Jab We Met: An Analysis by Karuna D’Souza

29 08 2008

(This was an assignment for the subject Cultural Studies for which I had to analyse a film in the context of the way it naturalises and hegemonises certain ideas and concepts)

When Rolland Barthes in his essay “Rhetoric of the Image” dissects the image of the black Algerian soldier saluting the French flag, he speaks of how the hegemony operates in depicting a coloured man, the colonized subject, as willing and loyal subjects to the colonizer France. Images have a plurality of meaning, and at the denotative level can be quite innocuous. The connotative level is what we need to be aware of, for it projects ideas that we inherit without questioning and naturalises the depiction.

Jab We Met came to be quite popular when it released. And it is not hard to see why. This is a very simple, entertaining film which on the most visible manner is innocuous. Gramsci’s theory which relates that hegemony is not a fixed set of ideas. Instead, it is a ‘shifting set of ideas by means of which dominant groups strive to secure the consent of subordinate groups to their leadership, rather than as a consistent and functional ideology working in the interests of a ruling class by indoctrinating subordinate groups.’ I intend to look at how these shifting ideas are being depicted in the film by the dominant groups.

The film at its entirety does relegate love to be supreme, and that if there is no one person that you love in your life, then you will be unhappy. Geet (Kareena Kapoor) is unhappy when Anshuman (her boyfriend in the film) refuses to accept her, Aditya (Shahid Kapur) is truly happy in the end only when Geet accepts him. Geet is happy only when she is either with Anshuman or with Aditya.

This film has all of its characters from the upper middle class or the affluent. Both of its main protagonists are rich and see no consequences to their actions. Aditya leaves his office, his life with no thought and gets back into his life with equal ease. The stake holders do not question his absence or what implications it has for the company, and when he returns, he is easily accepted back. Even when he goes in search of Geet, his ability to take off from work is not questioned. Geet does not, throughout the entire film seem to bother about money, even when she gets off from the train or when she is stranded, or when she is running away. The naturalizing of the idea that consequences do not exist to your actions, can prove quite detrimental. The only consequence that she faces is when she joins the school to teach, but then it is out of her inability to go back home.

The hegemony also operates in the exclusion of minorities in the film. The absence of minorities in the film as secondary or supporting characters is a means to project a kind of an aspired image of life, one of no inequality or difficulty. The Sikh community, indeed is a minority, but it is an affluent minority. The communities that are not financially well off are not at all depicted even in the secondary roles.

Another aspect of thought that is naturalized in the film is gender roles. Women in the film are shown to be in stereotypical roles of the secretary (Aditya’s secretary), and teachers (Geet works as a teacher in the school). The only woman, who we see is at a high position in work context, is mute throughout the film or is articulating through a lawyer, who is a man. The woman is Aditya’s mother who has helped build the company is never really shown working. In fact, in the end, she is shown in a domestic light during the scene of their (Aditya’s and Geet’s) wedding.

On the line of gender again, the way Geet needs a man to save her constantly is also disconcerting. When she is alone at the railway station, there has to be some men who will behave in a manner that is lewd. No woman is free of the gaze, and it does not make a difference even if she tries to fight back. The only thing that would save her is that she needs to show that she is in a relationship with a man. Like in the film, Geet is pursued by this guy who thinks she is a call girl, and it only when she gives Aditya a hug, does he stop following her.

All the women characters have been presented as fickle. Aditya’s mother is someone who has left her husband for love, Aditya’s girlfriend had left him and married someone else. Geet cannot make a decision as to whom that she is indeed in love with; even her mother is shown to say that Geet has a better husband that she does. Geet’s sister jokes with Aditya whether Anshuman is her consolation prize because she had her eyes earlier on Aditya himself, but he is now taken.

The way the Sikh community or the rich Punjabi community has been represented is also problematic. They are shown as unthinking, loud, people with huge hearts and hospitality, with businesses in pesticides and tractors. There is an element of typification in this representation.

The hegemony of family values is also in question here. The fact that you can do what you want, as long as you do not affect the family pride is of utmost importance. Is it a coincidence, that the guy that Geet finally ends up, is in part Punjabi? Would the family really accept Anshuman, especially if they have not really married before entering the house? Even Geet’s decision of not returning home when Anshuman rejects her, reflects her holding of family values even more than living a life of hardship, and this can only be negated when she returns home with the man.

Jab We Met tries to be a film that is different. It does challenge some concepts of conventional love stories. Maybe it is progressive, at a denotative level. But as one digs deeper one realizes the different issues that are embedded so deep that probably even the director of the film does not realize the problems in it. This is what Stuart Hall refers to as ‘inferential’ bias in his essay ‘Racism and Ideologies’. Although he speaks of it in terms of racism, I’ve used it here in the context of bias. We are living in a world of ideology that we cannot escape, and the makers of these kinds of films are part of this Institutionalised Mode of Address and Production and therefore reflect those very biases that we live with hegemonising and naturalizing those very same concepts.




One response

1 09 2008

Instead of using “representation”, might use “presentation” in the two sentences, –
“The way the Sikh community or the rich Punjabi community has been represented is also problematic.”

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