Review: ‘Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey,’ starring Darshana Rajendran, Basil Joseph and Aju Varghese

November 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Darshana Rajendran and Basil Joseph in “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” (Photo courtesy of Icon Cinemas)

“Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey”

Directed by Vipin Das

Malayalam with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Kottarakara, India, the comedy/drama film “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman trapped in an abusive marriage fights back by beating up her husband after he beats her, and she gets a reputation for being someone who can defeat men in physical fights. 

Culture Audience: “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about how women handle domestic abuse, but “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” sends a lot of wrong messages about female empowerment and heinously treats domestic violence as slapstick comedy.

Darshana Rajendran and Basil Joseph in “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” (Photo courtesy of Icon Cinemas)

“Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” is disgracefully irresponsible with its intended messages about female empowerment and overcoming abuse. This strange mess of a movie grossly mishandles the serious issue of domestic violence by portraying self-defense against this abuse as cartoonish comedy. It’s not funny at all.

It also ignores the fact that psychological healing from abuse is needed. The movie wants to dismiss the reality that not all domestic violence victims can become self-defense experts. The idiocy of “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” is made worse by the movie’s overly long run time (140 minutes), which shows tedious repetition of the same scenarios for most of the movie.

Directed by Vipin Das (who co-wrote the movie’s atrocious screenplay with Nashid Mohamed Famy), “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” (which takes place in India) tells the story of Jayabharathi, nicknamed Jaya (played by Darshana Rajendran), an intelligent, ambitious and independent-minded woman in her 30s. Jaya wants to go to Mar Ivanios College (a private college in Thiruvananthapuram, India) to get a bachelor of science degree in anthropology, but her dreams are discouraged by her patriarchal middle-class family.

Her parents think that Jaya’s top priority in life should be to get married, be a subservient wife, and have children. Jaya’s uncle (her mother’s brother) Mani Annan (played by Sudheer Paravoor) angrily tells her that the men make the decisions in the family. And he thinks that if Jaya wants to go to college, she has to go to a college that costs less money and is closer to their home than Mar Ivanios College. And so, with great reluctance, Jaya goes to the less-prestigious MSS College, where Jaya’s family has pressured her to study Malayalam, instead of anthropology. She is shown looking very bored in her school classes that she thinks aren’t up to the standards of what she thinks she deserves.

The beginning of “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” shows a flashback to Jaya’s childhood, when she was about 11 or 12. Back then, she was thought of as the family’s overachieving “golden child,” compared to her older brother Jayan, who was thought of as an underachieving screw-up who wasn’t expected to go to college. Jaya’s father (played by Biju Kalanilayam), a clothing workshop supervisor, had such big dreams for her, he encouraged Jaya to think about becoming India’s next female prime minister, with Indira Ghandi as a role model.

An early scene in the movie shows the children’s father using a stick to hit a teenage Jayan for not taking good care of Jayan’s school books. Jayan asks his parents why Jaya isn’t being punished for the same thing. His mother replies, “Are you the same person [as Jaya]?” It’s a scene that shows how Jayan felt like Jaya was getting special treatment by their parents. (These two parents don’t have names in the movie.) Meanwhile, Jaya enjoys being the preferred sibling who seemingly can do no wrong.

Flashing forward to the present day, Jayan (played Anand Manmadhan) is still somewhat living in Jaya’s shadow, because their parents and uncle are preoccupied with finding a husband for Jaya, who still lives with her parents. However, whatever sibling rivalry that Jaya and Jayan had when they were younger is not as bitter as it used to be. That’s because Jaya has been irritating her parents and her uncle because of her stubborn refusal to get married at this point in her life. Jaya says she only wants to get married after she becomes an anthropologist and has established her own career.

What happened to Jaya’s father, who encouraged Jaya to become India’s next female prime minister? It seems like Jaya’s father now thinks what’s more important is the stigma he’s feeling for having a never-married daughter in her 30s. Instead of caring about Jaya’s feelings and goals, he cares more about not having an image of being a “failure” as a father, just because his daughter isn’t married yet. Viewers will notice that Jayan, who is also unmarried, is not under the same pressure as Jaya to find a spouse.

