Swara Bhasker, Shikha Talsania, Meher Vij and Pooja Chopra are proven talents who elevate their scenes above the evident failings of this film.
Four married friends – Shivangi, Neha, Mansi and Sakina – are on a break in Goa when they get embroiled in a criminal investigation that threatens to ruin a fun trip. As it happens, all four are unhappy with their spouses, but not all of them have acknowledged the truth either to those closest to them or even to themselves. The vacation then becomes a sort of coming-of-age-within-a-marriage story for the quartet.
Jahaan Chaar Yaar stars Swara Bhasker as Shivangi and Shikha Talsania as Neha, which makes comparisons with their previous buddy flick, Veere Di Wedding (2018), inevitable. Swara and Shikha had co-starred with Kareena Kapoor Khan and Sonam Kapoor in that incredibly entertaining film about four women friends meeting in the run-up to the marriage of one of them. If you want proof of the Hindi film industry’s male dominance and hero fixation, just consider the fact that there is a four-year gap between Jahaan Chaar Yaar and Veere Di Wedding, or this: it took two decades for the maker of 2001’s Dil Chahta Hai, Farhan Akhtar, to realise that female bonding too merits a film (he announced Jee Le Zaraa featuring Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt last year with the promotional line “about time the girls took the car out”).
Writer-director Kamal Pandey’s Jahaan Chaar Yaar, starring Swara and Shikha with Meher Vij and Pooja Chopra, is designed as a feminist saga about women rebelling against suffocating, restrictive marriages. The film’s calling card is the cast. The four actors have a strong screen presence and a pleasant natural chemistry going for them, which lends itself well to their conversations with their respective families in the opening scenes and the banter between them.
Good artistes need a solid script and technical team on which to pin their performances though, and too often in Jahaan Chaar Yaar, Swara, Shikha, Meher and Pooja are constrained by inadequate writing, sloppy editing, lazy camerawork and lackadaisical direction.
The most enjoyable parts of Jahaan Chaar Yaar – apart from the very idea of traditional married women playing hookey from home and the passages in which the friends are allowed to be nutty – are the songs. All of them are shot better than the rest of the film, and Aisi ki taisi and What the luck! are made for the dance floor.
Some of the situations in Jahaan Chaar Yaar are rare in Hindi cinema, and for that reason are significant – the notion of married women holidaying away from the watchful eyes of their husbands and in-laws (not common at all in this country), a daughter encouraging her mother to break free from the bondage of the kitchen and housework, conservative middle-class married Indian women reacting to (or figuring out how to react to) a flirtatious stranger who is obviously looking for some action between the sheets.
Jahaan Chaar Yaar could have done without its balancing act in the end though, when it sets out to prove that there are awful wives in this world just as there are awful husbands. This is not at all to suggest that all wives are saints – of course not. But that the writing of the episode in question is just too transparent in its anxiety to establish that the film is being fair to men too. It is another matter that horrendously misogynistic films like Pyaar Ka Punchnama 1&2 felt no compulsion to strike any balance and found widespread acceptability despite creating a fake universe in which men were all victims of uniformly horrible wives and girlfriends; whereas the men in Jahaan Chaar Yaar are far more believable and far from being clones of the devil as the women of the Punchnama films were. This is a separate – and long – discussion.
What the film could have also done without is the literalness of showing a mosque in the background more than once when the Muslim woman of the foursome and/or her husband are on screen; Neha describing a wife’s body as possibly baasi; and a male police officer (Girish Kulkarni) giving the women speeches about how they have locked up their potential. Clearly, a desire to be feminist and actual feminism are not the same thing.
Swara brings her innate penchant for comedy to Jahaan Chaar Yaar even though she is not here given the breadth of writing that enabled her powerful performances in Nil Battey Sannata and Anaarkali of Aarah. Meher was a towering force in Secret Superstar (2017), Shikha and Pooja both have an inner fire that has not been sufficiently explored in their filmographies so far. Each of them elevates their scenes beyond and above the evident failings of this film.
Swara Bhasker, Shikha Talsania, Meher Vij and Pooja Chopra are proven talents who deserve to headline stories in which women buddies get to hang out, have fun, be silly, rib each other and (re)discover themselves and their veeres as the men of Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and so many other Hindi films have done for decades. Jahaan Chaar Yaar is flawed even if well-intentioned, and the best thing about it is that they are in it.
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Jahaan Chaar Yaar is in theatres
Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial
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