27 February 2012

Jodi Breakers: No laughs or romance in sexist fantasy

Ashwini Chaudhary’s Jodi Breakers takes only a few minutes to establish that it’s set in a universe that doesn’t exist except in the Indian male imagination. This is a world in which every Indian man who’s gotten divorced is instantly provided with an unending supply of well-endowed white women in bikinis who throw themselves at him while dancing suggestively. All it takes for the ladies to line up, it seems, is for our hero Madhavan – expertly named Sid – to declare himself kunwara.

Having thus clarified the particular fantasy world it’s located in, Jodi Breakers gets easier to deal with. We’re not in the least surprised, for example, that Sid has a group of friends who seem to hang out with him pretty much every day, juggling this collegiate conviviality with their work lives as – among other things – surgeons. Or that they do their hanging out in a space that’s probably meant to be like the iconic café in Friends, except that it’s a bar. How many bars do you know in India which are laid-back enough and yet posh enough to function as your permanent-office-to-meet-clients-in? Or where a single upper middle class women could walk in, buy herself a drink, and hang out by herself at the counter, without being made to feel extremely uncomfortable? But no matter, this is at least a fantasy I am happy to share.

The beginning makes it only slightly easier to digest the constant stream of juvenile sexual and scatological jokes that come our way: Sid’s favourite car is called Horny, a heart-shaped Valentine’s Day cake looks to Sid like a fleshy pink bum, “aur bum mein se sirf … nikalti hai” – you get the picture.

And in case you had any other questions about the role of cool women friends in this fantasy universe, well, first of all, they laugh at these jokes. Then they help cheer their male friends up by buying them ‘Happy Divorce’ presents that include (a) condoms and (b) an inflatable life-size female doll. If they are doctors, they also provide names of medicines to induce vomiting bouts in unsuspecting strangers – all for a good cause.

After all this, it’s depressingly predictable that Sid’s post-marriage career move is to become a ‘divorce specialist’. And that while his avowed brief is to get couples “uncomplicated divorces”, his clients are all inevitably male. All the wives we hear of are either alimony-hungry bloodsuckers, or actually trying to murder rich husbands for the inheritance, or demand so much sex that their husbands can’t keep up. And if a wife sticks by her husband through a series of disasters, then she’s the one who brought him bad luck!
In the garb of these supposedly humorous ‘cases’, it’s always the men who’re victims and the women who are demonised. This is the trouble with so many Hindi movie comic riffs on marriage: they’re desperately misogynist while couching their misogyny as humour. If in a earlier Hindi cinema universe misogyny took the form of melodramatic tragedy – eg. it was considered perfectly normal for (male) psychiatrists in an insane asylum to insist that (male) patients could only be cured by having beautiful nurses conduct love affairs with them (think Rajesh Khanna in Khamoshi) – today the more usual genre for Bollywood misogyny is comedy. Film after film invites us to laugh at the supposedly comic spectacle of middle-aged Indian men on the lookout for some ‘action’ outside their boring marriages. I suppose we should be thankful that Jodi Breakers at least does us the favour of having the men in question be technically single.

Oddly, about halfway through, the film suddenly metamorphoses from bachelor flick into soppy romance. This isn’t too bad while Sid and Sonali (Bipasha) start to figure out whether they want to be more than just business partners: Madhavan always manages to be fairly natural, and Bipasha displays a hidden talent for drunken coochie-cooing. But unfortunately we spend the movie’s second half watching a remarkably boring millionaire businessman (Milind Soman) and his equally boring modelesque wife (Dipannita Sharma) being made to break up – in Greece – and then reunite – in Goa.

Greece and Goa are important here, because otherwise this is a desperately dull tale, enlivened only very slightly by the presence of Helen as the businessman’s grandmother. There are plenty of saccharine-sweet moral and marital lessons on offer, but it is hard to take anything seriously when it involves watching a wooden Milind Soman repeat his marriage vows to his estranged wife, as well as sing, “Mujhko teri zaroorat hai” as a means of wooing her back. No actual apologies for his misdemeanours are apparently needed.

“You guys make marriage look good,” pronounces Bipasha at the end. The fantasy is complete.

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