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Monday, December 4, 2023

LFF 2023 Review: Dear Jassi

Star-crossed love stories are certainly no novice tropes for Indian cinema. Whether it is the grandiose Ram-Leela or the realistic Sairat, tragic stories have always struck a chord with audiences. Through Dear Jassi, filmmaker Tarsem Singh Dhandwar revisits his Indian roots after helming Hollywood blockbusters like Immortals. For a while, he has wanted to present the story and now, it premieres at the BFI London Film Festival.

Having first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, the picture is undoubtedly a distressing watch. It is inspired by the real-life honour killing of Jaswant ‘Jassi’ Kaur Sidhu which took place in Punjab in 2000. The film’s premise is based on Jassi (Pavia Sidhu), a well-to-do Canadian-Punjabi beautician. She falls in love with Sukhwinder alias Mitu (Yugam Sood) while on a trip to India. But their forbidden romance meets with some dire consequences.

Throughout the movie, the celluloid is directed with wide, constantly moving camera shots, showcasing the vast difference between both worlds in India and Canada. These geographic locations help in portraying the time and distance between both characters and their circumstances. Visually, the portrayals and references of the 90s tropes and pop culture help in creating a nostalgic atmosphere. Given that Dhandwar has often made fantastical this is told simplistically and in an earthy manner, which is quite distinct in his filmography.

The crisp cinematography greatly juxtaposes the tragic premise, with the lush greenery of Indian fields foreshadowing the sinister silence of suppression. The filmmaker’s use of levels is particularly fascinating. For instance, in the sequences where he pursues Jassi, we see him reaching over a fence, paying a subtle tribute to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The editing is sharp yet allows the viewer to absorb. Even though the camerawork is wholesome, the cinematic approach is minimalistic. During the graphic sequences, the sound is enriched by the natural noise of the village. The rawness leaves viewers drawn even towards the end when tragedy ensues.

Amit Rai, after his previous outings Road To Sangam and OMG 2 once again balances spirituality with strong societal subjects. Here, recitals of Bulleh Shah’s poetry and  Shabads like ‘Lakh Khushian Pathshaian’ present a divine presence that is observing all the atrocities unfolding. In fact, in a scene where Mithu hides at the airport, we see camera shots of Lord Rama and a mandir. Such sequences also highlight love as spiritual.

The writing falters slightly where the screenplay and length get overstretched. Also, due to Singh’s artistic flair, the unhurried pacing gets difficult to digest, especially in the second half.

Adding to the organic appeal, both Sidhu and Sood are effortless in their portrayals. Their love and passion for each other is evident in their expressions and body language. The reactions are intrinsic and one feels the yearning between both protagonists. Even after the credits roll, their performances haunt our minds, especially with the visuals we see in the climax portions.

On the whole, Dear Jassu is an extremely discomforting watch as it touches on topics that are still frighteningly rampant. A cinematically eye-pleaser, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar takes up a thorny issue and engages the viewer. The slow pace acts like a snake that slowly wraps around the neck and never ceases to let go. Despite its slight shortcomings, a very powerful awakening and darkish love letter to Punjab.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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