Mumbai,14 January 2017:-“Tumhare liye zyaada aham kya hai? Tumhara career ya Adi?” (What is more important for you? Your career or Adi?)
Replace Adi with Aidan, Aman, Anthony, Ahmad, Rustom, Gurvinder, Armaan or any of lakhs of available male names, and what you have is a question women have been asked for decades.
What do you want more? Love or career? Marriage and children or that job? Because it has been decreed by those who know what is best for us better than we do, that wombs are incapacitated by ambition, and maternal instincts – a.k.a. every female human’s bounden duty – drown in professional success. As is often the case in life, so too in Ok Jaanu, the question is asked by a well-meaning person.
Director Shaad Ali’s Ok Jaanu is an official Hindi remake of Ali’s mentor Mani Ratnam’s 2015 Tamil film O Kadhal Kanmani (Oh My Love, The Apple of My Eye), otherwise known as OK Kanmani, starring Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen. Ratnam has produced the Bollywood version in partnership with Karan Johar, and is credited with the story and screenplay here too.
Ali has had experience adapting Ratnam’s work for a north Indian setting and audience. He made his directorial debut in 2002 with Saathiya starring Rani Mukerji and Vivek Oberoi. That film was a reworking of Ratnam’s Tamil Alaipayuthey with Shalini and R. Madhavan. The retelling was lovely though not entirely as magical as its forebear. In Ok Jaanu, there is no reworking, just a scene-for-scene translation. And nothing is lost in the process except for the earlier leading man’s electric charisma and the leading lady’s zest.
Is that a good or bad thing? The answer depends on whether or not you loved OK Kanmani.
Ok Jaanu stars Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur in the roles played in OK Kanmani by by Salmaan and Menen. She is an architect who wants to study in France, he is a video game designer who wishes to work in the US. Tara and Adi meet by chance, are drawn to each other and decide to move in together for the few months they have in Mumbai before they go abroad.
“Is this love?” she asks him towards the start. She stops him from answering and he does not try further to respond at that point. Early on, they agree that marriage and babies are not for them. But as expected, much sex and six months later, they grow on each other and are confused.
The thing with films like OK Kanmani from Kollywood and Befikre from Bollywood is that they tell stories of young, urban, modern, liberal Indians not as they are but as seen through an older person’s aspirationally liberal gaze. OK Kanmani was steeped in wannabe coolth of the “please notice that I’m showing a couple having sex and living with each other before marriage” variety. Sadly, despite his relative youth, Ali has done nothing to improve Ratnam’s tone.
So yeah, Tara and Adi sleep together, live together and vow not to tie each other down, but when it comes to the crunch, the only difference between this film and almost every other such Hindi film romance featuring a commitment-phobic lead couple is that it acknowledges and underlines the point that a woman need not necessarily choose between career and marital commitment, if marriage is indeed what she wants; that two people can follow their professional dreams and still be together, that following each other to the ends of the earth could be a metaphor rather than a literal geographical journey.
And yeah, that’s a big small step, but how do Tara and Adi arrive at that change of mind? What inspires her, a young woman wounded by her parents’ divorce and custody battle, to soften up to the idea of marriage? Sure sure, she is in love, but she was in love soon after they met anyway, so what gives her this new confidence? What made Adi see life differently when just minutes earlier he described her as “Tara, my biggest mistake”?
Who knows? All we see are an actor and actress looking pretty, dressing prettily, doing fun stuff while songs play incessantly in the background, and doing the kind of things couples do in self-consciously ‘youth-oriented’ romances because they look cute on screen but would merit a tight slap in real life (such as your boyfriend landing up inside – yes inside – your office, skulking about in the shadows and whisking you off for a day in the sun).
The director is so busy whipping up artificial energy in Tara and Adi’s relationship on screen, that he forgets one thing: conversations and quiet companionship.
When do these people talk seriously? When do they slow down from driving their jeep along a beach or making out on a high-rise parapet or breaking into a restaurant kitchen or taking food off a stranger’s table at a restaurant to simply chat?
If it is Ali’s contention that they get to know each other in the spaces in their lives that we do not hear or see on screen, then the problem is this: as a viewer I wanted to know them too, but I came away with a superficial understanding of who they really are.
Ok Jaanu is interesting at first, but as it rolls along it reveals its hollowness, a failing that even the lead couple’s charms and the attractive production design cannot overcome.
Far more engaging than the lead couple’s relationship is the bond between the elderly owners of the house they are living in, the Alzheimer’s-ridden former singer and her caring husband played ever so sweetly by Leela Samson (who was also in OK Kanmani) and Naseeruddin Shah.
A.R. Rahman’s music for this film is far from being his best. Sunn bhavara is a pleasant melody, but the title track loses some of its appeal in the journey from Kollywood to Bollywood. Even the remix of Humma humma – Rahman’s superhit from Ratnam’s 1995 Tamil blockbuster Bombay – is too muted in the effort to be different from the robust original.
Samson and Shah are likeable as the older couple. Kapoor and Kapur are not in the league of Salmaan and Menen, but they do share a nice chemistry that could be better exploited by better writing. That said, the snazzy graphics accompanying the credits cannot camouflage the fact that those credits give second billing to Ms Kapoor although she is the bigger star.
Genuine liberalism and attention to detail are clearly not this film’s strengths. For one, not a single artist in a small supporting role leaves an impact. And that loud cellphone conversation across a church aisle would have got Tara and Adi thrown out of any real church in India. To know that though, perhaps you need to enter one as part of your research. Just as you need to acquaint yourself better with young people, enter their minds and understand their way of thinking, to portray them on screen with any degree of depth. Ok Jaanu is a surface skimmer.