The problem is that Hindi and Tamil are not just two different languages, but cultures too, and differ in cinematic tastes, senses of aesthetics and much else. So when a director like Shaad Ali remakes a Mani Ratnam movie, it is bound to have a separate sensibility, no question about that. And no quarrels with it either in OK Jaanu. About the colourful romance of an urbane couple in cosmopolitan Mumbai, it comes as a relief that the language used is not the usual pidgin Hinglish of adaptations, but Hindi and Urdu spoken with relative ease by the romancing couple, and with a poetic flair by the character played by Naseeruddin Shah.
Once again, this is a Hindi movie about the phobia of commitment that young people allegedly suffer from, at least according to film writers and makers of a certain generation who have probably forgotten their own paranoia when faced with a marital fait accompli. What is nice is that the ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’ of this film are progressive liberals who are more amused than critical about the young couple, Adi (Aditya Roy Kapur) and Tara (Shraddha Kapoor), who have decided to live together under their roof. It is an elegant heritage home in Mumbai owned by Gopi ‘Uncle’ (Naseeruddin Shah) , a retired Judge, and his wife, Charu ‘Aunty’ (Leela Samson), a lady descending into a state of dementia, that progresses rapidly during the course of this movie.
At least two thirds of this film is engaging, particularly for its interesting, cross generational approach to the problems of life. The life long love and faithfulness of the older couple is not sentimentalized or held up as an ideal, but shown as a relationship that happened to work out well, at least almost to the end, when Charu slipped into Alzheimers’ disease. Gopi is grateful to his wife for the years of happiness she gave him, and so living with a woman in her condition is not a cross he bears, but a continuous source of delightful memories. This is probably the most easy and charming character that Naseeruddin Shah has played in mainstream film for years, and not to be missed.
But more than that, Shaad Ali also deals with a middle generation, the single mother of Tara (Kitu Gidwani) and her conflicting emotions towards her daughter, and also the more traditional, though fairly tolerant, family of Adi back in Lucknow, and gives us a perspective of an inter-generation attitude towards a couple ‘living in’ under the roof of their relatives in downtown Mumbai, not in the anonymity of the distant suburbs. It is a balancing act that is well crafted and designed.
The best part of OK Jaanu is the innovative song picturisation, which, of course, is the strength of all of Mani Ratnam’s movies and which this adaptation has copied. A song, in this film, does not come out of the blue, but is triggered by a line of conversation, by an announcement on the radio, by some ambient sound, or simply by an idea that occurs to one of the lead characters. Music that evolves from thoughts, or from dialogue, is always sweeter.
But then, unfortunately, the syndrome of the last third blues of the romantic Hindi movie hits OK Jaanu and we just get more and more of the same themes. With the script in a limbo, not knowing which direction to take the couple, not knowing whether to look at marriage as the knot of holy matrimony, or the knot around the throat, we go through the motions of the last part of the film in boredom.
But all said and done, this director has a feel for urban architecture, modern and classical, and so for a lovely guide around our urban spaces, if nothing else, this film is worth a watch.