At JSS College, Jaya begins dating one of her professors named Karthikeyan (played by Aju Varghese), who’s about 10 years older than she is. The movie never really addresses the murky ethics of this relationship, but the college apparently doesn’t have a policy prohibiting the school’s teachers from dating their students. It’s obvious that this relationship is doomed when Karthikeyan shows that he’s an abuser who’s very possessive of Jaya.

Karthikeyan tells Jaya to limit her friendships with other men. He also wants to control all of her social media accounts. Karthikeyan yells at Jaya for changing her profile picture on social media without telling him first. And he also becomes physically abusive. During an argument with Jaya in public, he slaps her hard on her face. Witnesses who see this abuse do nothing to stop it and do nothing to help Jaya. Eventually, Jaya and Karthikeyan break up.

At home, Jaya gets more pressure than ever before to find a husband. She tearfully tells her parents that she doesn’t want to get married, but they don’t care about her feelings when it comes to marriage. Jaya’s uncle disapproved of her dating Karthikeyan and thinks this professor-student relationship damaged Jaya’s reputation, so he tells Jaya that she needs to get married soon to restore her reputation. Jaya’s parents and meddling uncle think the only way she can find a suitable husband is if they do matchmaking for her.

It isn’t long before Jaya is introduced to a poultry farmer named Rajesh (played by Basil Joseph), who meets Jaya for the first time when Rajesh, his parents and his younger sister visit the home where Jaya and her parents live. Jaya’s parents, brother and uncle are also at this family gathering. Rajesh and his family are from the town of Kottarakara, which isn’t too far from where Jaya and her parents live.

Jaya spends part of this get-together in the kitchen, preparing and then serving the tea that everyone has, so she doesn’t hear the parts of the conversation where her parents and uncle have told Rajesh how they have Jaya’s marriage plans all mapped out for her. It’s a very telling moment in the movie, because it shows that even though Jaya is an educated woman in her 30s, she still has very little control over decisions that have to do with her getting married. The movie tries to make some kind of feminist statement about the cultural restrictions that Jaya experiences, but this statement is terribly bungled and ends up making Jaya into a caricature.

Rajesh and Jaya eventually get a chance to talk in private. From the beginning, there’s no romantic chemistry between them, or even the type of chemistry that could suggest that Rajesh and Jaya can become good friends. Rajesh is a little socially awkward and asks Jaya what she knows about poultry farming. She admits she knows nothing about it and has no interest in it. He seems like a “nice guy” who’s very nerdy about poultry farming, because he starts to ramble to Jaya about things she doesn’t care about, such as the current wholesale market price for chickens.

Jayan shows that he’s a supportive brother when he tells Rajesh that if Jaya and Rajesh get married, she wants to continue her college education and get her bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Rajesh seems open to that decision, but he never fully commits to agreeing to that decision by the time that Rajesh and Jaya begin dating each other. Soon after Rajesh and Jaya have their first meeting, their parents decide that Rajesh are Jaya are a good match and should get married.

Jaya and Rajesh have a very short engagement before getting married in a festive ceremony where Jaya looks doesn’t look happy to be there. And believe it or not, her macho uncle Mani, who was pushing so hard for Jaya to get married, ends up crying at the wedding. After the wedding, Jaya moves to Kottarakara to live at Rajesh’s poultry farm (which is called Raj Poultry Farm), where they share a house with Rajesh’s parents and sister.

It isn’t long before Jaya founds out that the mild-mannered man she thought she married is actually a nasty-tempered and controlling abuser. First, Rajesh tells Jaya that she has to drop out of college so that she can be a full-time housewife who can help out with the farm. Not long after that, Rajesh begins beating Jaya if he thinks she isn’t doing exactly what he wants her to do. Sometimes, he beats her for no reason at all. Rajesh is not only horrible to Jaya, he’s also a terrible boss to his employees, whom he often berates and treats unfairly.

Jaya doesn’t have her family nearby or any friends to turn to for support. Rajesh’s physical abuse of Jaya causes injuries that are impossible to ignore, but the psychological damage is not really acknowledged in the movie, which turns the physical abuse into comedy. The movie’s tone is very off-kilter and clumsy, because it’s an odd mix of weepy melodrama that’s intended to be depressing, mismatched with kitschy fight action that’s intended to be comedic.

