Jabariya Jodi has all the makings of the archetypal small-town Bollywood rom-com—urban actors playing (North-Indian) small-town characters, feisty heroines with names like Babli and Bitti, ethnic-chic, a tragicomic plot, quirky peripheral characters, a tyrannical dad that says - election aane waale hain (the elections are approaching), and shudh Hindi witticisms in almost every dialogue. That’s the small-town rom-com for you—a fairly successful ‘formula’ over the recent years, and a sub-genre in itself.
In Jabariya Jodi (JJ), Abhay Singh (Sidharth Malhorta) is a thug who kidnaps grooms for forced marriages. He also has political ambitions as encouraged by his dictatorial father. Interestingly the concept of ‘groom kidnapping’ was explored in Antardwand (2010) as well. JJ is, of course, a lighter take on the issue.
The film then explores how the hunter becomes the hunted, by his childhood sweetheart no less—Babli Yadav, played by Parineeti Chopra. Meanwhile, we have interesting peripheral characters that truly bring out the small-town flavour in the movie. We see the genre staples here—Sanjay Mishra who is marvelous as Babli’s father Duniya Lal, and the dependably good Aparshakti Khurana who has played the ‘friend’ in films like Badrinath ki Dulhaniya, Lukka Chuppi and Stree.
Bollywood is still not over the small-town rom-com. And while the city-based romance remains stereotypical, it is the small-town setting that seems to bring out interesting, diverse subjects. The recent success of Lukka Chuppi starring Kriti Sanon and Kartik Aryan, about a small-town couple that tries a live-in relationship, is proof. (Incidentally JJ has got off to a luke-warm start.)
Stree, set in Bhopal, intertwined romance, comedy and horror. Sui Dhaaga was all about small-town aspirations and a sweet romance. Dum Laga Ke Haisha was about an unlikely romance between an educated Sandhya and the academic underachiever Lappu; a romance that begins to brew just when the couple is about to get separated.
Bareilly Ki Barfi starring, again the three faces that often appear in this genre, Rajkummar Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana and Kriti Sanon, explored an interesting love triangle. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan was about erectile dysfunction, explained with the help of that by-now-famous scene of a limp biscuit falling into a cup of tea.
Interestingly, while this genre is essentially the mainstay of younger, edgier actors, the forebears of this genre (Bunty Aur Babli, Dabangg, Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhanaa) had A-list stars.
Several small-town romances go beyond telling a story and hold a solid message. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was set in Mathura, while Pad Man was based on the short story The Sanitary Man of Sacred Land in Twinkle Khanna's book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, which is inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social activist from Tamil Nadu who introduced low-cost sanitary pads. Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, set in Jhansi, challenged the dowry system and gender stereotypes but faltered miserably in justifying Badri’s inexcusable behaviour with Vaidehi.
Whether as a fun and frothy rom-com or an issue-based entertainer, Bollywood and the audience are not over the small-town story. And if these movies fold in such a sparkling variety of experiences, why not let the party roll?
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2