This is the first time I’ve seen a film begin with a quote from a review. It’s like the filmmaker telling you that if Hollywood Reporter said something positive about it, you must too. It doesn’t mention, however, that the review also pointed out how much of the film was utter nonsense.
Jal is a peculiar breed. While it does have some water under its earth, what is excavated is undrinkable and pretty much spurts everywhere. It is set in the Rann of Kutch, an endlessly cinematic terrain, that was beautifully used in Lagaan (2001) gets shoddily treated here. Bakka, the water diviner, is the protagonist, played by Purab H. Kohli. He’s sort of like the village’s Jesus H. Christ, except he can’t convert water to wine but only finds water with his 9 ¾ sense. Enter Kim, the activist firang, who comes to the Kutch. She’s almost the most annoying foreign character I’ve seen in Hindi films with her “I love India” demeanor and dialogue mostly dubbed off-screen. While Bakka is searching for water and the village is in deep turmoil, she with her quasi-Ellen Page looks, goes and takes a dip in a lake only to find dead baby flamingoes in it. And then starts the heroic tale of the white chick rescuing the baby flamingo chicks. Not. This is the artsy social bit of the film.
Meanwhile, the villagers are lusting after the firang and it plays like a comedy. Filmmaker Girish Malik seems to be aiming for Peepli Live (2010) except all of the humor falls flat. Out of nowhere, women are running behind her with pickaxes. She’s been kidnapped by the neighboring villagers. Lo and behold, the porcelain damsel is in distress! Out of nowhere, yet again, Bakka catches hold of Kesar (Kirti Kulhari) bathing and they start doing adult film things. The comedy, the social message and the sex stuff does not disappear, it goes on. Kim needs water for her flamingo project and their high-tech machine is of no use. Bakka can find water for her but nobody else believes it. I quote “You’ve gone to some of the best colleges in Europe. How can you believe him?”. She believes him. How unbelievable!
The intermission comes in at point where even if the film ended, it wouldn’t make a difference. Although, it drags on. I started thinking about how this location would be perfect for a noir like Chinatown (1974), which was given a stab in Manorama Six Feet Under (2007). Maybe even for a crime saga like Breaking Bad. Except the villagers are in dire need of food and water, they might have to call it Breaking Bread. I also wondered whether Shekhar Kapur’s Paani would ever surface. This was the most amusing part of the film. Where my train of thought drifted from the film. One David Lean shot later, Kim decides to leave town after her work is complete. I thought it might find its resolution soon. Silly me.
The Romeo and Juliet plot of two warring sides begins. Bakka and Kesar fall in lust and want to get married. It gets resolved in two scenes and they start honeymooning in the village for 10 days. If you get confused, the titles announcing Day 1 to 10 appear at the bottom of the screen. There is also a sub-plot of the village wanting to keep the machine. Jal remembers that it was a social drama. Somewhere.
Out of absolutely nowhere (again!)… or maybe it was my train of thought, the film picks up a murder sub-plot! Ravi Gosain who was Nigoda in the TV series Amanat is related to the tragic happenings. So are Tannishtha Chatterjee and Mukul Dev. This noir in the sun doesn’t get resolved in two scenes. It goes on and on and doesn’t go anywhere.
Social drama – check. Comedy – check. Adult film – check. Murder plot – check. Tragedy – check. The only thing missing in the film was actors lip-syncing to songs. But then maybe, it would have alienated the film festival audience. Maybe Hollywood Reporter would have not given them the quote to use at the beginning of the film. Jal is a film that would be equivalent to wandering in the desert and never finding an oasis. It’s a dry hot mess.view less