Monday, Oct 03, 2022

'Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil' And The Art Of Stripping Mumbai To Its Bones

Positioned as an anti-romantic love story, the Netflix original film not only presents grunge, oppressive and emotionally (and physically) violent facets of urban love, but it also skins every veneer of veneration for the great metropolis. 

A snap from A snap from ‘Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil’.
A snap from A snap from ‘Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil’.

In just a little over ten minutes, ‘Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil’, a 2018 film directed by AadishKeluskar, viscerally re-invents Mumbai’s iconic Marine Drive stretch. 

Positioned as an anti-romantic love story, the Netflix original film not only presents grunge, oppressive and emotionally (and physically) violent facets of urban love, but it also skins every veneer of veneration for the great metropolis. 

In popular cinema, the Marine Drive is often represented as a motif for aspiration, a fuel which drives the city and its people. Over the first few minutes of 1 hour 46 minute film, Keluskarand his characters shred that notion. 

As the film’s two protagonists, played by Khusboo Upadhyay and Rohit Kokate, walk and nervously chat along the seaward promenade which curves into the heights of Nariman Point, the sheer underlying burden of their nervous dialogue strips the jewels off the Queen’s necklace and replaces them with two smouldering embers: the two characters themselves. 

The movie is spread over a long process of negotiation between just the couple and the film’s third character; the city itself. Mumbai’s elements are omnipresent, and at most times intruding into the space, as the couple desperately seek privacy to cloak their rare rendezvous in. 

The movie jumps from one staple Mumbai backdrop to another. A taxi ride, lunch in an Irani hotel, a raunchy sequence in an empty cinema hall and then to a cheap room at a lodge to nervously consummate their date. 

“The movie has been looked at from many perspectives. One perspective is the space. They (the couple) do not find space. The only space they apparently get is some tacky lodge room and the cinema hall. That (cinema hall) is a kind of a grey space, which is public which has become private,” Keluskar told Outlook. 

A snap from A snap from ‘Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil’.
A snap from A snap from ‘Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil’.

“Some people might find Bombay very wonderful because there is (always) someone or the other around you. It is not that you have had a heartbreak and you are sitting alone. You might just get a lot of energy because (other) people are going about their stuff. And at the same time you might feel lonely, also because people are going about their stuff,” he said. 

In the film, Khushboo plays a lowly office worker, who appears to seek escape and a child, via her relationship with Rohit, through marriage. Rohit plays an accountant, adept at juggling dubious balance sheets, even as he struggles to deal with the account of his life in the city and meet the marital expectations of the woman he has loved and has had sex with for a year. 

Unlike Khushboo, Rohit is a consummate rebel, frustrated with the world he wakes up to. While Khushboo is guarded, and cautious in expressing her anxieties, Rohit is the opposite. He wears his emotions as well as an aggressive, defiant logic on the cuffs of his sleeve. He instinctively challenges established social mores, but beyond those questions has nothing to show for it. He constantly abuses her, and she takes the abuse as a destiny she believes she is saddled with. 

“He cannot stand the thought of romance or emotion and he wants to destroy it the first sight he sees,” says Keluskar. Some feedback, the director said, suggested that Rohit bears similarity to Sakharam Binder, the controversial lead character in Vijay Tendulkar’s play (named after the character), whose moral ambiguity about marriage and relationships shocked Maharashtra in the 1970s. 

Rohit’s character is not an easy one. But a person who scoffs at every city matrix is not impossible to imagine. 

“I see him as a confused person. But a confused person who is desperately trying to make sense of his life. There is, of course, the way he treats somebody he loves in that way and of course, it is bullying her in every single way possible. It is a very complex character. It may sound like a justification that he expects her to hit back at him. Just sort of crushing him down in one or the other way. Of course, she doesn’t most of the time,” according to the director. 

Every time Rohit and Khusboo talk, their conversation is like a breath of stifled air, that blows the flakes of flaky, soft ash off the embers, making them glow once again, lighting up the city around them and its limitations. 

The couple has been in a relationship for a year, meeting every now and then to slather in each other’s company and have sex. The man wants it now and shows it. His partner wants it too, but she is also chasing a rainbow with marriage at the other end, something Rohit isn’t keen on. 

During the course of their dialogue, the city and its elements weigh heavily on them, something which is typical of a populous city. In Mumbai, you simply cannot have privacy. Even the deepest personal emotion is a part of one’s social experience, says the director. 

“There will be people you are looking at if you are having a heartbreak or love at first sight or whatever stage of the relationship you are in, you can see people around. They might be couples or whatever. That makes you feel that you are a part of some kind of a social experience. It is not like you are having your own individualistic experiences,” Keluskar said. 

In the city, always on the move, a ride in the city’s black and yellow taxi also accounts for a part of the plot. Typical of the city, the cabbie in the film is also an immensely practical chap. Although jaded with disillusionment, he is making do in the city to survive. He doesn’t mind when the couple indulges in aggressive foreplay in the back seat. He even goes on to concede that at nights, he rents out his cab to gay couples, both men and women, to make out, in return for money. 

Then there are the relatively rundown Mumbai’s single-seater movie halls, which also offer privacy for lovers, which the couple tries to exploit to the fullest, before moving to a lodge to have sex. 

There’s something fundamentally tragic inbuilt about a cheap, creaking hotel bed. As the couple lay on it, shifting their uncomfortable bodies to their sexual strokes, the raw, forceful sexual encounter welds into the story’s potentially disturbing climax for the viewer. 

The story itself, according to Keluskar, was penned down in a couple of days but left the writer and director equally shocked, especially at the manner in which the male protagonist developed. 

“I remember when I was writing for two days, there would be certain lines after which I had to take a breath because that itself used to give me a lot of shocks, of what just came out on my computer,” he said. 

The film’s title is drawn from the opening stanza of a song from the 1959 tragedy ‘Chhoti Bahen’. 

Jaoon kahan bata ay dil
Duniya bar ihai sang dil
Chandni aayigharjalaane
Sujhena koi manzil

(Where do I go, please tell me oh heart!
In this cruel world 
The moonlight is here to burn my house
But I do not see a destination ahead)

In Keluskar’s Mumbai in ‘Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil’, the city is just like the lyric. Despite all its glitter, sometimes there’s just not enough light to spot the road ahead.