KARACHI: I have seen Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (JPNA) twice. Both times, the hall was jam-packed. Both times, I laughed so hard throughout the film my jaw started hurting. Both times, the audience’s laughter barely left any space for a moment of silence. If you’ve watched the film, you know I am not stretching the truth.
And to be honest, the reactions are really interesting; fascinating, even because, if you remember, the film was surrounded with controversy before its release.
People were certainly not pleased after seeing the first teaser. Bikini-clad white girls dancing around the film’s lead characters in a scene shot on a beach in Bangkok? How dare they? The outrage was so severe, one of the lead actors, Hamza Ali Abbasi, refused to be part of the film’s promotions. He said during the course of the film’s production his outlook towards what’s inappropriate and what’s not changed and he now regretted shooting that particular sequence.
This was followed by comparisons between JPNA, Bollywood sex comedy Masti and its sequel Grand Masti. People said the film was against our culture, and soon #BanJawaniPhirNahiAni started trending on Twitter.
But eventually, like the comparisons, the hashtag began to fade away and disappear. Facebook posts and tweets praising the film started emerging. “Jawani Phir Nahin Ani is amazing and a laugh riot. Not to be missed by anyone. Pakistani cinema comes out with an out and out masala comedy entertainer! You won’t regret it!” read one post. “Just watched Jawani phir nahi ani! #JPNA What an entertainer guys! It’s a must watch!” read another.
Why is it that in spite of all the controversies it created pre-release the film continues to break all box office records in Pakistan? Let’s take a look:
The infamous bikini scene
First thing’s first. In terms of “vulgarity” there’s no scene in the film which the Pakistani audience has never seen before. Those who take offence to singing and dancing in movies are clearly a minority or else Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (Deepika Padukone wasn’t exactly dressed in a burka when she danced to Balam Pichkari) or Dhoom 3 (Katrina definitely was not shy dancing to Kamli) or Cocktail (plenty of bikini-clad women in Tum Hi Ho Bandu) wouldn’t have been such rousing successes at the Pakistani box office. Were there any calls for a ban when these films were running houseful in Pakistan? None. But, of course, when you see women dancing to Khul Jaye Botal in JPNA, Pakistani culture falls into imminent danger.
The fact that people are taking their wives and children to watch JPNA suggests no one seems to care about the bikini scene anymore. Why? Because those who went to see the film are mature enough to realise that’s what beaches around the world look like. In lead actor and producer Humayun Saeed’s words, “We didn’t show scantily dressed women jumping around at a beach in Karachi. It was a sequence on a beach in Bangkok and anyone who has been there, or to any beach in a foreign country for that matter, would understand how that shot was a requirement of the script.”
‘This is not our culture’
If there’s one film that hits the nail on its head when it comes to portraying Pakistani culture accurately, it’s JPNA. You have the housewife, the working wife and the wife who has complete control over her husband’s finances. You could probably characterise most Pakistani wives in one of these three categories; hence, the never-ending laughter in cinema halls.
All scenes involving the wives and kids of the male characters are reminiscent of the average Pakistani household. From the husband doing groceries to the husband getting flak for missing a family gathering to the husband being put down in front of friends, has any of this never happened in Pakistan? It has, and it clearly resonated with audiences.
And then, there’s the main premise of the script: four friends take a secret vacation to Bangkok. How exactly is this “not our culture”? Do Pakistani men not travel? Has a married Pakistani man never set foot in Bangkok? If you think that’s the case, you probably don’t have any friends.
Another argument that I have often heard is: it’s OK for Bollywood films to show “such vulgar visuals” but not for Pakistani films because such scenes are against our culture and values.
Three Pakistani films, Moor, Shah and Manto, were released during the last couple of months. Two of these, Shah — which was a biopic of legendary boxer Hussain Shah — and Moor — a film based in Balochistan which highlights the plight of families affected by corruption in Pakistan Railways — actually came out on Independence Day. None of three films had any of these “vulgar visuals”. No item songs. No women running around in bikinis. Do you know how much money they made?
Shah‘s lifetime collection is a little over Rs10 million. Moor has made approximately Rs20 million while Manto‘s current box office collection stands at nearly Rs50 million. Could any film have been a better representation of our culture than Manto? Was Shah not good enough to quench our patriotic thirst? Why aren’t these films blockbusters in spite of overwhelmingly positive reviews and a strong word of mouth?
JPNA, on the other hand, has made nearly Rs200 million in just 13 days. It’s on its way to becoming Pakistan’s biggest blockbuster. Ever! Says a lot about a film which is supposedly “against our values and culture”, don’t you think?
Neither Masti nor Grand Masti
One of the lead actors and the film’s writer — Vasay Chaudhry — says social media is a menace; one that thrives on negativity. JPNA bore the brunt of it when people dismissed it with comments comparing it to Bollywood sex comedies Masti and Grand Masti.
When enquired, Vasay said not one such person apologised for the misconception they created about the film.
People also said it was a copy of Hollywood blockbuster Hangover. But it isn’t. That’s not to say JPNA’s storyline is unique. It’s not. There have been films even before Hangover and Masti that show friends on vacation or married men looking to have some fun. Dil Chahta Hai, for instance. Was Hangover a copy of Dil Chahta Hai? Not really. What about Biwi No. 1? A married Salman Khan has an extramarital affair with Sushmita Sen. Was Masti a copy? Not really.
We need more films like JPNA
Its storyline may not be unique but the humour in JPNA certainly is. From the characters cracking jokes on real life personas of each other to them highlighting major societal issues in a witty manner, the film is an absolute winner. And to top it off, the actors have done a brilliant job.
JPNA is a wholesome entertainer which has given the Pakistani audience an opportunity to laugh in abundance at jokes that are our own, not borrowed. And while it’s great that we are making extraordinary films like Manto, Shah and Moor, there is no denying that a very large chunk of our audience wants to see entertainers that have a lot singing, dancing, romance, and the usual.
So, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover. And in this case, don’t judge a movie by its teaser.