Understanding the Disturbing Beauty of ‘Dear Jassi’

Understanding the Disturbing Beauty of ‘Dear Jassi’

Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s sixth feature film, ‘Dear Jassi,’ arrives with echoes of Madonna’s 1989 hit “Dear Jessie,” promising whimsy and joy. However, this Punjabi Juliet-meets-Romeo story takes a dark and unexpected turn, leaving viewers stunned and disturbed. Unlike any other filmed version of ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Dear Jassi’ delves into the harsh realities of migration and the socio-economic consequences that are often overlooked.

While immigrant stories have been prevalent in recent years, ‘Dear Jassi’ shines a light on the lesser-publicized notion of emigration. It explores how individuals can leave their homeland, only to develop feelings of superiority towards the world they left behind. The film, lensed by Brendan Galvin, goes beyond highlighting cultural differences and instead emphasizes the universal similarities between people, even featuring a cow as a symbol of India.

The film’s beginning takes a low-key approach, unlike Singh’s previous works. Known for his visually striking debut film, ‘The Cell,’ Singh surprises audiences by opening with an anonymous field and a singer-slash-musician reciting the words of poet Bulleh Shah. A seemingly innocuous farm building comes into focus, foreshadowing the unsettling events that are about to unfold.

‘Dear Jassi’ tells the story of Jassi, a Canadian Indian girl, who becomes infatuated with Mithu, a village boy with exceptional skills in the local contact sport of kabaddi. Jassi’s obsession sparks concerns from the outset, setting the stage for a series of escalating events. The film artfully jumps between Jassi’s life in Canada, where tensions are high, and flashbacks that reveal the progression of her relationship with Mithu.

The film showcases Jassi’s attempts to bring Mithu to Canada, despite numerous challenges. Mithu lacks a passport, and even after obtaining one, he faces corruption and bribery when trying to book a flight. Jassi’s perseverance and love for Mithu clash with her snobbish ex-pat mother’s desire to maintain social standing, leading to a confluence of violent and disturbing events.

‘Dear Jassi’ is unafraid to mix genres, blending elements of romance, drama, and dark humor. The film presents a bold juxtaposition between lighthearted moments and deeply unsettling revelations. Director Tarsem Singh challenges conventions and takes ownership of his film, mirroring the likes of Michael Haneke and Gaspar Noé in their exploration of transgressive cinema.

In the final act, ‘Dear Jassi’ takes a sharp turn, upending expectations and delivering a deeply unsettling reveal that lingers long after the credits roll. While initially reminiscent of Singh’s delirious cult classic ‘The Fall,’ which offers a whimsical escape, ‘Dear Jassi’ subverts a classic love story to explore themes of family, pride, and tribalism.

With its disturbing beauty and thought-provoking narrative, ‘Dear Jassi’ is a film that defies categorization. Singh’s unique direction and storytelling daringly challenge viewers, leaving them with a mix of emotions. While it diverges from his previous visually stunning works, ‘Dear Jassi’ captivates audiences with its dissonance, shedding light on the darker aspects of love, migration, and the human condition.


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