about, leading therefore to a movie that did not certainly critique contemporary Kashmir crisis. And this movie while humanizes military uniform, it does not glorify war or stigmatize another nation as an enemy – which many otherwise acclaimed movies have done in the past even without displaying the uniforms. Coming back to the Pakistani friend, what Dasgupta and Javaid ignore is what Chopra deliberately planted there – that friendships are unconditional relationships; at times overcoming national boundaries or wealth – a constant theme with Yash Chopra movies, a direct takeaway, if one may, from his elder brother B R Chopra’s works.

Some critics also have pointed out their disappointment at the fact that a vagabond street musician ended up becoming an Indian Army officer. This sentiment of disapproval is a variant of the elitist mindsets pervading the youth today who also wonder how a lower caste child of a cobbler can imagine of becoming a doctor. Well, guess what, such highly annoying visions have remained historically core to Yash Chopra movies. Utopian, for sure, but welcome? Very much.

So not only someone who “looks like he is 40” can actually kiss a Vogue magazine cover stunner, he can also help his Lahori friend (by the way, Yash Chopra hailed from Lahore, and that explains that) to become a hotelier, and that fat Pakistani then remains a friend forever, and the mom who had run away from home becomes the idol for the daughter and the reporter who believes in instant love and the god who demands obedience both end up losing in a film that is a Yash Chopra classic, and going to remain his masterpiece because of sheer radicalism and for painting love in revolutionary red.

– Saswat Pattanayak, 2012.

Referenced/critiqued reviews –

The First Post
IBN Live
The Hindustan Times
Rediff
The Parallel Post
Indian Express

Advertisements

Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

2 thoughts on “Jab Tak Hai Jaan :: A tribute to Yash Chopra

Leave a Reply