July 6, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jai Basantu Singh
Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in India, the comedy/drama film “Janhit Mein Jaari” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A young woman gets criticism from her family and other people in society when she begins working as a salesperson for a condom company, and she then becomes an activist in reproductive rights.
Culture Audience: “Janhit Mein Jaari” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in female empowerment stories, but this movie mishandles the subject matter with a lot of hokey melodrama and silly comedy.
Although well-intentioned in its message of female empowerment in reproductive rights, the comedy/drama “Janhit Mein Jaari” gets bogged down in too many vapid gimmicks that cheapen the message. The movie also gets too repetitive in showing scene after scene of people (usually men) reacting with horror, disgust or ridicule at the idea of a woman being a salesperson for a condom company. That’s the unexpected occupation of the movie’s female protagonist, who is also under pressure from her family to get pregnant after she gets married.
Directed by Jai Basantu Singh, “Janhit Mein Jaari” (which means “issued in public interest” in Hindi) takes place in an unnamed city in India. Singh co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Raaj Shaandilyaa and associate writers Yusuf ali Khan and Utsav Sarkar. It should be noted that none of these screenwriters is a woman, which might explain why so much of this movie looks very phony in how it deals with women’s issues.
Right from the beginning, the movie’s protagonist—Manokamna “Manu” Tripathi (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha)—does something regarding maternity that is very over-the-top and fake. Manu, who appears to be about six or seven months pregnant, gets on a crowded bus and expects people to give up a seat for her because she’s pregnant. When an inquisitive woman on the bus asks Manu what she plans to name her son (the woman automatically assumes that the baby is a boy), Manu replies that the baby’s name will be “Shut up.”
The stranger on the bus, who is oblivious to Manu’s insult, then cheerfully tells Manu to give her regards to Manu’s husband. It’s the movie’s obvious way of showing that Manu is living in a very patriarchal community. Manu is visibly annoyed at how this stranger is already judging her a certain way (and even assuming that the Manu is pregnant with a boy), just because Manu appears to be a pregnant woman.
It turns out that Manu really isn’t pregnant and she’s not married. She was wearing a pillow to appear to be pregnant, just so she could get people to give her a seat on the bus. Who goes out of their way for that type of petty deception? Is that something people are supposed to admire in a woman? Apparently, the filmmakers think it’s “cute” for a woman to act this way, or else they wouldn’t have put it in the movie as a joke that they want viewers to think is “cute.”
Manu, who is in her mid-to-late 20s, still lives with her parents, who are pressuring her to get married. She tells them that she doesn’t want to get married until she’s independent and has her own career. Manu is well-educated (she has a master of arts degree), but the type of job she wants would require her to have a master of business administration (MBA) degree.
Manu’s parents introduce her to a potential suitor named Nilesh, also known as Nilu. However, Manu is not interested in him. She wants a love marriage, not an arranged marriage. Manu is also anxious to move out of the family home, which is fairly crowded. The Tripathi’s modest household consists of her parents, Manu, Manu’s two teenage sisters and Manu’s teenage brother.
Manu is desperate to find a job so that she can earn enough money to live independently. And she takes the first job that offers her a salary that’s acceptable to her: 40,000 rupees a month, which is about $506 a month in early 2020s U.S. dollars. She will be working as a salesperson for Little Umbrella Company.
Even though Manu is educated, she doesn’t show much common sense. During the job interview, Manu never asks what she will be selling and doesn’t do any research on the company before the interview. The supervisor (played by Brijendra Kala) who interviews Manu asks her if she’s sure she wants to work there. Manu insists that she’s interested in the job, so she’s hired on the spot.
It isn’t until Manu shows up for her first day on the job that she finds out that Little Umbrella Company makes condoms. And she’s the company’s only female employee. Her boss tells her that the company has been losing money. “We need a girl like you to fill the void,” he says.
At first, Manu is furious at the boss for not telling her that Little Umbrella Company is in the business of selling condoms. It makes her look ridiculous and unreasonable to blame the boss, when it was really her responsibility to find out details of the company before agreeing to the interview. Because Manu is desperate for money, she reluctantly agrees to stay on the job and try to make the most out of it.
Expect to see many scenarios in “Janhit Mein Jaari” where Manu gets shamed and ridiculed for being a woman selling condoms. She’s so embarrassed by her job that at first she keeps it a secret from her family and will only say that she found a job working for an umbrella company. She also doesn’t tell potential suitors what her real job is. As already shown in the movie’s trailers, the people in Manu’s life eventually find out the truth.
“Janhit Mein Jaari” has several overly contrived scenes of Manu’s failed attempts at selling condoms. One of the first things she does is visit male-owned small businesses and tries to sell condoms directly to the owners. The business owners usually react with disgust or amusement that a woman is talking to them about condoms, so they generally reject her sales pitch. Manu also attempts to get grocery stores to stock the condoms. She essentially gets laughed out of these stores.
Manu also tries selling condoms directly to individual men on the street. It leads to a scene where she approaches a man, who looks old enough to be a grandfather or great-grandfather, and gets him to buy a half a box of condoms. It’s a joke that doesn’t land as well as intended. Apparently, the filmmakers think that it’s automatically supposed to be hilarious to think that men over the age of 70 have sex.
