Cast: Rhea Chakraborty, Varun Mitra, Digangana Suryavanshi
Direction: Pushpdeep Bhardwaj
What can be said of Jalebi that hasn’t already been said about similar, badly conceived romantic tear-jerkers of the past? It is a remake of the 2016 Bengali film, Praktan, which I have not watched. The predominant setting for this one is on a train journey from Mumbai to Delhi, with frequent digressions and flashbacks to add weight to the principal character’s story arc. This main character is the depressed and borderline suicidal writer, Aisha (Rhea Chakraborty). The audience is introduced to her in the midst of a conversation with her father.
She has this frequent need (as you will slowly learn) to end it all because she feels betrayed and jilted by a former lover. Even when saying lines like, ‘How could he do this to me?’, ‘I love him so much’, ‘I can’t live without him’, she does not look half as distraught as her words suggest.
Cut to the next set of scenes, and Aisha is off to Delhi for a book reading. Just before she boards the first-class compartment, she stops dead in her tracks with a tearful look. Even the surprisingly bare platform has decided to give her space, methinks. This sad face, that is not sad at all (goes without saying that her makeup is untouched), is thanks to her friend telling her that Dev (Varun Mitra) never really loved her at all. The journey ensues. She sits in her designated cubicle as the TTE approaches with a request. A newlywed couple would like to occupy the coupe in which she is seated.
Aisha obliges, and proceeds to enter the succeeding booth of four berths. There, she crosses paths with an extra chatty young woman travelling with her seven-year-old daughter. The adjacent cubicles house a morose male singer and his entourage, and an elderly couple ready to dole out unwarranted advice about their experience in matters of the heart. As Aisha is forced into conversing with her fellow traveller, she comes to realise that the woman and child are her ex-husband’s immediate family.
The film foists its ridiculously sentimental take on love and sadness onto the audience. And what it desperately attempts to do by this, is make the viewer cry. Truth be told, it does succeed in making you weep. But not because it tells a story of great sensitivity, or because it delves into the realistic exploration of complex emotions, or because you feel the actors’ anguish through the characters they play. You are reduced to tears because of the shoddy treatment of the subject, the over-simplification of each scene, and the incredulous acting on show. Further, your tears refuse to cease, because walking out (of the theatre), is not a viable option.
Aisha is touted as this successful writer from the very beginning, but never do we get to hear about the contents of her book. It is only towards the end that the subject is even brought up (when an emotional Dev mentions that he read her first novel). Once Aisha and Dev get married, they live in the latter’s joint family haveli in Old Delhi. His mother, though initially kind and accepting, turns out to be a typical mother-in-law to the new bahu. She complains to Dev about Aisha smoking, and later holds her responsible for having a miscarriage.
Aisha argues with Dev about being tied down by his traditional values, but he insists that this is how his life is supposed to be. While these patriarchal mindsets are indeed true (especially in the Indian joint family context), limiting the movement and freedom of women, Jalebi’s treatment of the same leaves much to be desired.
The acting, above all else, is unconvincing. Other improbable sequences include: Aisha instinctively holding Dev’s nose in the train as he experiences a bout of hiccups, the famous singer performing a love ballad for the benefit of the entire coach (apna ghar samjha hai kya?), and Dev’s wife mentioning to Aisha towards the end that she had a strong suspicion about the latter’s identity all along. Even the parts about the possible reconciliation/the trip to Kashmir leave you with a feeling of unintended ambiguity. Filled with laughable coincidences, a penchant for melodrama, and an unnecessary romanticisation of love and heartbreak, Jalebi fails to make any sort of impression on you. Pass that handkerchief, please!