Ranveer Singh-led film about illegal sex selection misses the mark

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Jayesh badly wants to flee his horrid domestic situation. The obedient son of a tyrant and his enabling wife in a village in Gujarat, Jayesh (Ranveer Singh) is being wrung dry by his parents’ insistence that he produce a son.

It’s all that Prithwish (Boman Irani) and Jashodha (Ratna Pathak Shah) ever talk about. Jayesh already has an eight-year-old daughter, Siddhi (Jia Vaidya). When a doctor tells him that his wife Mudra (Shalini Pandey) is once again carrying a girl, Jayesh throws a few clothes and jars of snacks into a suitcase and scoots with Mudra and Siddhi.

Sadly, Jayesh hasn’t thought things through. Nor, even more sadly, have the creators of Jayeshbhai Jordaar. Gujarati actor Divyang Thakkar’s directorial debut, co-written with Anckur Chaudhry, has a lot to say about illegal sex selection, female foeticide, the shoddy treatment of women and the true meaning of masculinity, but cannot quite decide how to go about it.

Located somewhere between an earnest college play and a dark comedy, the 121-minute film stumbles from one scene to the next. Jayesh’s destination of choice is a village in Haryana where rampant sex selection has destroyed the gender ratio and left its men bereft of wives.

Why drive thousands of kilometres from Gujarat to Haryana when, say, Mumbai, is closer? File away under “Silliest escape plan in the history of rebellion against the patriarchy.”

Dheere Dheere Seekh Jaaunga, Jayeshbhai Jordaar (2022).

The humour is oddly timed, popping up in moments that threaten to expose just how ghastly it must be for women like Mudra. There’s only so much you can satirise domestic violence, honour killings and the lack of control women have over their bodies. But like its hapless hero, the film soldiers on.

Jayesh doesn’t have an invisible cape or a magic wand for his problems. His brightest idea is to pull the wool over his father’s eyes and pretend to be the kind of chauvinist who beats up his wife. Anybody waiting for the moment when Jayesh stands up for himself and lands a kick on his father’s posterior will have to be very patient.

Since the film is titled Jayeshbhai Jordaar and not Mudraben Mazedaar, it has nothing to say about the woman whose young body has endured six abortions in anticipation of the elusive boy. Shalini Pandey (Arjun Reddy, Bamfaad) has a lovely presence and the willingness to do more than the film allows her to.

Jia Vaidya, who plays the precocious Siddhi, is the most enthusiastic member of the cast. Boman Irani wears a single scowl throughout the increasingly shambolic proceedings. The transformation of Ratna Pathak Shah’s Jashodha from female oppressor to rural Gloria Steinem has to be seen to be believed.

Ranveer Singh’s commitment is incredible too, given the circumstances. Singh convincingly affects a Gujarati accent and charges into an unwinnable battle with utmost and almost infectious sincerity.

Everybody would have been better off if Jayeshbhai Jordaar had gotten off its pulpit and smuggled its social messaging through absurdist humour. One of the funniest moments is when the unmarried Haryana villagers roll into Jayesh’s backyard to show their support and instead delight at seeing so many women around.

Jayeshbhai Jordaar has a few more such crackpot scenes, but there are far too few of them to deliver its themes.

Jayeshbhai Jordaar (2022).
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