Manu also has a disastrous sales experience when she tries to sell condoms at a wrestling match. This supposedly “smart” woman goes about this sales attempt in the dumbest possible way. She interrupts the match and spontaneously takes a microphone to make her sales pitch to the audience, while the angry crowd boos at her for disrupting the wrestling match.
Manu is told to leave. She’s shocked at this hostile reaction to her sales pitch. Anyone with common sense wouldn’t be shocked. It’s why “Janhit Mein Jaari” often and insultingly makes Manu look like a ditsy woman, even though she’s supposed to an intelligent and empowered woman.
“Janhit Mein Jaari” also piles on clichés seen all too often in movies were a bachelorette is under pressure to get married. One of those clichés is a love triangle. Manu has a co-worker named Dev (played by Paritosh Tripathi), who works in the manufacturing department of Little Umbrella Company. Dev soon makes it known to Manu that he has a crush on her and wants to date her.
However, Manu meets a stage actor named Ranjan Prajapati (played by Anud Singh Dhaka), who begins pursuing Manu. Ranjan and Manu have instant chemistry together, and they begin dating. There’s a not-very-funny-scene where an envious Dev is with a friend named Makdoom (played by Shaan Yadav), as they both spy on Manu and Ranjan when Manu and Ranjan are on a romantic date.
During this date, Manu asks Ranjan if he would like to get a hotel room for them to continue their date. However, Ranjan declines the offer because he says he doesn’t want their relationship to be about casual sex. Manu then tells Ranjan that her suggestion to get a hotel room for a sexual tryst was just a test of his character. She informs Ranjan that he passed the test because he said exactly what she wanted to hear.
Manu and Ranjan continue to have their courtship, they fall in love, and then they get married about halfway through the movie. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s first trailer.) Ranjan knows that Manu works for a condom company, but he agrees to her request that they keep it a secret from their traditional families. Manu thinks that their families just wouldn’t understand her job.
But, of course, people in both families eventually find out, and they have the expected reactions. Manu is pressured to quit her job, especially by the person who disapproves of her job the most: Ranjan’s domineering and sexist father Keval Prajapati (played by Vijay Raaz), who isn’t happy that Ranjan has a love marriage, not an arranged marriage. Keval also doesn’t like the fact that Manu is two years older than Ranjan.
Manu quits her job at Little Umbrella Company and begins selling plastic containers to women, similar to what a Tupperware salesperson would do. She doesn’t like this job as much as she liked selling condoms. After hearing about a neighborhood teenage girl who died of a botched illegal abortion, Manu has an “a-ha” moment.
And just like that, Manu decides that Little Umbrella Company should be marketing the condoms to women, who are more likely than men to be responsible for deciding what birth control will be used. Manu’s idea is a hit. Sales increase significantly for Little Umbrella Company.
This sales success then morphs into Manu becoming a reproductive rights activist preaching that more condom usage can prevent unwanted pregnancies that often lead to botched abortions. It isn’t long before Manu is making pro-condom speeches to crowds of women and being interviewed on TV as a reproductive rights activist advocating for contraception by choice. All of these plot developments are revealed in the movie’s trailers.
While Manu gives lectures about how to prevent pregnancy with condoms, she and Ranjan are getting pressure from their relatives to start having children. Meanwhile, Ranjan and Manu begin having marital problems. The movie also throws in a subplot about the sex life of Ranjan’s sister Babli (played by Sukriti Gupta), Babli’s boyfriend Hennant (played by Ishtiyak Khan), and how Manu’s crusading for condom usage affects this couple.
It all leads to a very messy and sloppily written series of events in the last third of the movie. The slapstick scenes in the movie are very corny, such as a scene where a blind man opens a wrapped condom and thinks it’s a wrapper of antacid, so the condom is dropped in a glass of water. Someone else has to rush to grab the glass before the blind man drinks it. Yes, it’s that type of movie. The last 15 minutes of “Hanhit Mein Jaari” are nothing but heavy-handed manipulation involving a health scare.
None of the acting in “Janhit Mein Jaari” is particularly good. But the worst aspect of the movie is how it bungles the comedy with bad jokes. The movie over-relies on comedy that wants people to laugh at anything showing a woman talking about, buying or holding condoms. “Janhit Mein Jaari” constantly uses goofy cartoon sound effects that are supposed to elicit laughs but are actually very distracting.
“Janhit Mein Jaari” makes a mockery of the serious subject of family planning by contriving unfunny scenarios revolving around pregnancy fears. The movie irresponsibly doesn’t really mention that condoms are also used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. And the movie makes it sound like condoms are the best birth control method. Even the most basic levels of sex education are supposed to teach that condoms can be faulty if they break or are not worn correctly.
Even though the “Janhit Mein Jaari” filmmakers probably thought that they were making a movie about an open-minded and progressive female protagonist, a lot of “Janhit Mein Jaari” actually has a very outdated and backwards mindset toward women. Putting aside all the ways that the movie makes Manu look less-than-smart when she starts her condom sales job, “Janhit Mein Jaari” also makes it look like the women in this developed and modern area of India are incapable of considering condoms as birth control until Manu comes along to teach them. “Janhit Mein Jaari” becomes a soap opera in all the wrong places, and the movie just isn’t very funny in the scenes where it’s supposed to be amusing.
Zee Studios released “Janhit Mein Jaari” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 10, 2022.