Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s latest feature film, “Dear Jassi,” initially appears to be a Punjabi twist on Romeo and Juliet, but it quickly becomes much more than that. This beautifully brutal movie challenges its audience with a dissonance that is both disturbing and thought-provoking. The shocking twist is that the majority of the film is based on true events, forcing viewers to confront the harsh realities of emigration and its socio-economic consequences. While immigrant stories have dominated the film industry in recent years, “Dear Jassi” dares to explore the often-overlooked downside of migration.
Unlike many culture-clash films, “Dear Jassi” focuses on the similarities rather than the differences between cultures. The stunning cinematography by Brendan Galvin highlights the shared experiences and struggles of the characters, making the presence of a cow the only way to confirm the setting as India. This approach adds depth and authenticity to the story, allowing the audience to empathize with the characters on a profound level.
For fans of Singh’s earlier works, “Dear Jassi” may come as a surprise. Known for his visually stunning and fantastical films like “The Cell,” Singh takes a different approach with this film. The opening scenes are eerily low-key, setting a subdued tone before revealing the horrors that lie ahead. Rather than relying on extravagant visuals, Singh uses warmth and humor to build the story and create a connection with the audience.
The story revolves around Jassi, a Canadian Indian girl visiting her cousin Charni in rural India. It is there that she becomes infatuated with Mithu, a village boy excelling in kabaddi, a local contact sport. From the outset, this obsession raises red flags, hinting at the disturbing events that will unfold. The non-linear storytelling adds an air of mystery and tension, keeping the audience on edge as they piece together the events leading up to the film’s opening scene.
Jassi’s obsession with Mithu drives her to pursue him relentlessly, despite the numerous challenges they face. Their courtship is portrayed with innocence and simplicity, standing in stark contrast to the complex and dangerous world surrounding them. Jassi’s determination to bring Mithu to Canada causes friction within her own family, particularly with her snobbish ex-pat mother. The clash of values and the desperation to hold onto family, class, and reputation adds a sinister layer to the story.
“Dear Jassi” is a bold mix of genres and tones, combining humor and violence in equal measure. The film’s unflinching portrayal of physical violence, driven by Jassi’s unwavering love for Mithu, is haunting. It challenges societal norms and expectations, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable on screen. While some may compare the film to controversial works of the past, “Dear Jassi” stands on its own as a powerful and provocative exploration of family, pride, and tribalism.
In true Tarsem Singh fashion, “Dear Jassi” operates on a meta level, subverting traditional storylines to create a unique and captivating narrative. Just as “The Fall” played with the hero’s journey, this film twists and turns the illicit lovers’ flight, delivering a shocking and emotionally charged reveal. Singh’s ability to take ownership of his films shines through, showcasing his talent for crafting compelling stories that push the boundaries of cinema.
“Dear Jassi” lingers in the mind long after the credits roll. Its disturbing and thought-provoking nature forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about emigration and its consequences. By highlighting the shared experiences of its characters, the film sparks conversations about identity, culture, and the human condition. “Dear Jassi” is a testament to the power of cinema to challenge, inspire, and provoke introspection.