Just what is going on, Gurpreet wants to know. Here we all are for a wedding and instead there is talk of divorce. And not just one divorce but two, as if we’re at a bargain sale.
Did Gurpreet (Maniesh Paul) just sum up the movie in which he is a fictional character? That’s exactly what Jugjugg Jeeyo is – two films for the price of one ticket.
One film is about a soured five-year-old marriage with moments of rare, raw honesty. The other is a laugh-out-loud comedy in which a senior citizen gent tries to liberate himself from a marital union of 35 years. Jugjugg Jeeyo swings this way and that, leaving open the choice of which of the options works better.
Jugjugg Jeeyo is based on a story by Anurag Singh and a screenplay by Singh, Sumit Batheja and Rishhabh Sharrma. It begins with a dreamy romance that has deteriorated into unpleasantness bordering on hatred. Kukoo (Varun Dhawan) and Naina (Kiara Advani) have drifted apart and are headed to court. They have one last responsibility to fulfil: the nuptials of Kukoo’s sister Ginni (Prajakta Koli) in their hometown Patiala.
They arrive to find that their situation has been upstaged by Kukoo’s father Bheem (Anil Kapoor). Bheem is planning to call it a day on his decades-old marriage to Geeta (Neetu Kapoor) and move in with Meera (Tisca Chopra). Since Geeta has declared that there has never been and there never will be in a divorce in the family, Bheem is stuck, as are Kukoo and Naina.
The film is strongest when subverting the benediction that has inspired the title. Never has the hope “May you live long and prosper” been this hollow for Kukoo and Naina, who are miserable around each other and cannot start a conversation without ending in an argument. Their interactions crackle with the misery of a couple forced to put on a show for the benefit of others. They have one of the film’s best scenes, in which they trade accusations with a candidness that’s often missing from mainstream Hindi cinema.
But there’s that other film too that constantly demands attention. It’s in an entirely different and more familiar register. Bheem’s attempts to secede from Geeta leads to much hilarity. Gurpreet, who is Kukoo’s brother, adds to the mayhem.
The deafening background score, which includes sound effects that prompt us to giggle at Bheem’s antics, can’t silence the other, and better, film that’s rumbling away on the sidelines. The 150-minute runtime is evenly divided between the two overlapping and conflicting narratives until the makers decide to turn on the faucets and let the tears flow.
The acting styles are as divided as the film itself. Varun Dhawan and Kiara Advani movingly portray a volatile couple inches away from implosion. Some of their interactions have a Scenes from a Marriage quality, leading us to wonder whether Jugjugg Jeeyo would have been better off in the dark zone.
The frost that hangs over their relationship carries over to Neetu Kapoor’s Geeta, who has another great scene in which she pithily and pitilessly dissects her marriage. Anil Kapoor’s superb comic timing and self-deprecating manner, which is complemented by Maniesh Paul’s buffoonish Gurpreet, is a whole movie unto itself.
Ambitious as well as confused, the overlong Jugjugg Jeeyo seeks a balance between convention and rebellion that isn’t actually possible, going by the declarations of some of its characters. Raj Mehta was on more solid ground in his charming debut Good Newzz, about two sets of couples trying to conceive a child.
There’s a discernible point at which Jugjugg Jeeyo throws in the towel and decides to ignore its own honest streak. It’s a cop-out that brings the film’s schizoid self even more glaringly in view. And yet, enough blows have been landed by then on the institution of marriage. The bruising survives the trappings of the big fat Punjabi wedding, the perfectly turned out characters and the aptly eclectic bhangra pop score.