In ‘Dear Jassi,’ the latest creation from director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, the film opens with a haunting musical performance by Sufi singer Kanwar Grewal, setting the stage for a tragic love story. Against the backdrop of rural Punjab, Grewal introduces us to the ill-fated romance of Jassi and Mithu, a tale of love that ends in heartbreak. However, as promising as this overture seems, the film that follows feels somewhat formulaic.
Dhandwar, known for his visually extravagant films like ‘The Cell’ and ‘The Fall,’ ventures into realism for the first time here. The film is based on the true story of Jassi, a young Indian-Canadian woman whose mother ordered her abduction and murder upon discovering her secret marriage to a rickshaw driver named Mithu, whom she met during a visit to Jagraon, Punjab. Dhandwar was inspired to make this film after reading about the horrific murder in the news back in 2000, and the story had been on his mind ever since.
The film meticulously traces the journey of Jassi and Mithu’s love story, from their initial encounter to a long-distance courtship that spans years. They face numerous obstacles, including immigration issues as Mithu lacks a passport and visa for Canada. Jassi’s affluent family is already seeking suitable suitors for her, and Mithu does not fit the bill due to his humble background and legal troubles. However, the film inadequately explains the latter, leaving the audience with unanswered questions, especially those unfamiliar with Punjab’s history of terrorism. Mithu’s transformation from a Sikh appearance to cutting his hair also remains unexplored.
While the film skillfully portrays the gradual development of Jassi and Mithu’s relationship through letters, phone calls, and meetings, it falls short in providing depth to other characters. Jassi’s family members, responsible for the disastrous turn of events, come across as one-dimensional villains. The film fails to delve into the classist and patriarchal mindset that drives their extreme actions. This lack of character development creates an uneven tone, swinging between restraint and melodrama.
Comparisons with Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ are inevitable, as both directors have a penchant for grandeur. However, Luhrmann’s adaptation thrives on the established enmity between the feuding families, providing crucial context for the ill-fated love story. In contrast, ‘Dear Jassi’ struggles to convey the regressive environment that endangers the couple or the depth of their love. This lack of grounding makes it challenging to emotionally connect with the film, even during its most gut-wrenching moments.
However, the lead actors, relatively unknown, deliver compelling performances as they embody the star-crossed lovers Jassi and Mithu, reminiscent of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Their intense emotional states draw the audience into their inner world, characterised by a guilelessness that ultimately leads to their downfall. The film’s climactic sequences, exactingly staged by Dhandwar, are emotionally harrowing and unforgettable.
In all, the production marks a departure from Dhandwar’s visually extravagant style, offering a more restrained and emotionally powerful narrative. While the film falls short in character development and contextualising the story, it successfully conveys the heart-wrenching love story of Jassi and Mithu, leaving a lasting impact on the audience.