Early in Jugjugg Jeeyo, we wind up inside a Patiala movie theatre, where the 2019 Hindi dud Kalank is playing. The joke works for multiple reasons. 1) The theatre is almost exclusively empty, barring a few stragglers and a couple necking. 2) Varun Dhawan had one of his biggest disappointments with Kalank, and – in this scene – his character Kukoo is also headed for one. 3) Jugjugg Jeeyo is by Dharma Productions, who might just recover their Kalank losses with this film.
Directed by Raj Mehta, Jugjugg Jeeyo is a loud, raucous, high-kicking film. I was fairly suspicious of it — Bollywood rarely, if ever, gets divorce right — but ended up having a good time. It’s a film where lame, WhatsApp-conquesting jokes and smart gags land with equal force, elevated by fine performers. The comedy offsets, and undercuts, the melodrama. After the mass lobotomy of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, it was great hearing audiences laugh of their own accord. Most of all, I was charmed by how Dharma—a banner synonymous with the big brash family film—has recovered its mojo.
Kukoo and Naina (Kiara Advani) are childhood sweethearts, who grow up and get married. Naina lands a job in Toronto, and Kukoo—though unwilling to leave his home and family behind—follows her there. Five years pass. When we meet the couple again, something has palpably changed. The filmmaking emphasizes this: wintry shades, static framing, no score, all Bollywood shorthand for “things have gone sour” or “they’re going to get divorced.”
Well, not so soon. Since Kukoo’s sister is getting married in a few weeks, the couple decides to hold off their divorce, flying down to Patiala as a ‘happy couple’—till Kukoo finds some time to break it to his father. This, though, doesn’t go as planned. Instead, Bheem (Anil Kapoor) reveals that he’s divorcing Kukoo’s mother (Neetu Kapoor). “From a beautiful butterfly, wives become a caterpillar,” Bheem carps, a sentiment Kukoo happily laughs along to till the penny drops.
The rest of the film is Kukoo trying, desperately, to keep his parents allied. He sees the cracks in his own marriage — “You’re so careeristic,” he accuses Naina, who has a different take — but won’t acknowledge any in theirs. On discovering that his father is having an affair, he acts dismissively, then flippantly, sending a lap dancer at a party to tickle Bheem. “It will cool off his fire,” suggests Gurpreet (Maniesh Paul), Kukoo’s brother-in-law. Funny as these scenes are, they would play a whole lot different if the genders were reversed, if it was the mother who was having an affair. Later on in the film, Neetu Kapoor gets a speech about how years of exhaustion and compromise can dent a marriage. This is how far Jugjugg Jeeyo will go. Anything more will alienate a mainstream family crowd.
Anil is so effective a comic presence — making puppy eyes at Tisca Chopra or humming a tune from Pardes — that some of the larger emotions seem to flit him by. He is the film, in a nutshell, committed enough to appear convincing, yet also breezy and detached. I was reminded, pleasantly, of the Anil of the 90s, when he worked with Varun’s father David Dhawan on broad comedies about dallying husbands and trusting wives. Those films usually ended on a happy note, and Jugjugg Jeeyo — despite some interesting switcheroos and progressive messaging — is hardly the Marriage Story of elite-class Punjab. “We are a modern family, give me a fist bump,” Bheem tells Kukoo. But they aren’t.
In the big dance number ‘Nach Punjaban’, Kukoo and Naina share a distressed glance before continuing with their steps. They have a marriage to dissolve, and years of bitterness to pick through, but the dancing gets in the way. This scene, like several others in Jugjugg Jeeyo, suggests that families are like movies — hectic, busy affairs, merrily delaying a confrontation when they can’t seem to resolve it.
Film: Jugjugg Jeeyo
Director: Raj Mehta
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Kiara Advani, Neetu Kapoor, Prajakta Koli, Maniesh Paul