Movie name: Aisa Yeh Jahaan (U/A) 129 min
Many years ago, in this very newspaper, there worked a senior writer some of us meanies referred to as “Earnie”. She had a lovely name. Worked hard. And, unlike most of us who looked like rats bellowing smoke in jeans and T-shirt/kurta, she was always turned out like she had been invited by the President for tea. But she was by far the most earnest person most of us — hardened crime and city reporters, and cynical and perpetually fatigued copy desk people — had ever encountered.
She was part of the features team. I read a couple of pieces she had written and decided that I could not, a) bear to read her pieces; b) talk to her for any length of time because my mind would begin to swim and my eyes would shut down. But she intrigued me. My day would be incomplete without at least once shouting out, “Hey, Earnie!”
I’ll come back to why I’m telling you all this. For now, pick a cause. Any cause.
Let’s say you picked saving trees. Let’s say, inside you there’s a desperation to do something about it. Let’s say you also have something to say more than just “we must save the environment…”
Let’s say someone gives money for you to do that “something”. And let’s say, people take time off their schedules and pay good money to listen to you.
Would you then show these innocent people a tree, uproot it and start beating them with it — literally or metaphorically? Would that make them love trees or be mortally petrified of trees for the rest of their lives?
Aisa Yeh Jahaan is a virtuous film. Its marketing material claims that it is India’s first carbon neutral film. This means that the good people involved in the making of the film countered their carbon footprint by planting the required number of trees.
Writer-director Biswajeet Bora’s film takes up many issues, but it all begins and ends with planting and saving trees. In the sidelines there’s the way Indians treat domestic servants. Child labour. Poverty. Prejudice in mainland against people from the Northeast, including name-calling. Pushy wives who lie, pretend and are superficial. And their stilted, sulky husbands.
Ranjib Saikia (Dr Palash Sen) is one such husband, and Ananya Saikia (Ira Dubey) is one such wife. They live in the concrete jungle that is Mumbai. They have a daughter, little Kuhi (Prisha Dabbas), and maidservant Pakhi (Kymsleen Kholie) they got from back home, Assam.
Ranjib is an MBA and Ananya a receptionist who wants to be a Memsaab. She’s always cribbing, he’s always sighing.
The film takes off for a holiday in Assam where Kuhi, Pakhi and Ranjib begin to breathe easy while playing with the farmhand, Nalia Kai (Yashpal Sharma). Ananya continues to crib.
Upon return to Mumbai, Kuhi plants a mango seed in a red plastic bucket which she and Pakhi look after, till the evil city claims and corrupts Kuhi. The plant, sitting in the balcony of their house, neglected, becomes a metaphor for all things vulnerable and endangered.
After needless songs, including an item number, and dragging the story with deathly boring jibber-jabber, which includes a hyper Tinu Anand screaming for a healthy, happy plant for an ad he is making, Pakhi saves the day and the plant, and the balance of the universe is restored.
The film has one interesting character — Ananya. She drinks, is aspirational, complicated, complexed. She mistreats Pakhi but also protects her. The film shows her as the evil one. We don’t care because of the entire lot, Ira is the only tolerable one. She tries to act Assamese by turning every “s” into “c”, and every “c” into “ch”.
Dr Palash Sen, who always talks in close-up and insists on singing and dancing, is so incredibly bad that the only lens he should be allowed in front of is the X-ray machine.
The film is sweet in its simplicity, but its earnestness is killing.
Now, back to Earnie. She’s a very senior journalist now. An author. Her writing doesn’t put me to sleep anymore. She has strong opinions. Has immense knowledge about her field. Has mastered the craft of reporting and writing. She doesn’t need earnestness anymore.
Her pieces are at times so brilliant that I’ve felt like calling her up and apologising. But I haven’t. Because she’s now someone I look up to and I don’t want to stake any claim. I hope the same happens with Biswajeet Bora. I hope he learns the craft of telling a story. Because being earnest is important. But only earnestness puts us to sleep.