Jab We Met, No Smoking

Usually, when I review new releases these days, I add a spoiler warning. Thankfully, this time neither movie needs one.. 

In some ways, these two movies are diametrically opposite each other. Jab We Met is a formulaic rom-com that simply tries to do the best it can within the framework of that genre. No Smoking is an experimental sort of film that has style oozing from every frame. They both have things to offer that are admirable. Ony one of them is likely to do well at the box office, and deserves every penny it makes.

Jab We Met tells the story of a serious man at a crossroads in his life meeting a vivacious woman who teaches him a thing or two. Once I tell you that she is in love with another guy, I’m sure you can fill in the remaining gaps in the story. Formulaic as it can get. What makes it work, however, is the skill with which it has been done. The dialogues are sensible and don’t always say the obvious, the funny stuff works and there is genuine chemistry between the leads. This is Shahid’s movie all the way through.  More than once, I have heard him referred to as the next SRK. I’ll reserve judgement on that, but his performance reminded me of Shahrukh more than once. There is a scene just before the interval that mirrors one in DDLJ that I once wrote a freeze frame post about. It’s a nice scene, very understated, and Shahid does it beautifully. Kareena does pretty well — there are scenes in the second half where she has some heavy lifting to do. It is to her credit that she makes these scenes believable. On the whole, well worth a dekko. It has two weeks to go before the biggies take centre stage, so I hope it makes good money during this period.

No Smoking is a film about a chain-smoker whose wife decides to leave him because he wouldn’t quit. Some of his close friends, all of whom used to smoke but have now kicked the habit and are behaving in a decidedly wierd fashion, recommend a rehabilitation centre to him. He goes there. It is a strange sort of place, filled with tin cans lined wall to wall. He descends through a series of staircases until he is finally taken to meet a man who promises him that he’ll help him kick the habit. I wish I could tell you more, but  this is all I understood. Whether any of the above events happen in the real world is not clear either. The movie unfolds like a dreamscape, with all the vividity and lack of coherence you might expect in one. Visually, it is quite an interesting piece of work, very stylish. There are also some nice movie references, like a song set in a place called The Bob Fosse bar and seems to draw inspiration from All that Jazz in Chicago. But in the end, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It’s like Charlie Kaufmann and David Lynch making a movie together. And I don’t buy the logic that it conveys an anti-smoking message. No Smoking is above all an exercise in style. The cigarettes are just the MacGuffin.

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15 thoughts on “Jab We Met, No Smoking

  1. Rajendran says:

    No Smoking – As I started reading the review, I somehow thought that it was a David Lynch film and you said it in the end.

    I bet, Christopher Nolan would have given a better shape to the plot outline with his characteristic style. By the way, on a different note – I have quit smoking for the 42nd time but this time, it is almost surely!

  2. i enjoyed both films.

    ‘jab we met’ for just being a fun colourful movie where you enjoy the filmy bits and not roll your eyes at them. and the music is really pretty.

    ‘no smoking’ was fascinating to me just for how different it was for a hindi film. when the movie started there were 8 people in the theatre. when it ended there were three. heh. i loved the humour and the weirdness of it all. my favourite scene has got to be the action replay sequence. you cant believe they’re talking about an action replay and yet they are. so strange. so much fun. we need more weird experimental cinema.

  3. Hmm Ramsu, some how storyline of JWM, seems somewhat akin to Before Sunrise. Two strangers meet decide to spend time together, just wondering. Anyway seems the movie is doing well, and good.

    Regards No Smoking, well good or bad, it is a first of it’s kind in Indian cinema, and i guess it could have been a sort of reference point for other movies. But instead of a proper discussion around it, all we have had are slanging matches and mud slinging, and the focus has shifted to Anurag vs Others, and quite sad. NS, also proves that most of the mainstream movie critics have zero knowledge of movies or movie making.

    For that matter even Lynch is not a critics favorite either, as far as i know Mullholand Drive was ripped apart, and Roger Ebert gave a 1 star rating to Blue Velvet. I guess making a surrealistic, non linear kinda movie is quite tough. In a movie with a normal narration, u can afford to make a few goof ups here and there, coz the audience knows whats going on. In a non linear kinda narration, a couple of goof ups and the entire movie goes for a toss.

  4. Hmm Ramsu, is it only me, but somehow the storyline of JWM seems quite similiar to Before Sunrise. Two strangers meeting, deciding to spend time together. Anyway the movie seems to be doing good.

    Regarding NS, good or bad, i guess its the first of it’s kind in Indian cinema, and it could have been used as a reference point in case some one wants to attempt a movie in this genre. Unfortunately instead of discussing the merits and demerits of the movie, what we had in the last couple of days is mudslinging and name calling, with the result, that No Smoking has been sidetracked, and it has become Anurag Kashyap vs Others.

