Movie Review

Why did we need ‘Jatrai Jatra’?

- ABHIMANYU DIXIT, Kathmandu

May 24, 2019-

Contemporary commercial Nepali films seem to fall primarily into two genres—the glossy love story or the ‘who gets the bag of money’ heist.

The love story is almost always set in a lavish world, centred around college-going youngsters who walk and talk like Bollywood clichés. They dance on hilltops, fall in love after teasing and flirting (sometimes borderline harassment), and a joker sidekick, who is also the hero’s best friend, is always present. They also make liberal use of double entendres. Oh, and someone always dies. For reference, watch any Paul Shah, Pradeep Khadka, or Anmol KC film.

The other kind, the heist film, is almost always a comedy of sorts and centres around the struggles of middle-class Nepalis. These films are based in the gritty underbelly of Kathmandu. Then, they either find, loot or extort a bag of money. As the plot develops, two to three different gangs get entangled in the scheme, leading to confusion and comedy. The actors aren’t pretty; they are more often than not Nepali theater veterans with an inherent ‘loudness’ to their performance. Grossly off-colour fart jokes, double entendres, and toilet abound.

Jatrai Jatra is the second kind of film, joining the company of others like Changa Chet, Garud Puran, or Jai Shree Daam, all adhering to the same plot, technical look, and story structure.

Jatrai Jatra is a sequel to Jatra, released in 2016. The first film ended with Fanindra Timilsina (Bipin Karki), Joyes (Rabindra Singh Baniya), and Munna (Rabindra Jha) being arrested for possessing a bag full of counterfeit money. In the sequel, they’ve (somehow) been found innocent and released from custody after two years. But finding a job is difficult out in the real world. Munna is kicked out of his barber shop; Joyes cannot find the love of his life and somehow ends up in a job delivering oxygen tanks; and Fanindra needs to find a better life for his wife Sampada (Barsha Raut) and son Iman (Arbein Khadka). Fanindra tries different jobs, finally ending up as a taxi driver to a Brahmin sahu (Rajaram Paudel).

One day, Fanindra’s taxi is ransacked by goons while driving a rowdy customer, Dawa (Daya Hang Rai). The gangsters kidnap Dawa but a crateful of chicken that Dawa was carrying is left behind. These chicken turn out to be hiding gold biscuits.

Fanindra decides he wants to keep the gold, but the goons are obviously looking for it. So Fanindra and his friends must now protect the gold and themselves. What follows is multiple scenes of attempts at hiding the gold, drunk conversations, and episodic storytelling where each sequence feels more lethargic than the last. The climax, however, is quite clever, especially given the film’s randomness, but by the time you get to the climax, you’ll most likely be too exhausted to care.

Because Jatrai Jatra is a sequel, the audience is likely to draw parallels with the first film. And, if you watch the first Jatra on YouTube again (I did), you will find an identical story and character beats. I imagine writer and director Pradeep Bhattarai had the first film’s script open in another window while writing the sequel.

So I am not sure if I can applaud the ‘creative’ choice of replacing a bag full of money with 10 kgs of gold. Bhattarai has, however, extensively studied ‘toilet-humor’ on Wikipedia (as have I) and applied almost everything it lists. From consuming raw intestines and vomiting to diarrhea jokes and hiding gold inside dirty toilet pans, this film has everything. A few times, the audience even laughed.

Technically, there is nothing much to write home about. The cinematography, by Shiva Ram Shrestha, is pleasant enough, but Mitra D Gurung’s editing slows down the film with his go-to transition — the fade out and fade in.

As has become a regular feature in this column, I have a huge gripe with a few sequences in the film that make double entendre jokes at the expense of women. But one scene that disturbed me the most was about sexual abuse. A bit of context first. A large part of the film is dedicated to Fanindra’s family life with Sampada and Iman. Sampada’s character arc is an empowering one, where she opts to sell selroti to make a living. Towards the second half of the film, Sampada is drinking with her in laws and she drunkenly declares that her brother-in-law has been sexually assaulting her. We then immediately cut to flashbacks where Sampada is pleading with her towel-clad brother-in-law to stop harassing her.

The brother-in-law apologises, but that’s it. The sexual harassment is never mentioned again. This scene is so inconsequential to the entire plot that if even if you removed it entirely, it would not matter whatsoever. I am not sure if the filmmakers understand, but sexual abuse shouldn’t be dealt with so casually. Why are you implying that sexual assault can be forgotten after a simple apology? What do you want the audience to take away from this? If you aren’t going to do justice to chosen themes, especially such grave issues, please don’t bring them up.

Frankly, I am quite disappointed at Pradeep Bhattarai. He has worked extensively with Hari Bansha Acharya and Madan Krishna Shrestha, who’ve been pivotal in shaping Nepali television. I thought the first Jatra was complete on its own, and for the kind of films that were being made in 2016, it was quite entertaining. It felt like an indie film with soul, in which the filmmakers actually had something to say, which is quite rare for a Nepali film. The story was nuanced, told through real characters, and it made good commentary on middle-class life and familial relationships.

As for the second film you can’t help but wonder about its purpose. I can think of only one reason — a sequel to a hit film is usually a hit too. There is nothing wrong in wanting to make money, but can you not make money through sensible cinema?

Sadly, films like Jatrai Jatra will go on to make money, and these days, that is the only evaluation that matters. Nobody seems to be bothered if films should contribute anything to society.

As for me, I’m beginning to think that original films telling risqué stories are becoming a far-fetched dream for Nepali cinema now.  

Jatrai Jatra

Writer/ Director: Pradeep Bhattarai

Executive Producer: Rabindra Singh Baniya

Actors: Bipin Karki, Rabindra Jha, Rabindra Singh Baniya

Genre: Comedy

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

 

Published: 25-05-2019 07:30

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