In contrast to Jaya feeling isolated in her abusive environment, Rajesh has a support system of people who completely enable him and his abuse. These enablers include Rajesh’s father, Rajesh’s mother (played by Kudassanad Kanakam), Rajesh’s sister Raji (played by Sheethal Zackaria) and Rajesh’s cousin Ani (played by Azees Nedumangad), who all do nothing to try to stop the abuse or help Jaya. Their attitude is that since Rajesh is Jaya’s husband, he has a right to treat her any way that he wants.

When Jaya tells her family about the abuse, her parents say that she just needs to adjust to it. Jaya’s brother Jayan is more sympathetic and concerned about her being abused. He visits Jaya and tries to protect her and stand up for her as much as he can. But there’s only so much he can do when he’s not living in the same household as Jaya. At one point in the movie, Jaya says that it’s been six months since her wedding, and Rajesh has beaten her 21 times.

One day, while Rajesh is giving Jaya another beating, he is absolutely shocked when she physically fights back and wins. This leads to a series of increasingly exaggerated fight scenes where Jaya suddenly acts like an expert in boxing and martial arts, and she gives Rajesh brutal beatdowns that she always wins. Her punches, kicks and shoves do a lot of damage to Raj and their house. For example, during a fight, she throws Raj on furniture that gets broken.

The word gets out around town that Rajesh is getting beat up by Jaya, and he becomes a laughingstock, especially with the local men. The people who laugh at Rajesh don’t really seem to care that Jaya is acting in self-defense to domestic abuse. All they perceive is Rajesh being emasculated by his wife. This humiliation makes Rajesh become even more resentful and angry toward Jaya.

Rajesh’s father tells Jaya that she’s overreacting to Rajesh’s abuse and mutters to himself, “This is what happens when women are over-educated.” Rajesh’s father also gives Rajesh some awful advice on how to “control” Jaya: He tells Rajesh to get Jaya pregnant, which he says will lessen her chances of leaving Rajesh. Rajesh agrees and says, “We have to stop her arrogance.”

On another occasion, Rajesh’s father says that in order for Rajesh to seduce Jaya into getting her pregnant, he should make an apology to Jaya by writing a song for Jaya. Rajesh’s pathetic attempt at songwriting and his off-key singing are treated as one big joke in the movie. The problem is that it’s a joke that falls flat, but it’s stretched out and repeated in a desperate attempt to make audiences think that it’s funny.

After Rajesh’s father convinces Rajesh to get Jaya pregnant, Rajesh suddenly pretends to be a perfect husband. He’s profusely apologetic and goes out of his way to be extra-nice and deferential to Jaya. Jayan is very suspicious of this sudden change in Rajesh’s attitude, and he warns Jaya not to fall for it.

As over-the-top and unrealistic as the movie can be in its fight scenes, “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” does have some realism in the cycle of abuse, where the abuser turns on the charm and begs for forgiveness from the abuse victim. The abuser also promises that the abuse will never happen again. Until the abuse does happen again. And then, the cycle repeats itself and ends with one of three outcomes: the abuse victim leaves, the abuser really stops the abuse, or someone in the relationship ends up dead.

None of the acting in this movie is noteworthy or special. Rajendran’s portrayal of Jaya veers from someone who has glimmers of a bright personality in the beginning of the film to someone who becomes a cold-hearted fighting machine by the end of the film. If the movie’s intention is to make Jaya a relatable character to abused women, it’s a miserable failure.

Manmadhan is perfectly adequate as Jayan, the only character in the movie who seems to be the most realistic. All of the other cast members portray hollow stereotypes, and they act accordingly in these roles. Unfortunately, “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” wants to trick people into thinking that it’s cool to laugh at the sight of a woman beating up a man who has abused her. But it’s a very misguided way of addressing domestic violence, because it never acknowledges the harsh realities of how escalating violence can make the problem worse.

“Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” wants to poke fun at misogyny and the vicious cycle of domestic violence. But the fight scenes, even when Jaya acts in self-defense, are overly staged to make audiences laugh, when these scenes aren’t worth laughing at all. The movie also thoughtlessly promotes a fantasy that the best way for a woman to stop a partner from abusing her is to inflict the same abuse back on the partner. It’s a fantasy that can get people killed in real life. And that is why “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” is a disgustingly careless exploitation of this very harmful societal problem.

Icon Cinemas released “Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey” in select U.S. cinemas on November 11, 2022. The movie was released in India on October 28, 2022.

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