posted by Soniah Kamal
‘Jab We Met’ (2007) is a prime example of an Indian movie meshing traditional and modern India in its characters but coming off confused. Poor little rich boy Aditya (played perfectly by Shahid Kapoor) and madcap Geet (Kareena Kapoor) meet on a train, the singular motif in the movie and, as such, one which hinges on all the usual cliches: life equals train tracks, decisions equal getting on or off trains and, most banal, because Geet keeps missing her trains she and Aditya are thrown together on a journey which will eventually lead to their…but let me not spoil the hackneyed ending.
Karina plays quite well the scatterbrained, chatterbox if slightly irritating Geet, a girl so full of life her words bubble over, her laugh is a nervous titter, and she sees good in everything and everyone even a stranger yelling at her to shut up, which is what Aditya does the first time he and Geet meet. Soon, however, Geet realizes that there are some lemons even she cannot make lemonade out of, and suddenly Geet goes from bubbly to morose, an emotional condition which is tritely symbolized by her dress. A bubbly Geet wears short sleeve shirts and tight jeans (in fact her old world grandfather wonders aloud that if Geet can dress like this at home then in Mumbai she’s probably roaming around naked), while a depressed Geet appears in shalwars and long sleeved shapeless kurtas draped with dupattas, her hair tied back and her gaze always turned down. So a happy girl dresses Western (Indian-modern?) and an unhappy girl dresses Eastern (Indian-traditional)?
Geet’s whole character is muddle of old and new. On the one hand she’s presented as a strong willed woman not scared to confront rapacious louts by herself–this is, I suppose to appease modern girls– and yet, in other scenes, Geet is so unworldly she has no idea she’s being mistaken for a prostitute or why couples are running wily-nily out of hotel rooms during a police raid–this extreme naivety, I suppose, is to appease those who want their Indian girls to always come packed with a certain innocence even if it makes them look, at least on celluloid, completely ridiculous.
However more than ridiculous, in fact downright distasteful, is the way the word ‘rape’ is bandied around in the two occasions Geet and Aditya find themselves sharing a room, the first occasion following incidents in which Geet herself has been confronted by the very real threat of rape. But the unperturbed Geet sits on a hotel bed and informs Aditya that he shouldn’t get any funny ideas because she’s not thatsort of girl. Not to worry, Aditya replies, he’s not out to rape her because he’s not that sort of guy and later, in a mirror scene, Geet reassures Aditya that she’ll not rape him because she’s not that type of a girl. Rape being what rape is, these otherwise funny and cute scenes were completely ruined for me and illustrated perfectly the mismatch of the serious with the blase via ‘traditional values’ in the mouths of supposedly modern cool characters.
To its credit, ‘Jab We Met’ does try to break some stereotypes and so Geet tries to educate Aditya otherwise when he bad mouths his Mom for having an affair and abandoning the family. Also the Sikh Geet (from Bhatinda, no less) worries not a jot about being forgiven and accepted by her family when she returns from running away and marrying her boyfriend (confusingly referred to as Fahad in the beginning of the film and later as Anshuman), and refreshingly enough no time is wasted on scenes of Geet being chastised or disowned or anyone, thank Wahi Guru, crying or beating their chests about how she has ruined herself: here the movie convincingly shows a family with it, and this is refreshingly nice, but then the lovely Bhatinda scenes are the strong point of a movie.
However, though entertaining, for the most part ‘Jab We Met’ is rife with an inability to convincingly handle the modern-traditional paradox that is India today, a mishandling for which there is no excuse in the aftermath of stellar movies like Om Shanti Om, a movie which raises the bar with its near perfect depiction, albeit tongue in cheek, of that paradox (near perfect because Om Shanti Om does fall for a corny vilification: the villain is evil incarnate because in America he Americanizes his perfectly nice Indian name). ‘Jab We Met’ ends with Geet coming full circle as illustrated in her dress code. In the beginning Geet might run around in the most plausible of today’s sleepwear, a t-shirt and shalwar, but now our heroine is a wife and a mother and so the only uniform befitting this good girl is a demure mien, straight long hair and a Bharatiya nari sari.