    NS also proves that most of our mainstream movie critics have no clue about movies or movie making. I really dont understand what Rediff was thinking when they got a guy who publicly claims that he has no idea about noir or surrealistic movie making to review No Smoking. Its like asking some one with zero knowledge of cricket, to cover a cricket match.

    Making a surrealistic kinda movie is never gonna be an easy task. For that matter i dont think Lynch himself is a critics darling, Mullholland Drive was uniformly trashed. In a conventional narration, u can afford to slip up here and there, coz the audiences are clued into the story. U cant afford to do it in a non linear narration, it just throws everything off track.

  5. And also No Smoking reminds me of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Terry Gilliam cultie starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. That movie was also roundly savaged by critics, inspite of Gilliam inviting em to a special premiere. But again i guess Fear and Loathing is more like an experience kinda movie, some what in lines of Easy Rider, where two guys decide to go out and slum it.

  6. NK says:

    Damn! I was hoping your review would explain No Smoking to me because I was totally lost in the second half. The first half reminded me of Game a lot but then it got so weird that I had no idea what was going on. I stayed on till the end of the movie hoping that a logical explanation would be given to everything like Game did in the end ……

  7. Raj >> 42 is a good number. All the best!

    Pri >> You seem to be making a habit of watching movies with only a handful of people in the auditorium. Way to go!

    NS was definitely a wierd movie. I’d have appreciated it more if it had also made some sort of sense to me, I suppose.

    Ratnakar >> Interesting parallel. But I think other than the fact that they meet on a train, Jab We Met and Before Sunrise have little in common. Before Sunrise has far less plot and is entirely about the two of them talking while roaming the streets of Vienna. JWM is more in the nature of a standard rom-com.

    I find it tough to give NS a positive verdict. I admire Anurag Kashyap’s courage — it isn’t easy to veer away from the beaten track. But there were many moments when it seemed as if he was so preoccupied with how the film looked that he didn’t care about what it was doing or why.

    Emotionally, the movie was dead in the water. Even when you watch something that takes off on a tangent to reality, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it works because it gives you some sort of anchor to hold on to. When I watched No Smoking, I was detached, never involved. For a while, it was a nice intellectual exercise, trying to figure out what was going on. But since I didn’t particularly care about what happened to the protagonist, I lost interest after a point.

    I wonder if this is one of those Anurag Kashyap things — I remember feeling the same way about Black Friday. I read the book and found it interesting, but the movie played like a highlights version of the book.

    Nik >> I also thought, during those initial scenes where he goes to the Prayogshala, that this might be something like The Game. But the movie seemed to take on more surreal/paranormal overtones beyond that point. I wish I understood what was going on.

  8. Sagarika says:

    Ramsu,

    I loved the interesting twist to your review-placement of two “diametrically opposite movies”.

    “They both have things to offer that are admirable. Ony one of them is likely to do well at the box office, and deserves every penny it makes.” The obviousness in this ambiguous statement beautifully underscores the latter movie’s “go figure” message, IMO.

    I landed up on this page after first reading that Q & A you’d posted, not realizing there was a review. So a couple words from me from reading the review of NS elsewhere, are shared in a comment to that post. Your simple, succinct summary of what NS possibly is comes as a welcome relief in the wake of some intense, heated discussions I’d been reading about the movie. But I know I’ll have to actually see it so I can “go figure”.

    Unrelated note: I also read about Pri watching Vanaja with an audience of three. So your response to her here cracked me up:

    Pri >> You seem to be making a habit of watching movies with only a handful of people in the auditorium. Way to go!

  9. Priya says:

    Why the reference to all that jazz in chicago, definitely a ……. version of that masterpiece choreography, and randhawa’s skills on the floor(which manages to look reasonably aesthetic thanks to rajiv ravi), no match to the zesty jones, agree on the set value/presentation side a bit(but that was the feel of the whole film), anyways will still give it to you for one lone reason, indian viewers dont get to see much of the jazz stuff in their films, it is the best of the lot we have had so far(does iruvar count?)

  10. Priya,

    You’re right, we don’t see much jazz in Indian cinema. Then again, I’m not sure how many can pull it off. This one fit in perfectly, but given that the movie itself is one of a kind, you’re not likely to see that sort of fit often.

    I actually didn’t quite catch the All That Jazz reference until I noticed that the entire sequence was set in a place called The Bob Fosse bar, named obviously for the man who wrote the Broadway musical.

    However, it is possible that the reference was not to that particular song, but to the jazz dance style that Fosse pioneered.

    ~r

    ps: Yes, Iruvar counts.

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