The Loneliness of Being Jaya in ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’
The poster of Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle carries the line, ‘Saath Jeene Marne Wali Love Story Nahi Hai Hamari’. When this line loaded with a casual millennial attitude is observed against the backdrop of a non-millennial couple, it strikes as peculiar. But when Yogi, Irrfan Khan’s character, says it out loud in the film, it becomes richer and multilayered. Well, he does have the Midas touch, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
While we can’t stop singing paeans to Irrfan, we need to talk about the character of Jaya (essayed by Parvathy), a single independent woman trying to move on after the loss of her husband, dabbling in the unfamiliar and intimidating world of dating. Yogi and Jaya, who are like chalk and cheese, meet through a dating app and set out on a journey to retrace past relationships through Rishikesh, Bikaner and Gangtok.
With the all-women trio of Tanuja Chandra (screenplay), Kamna Chandra (story) and Gazal Dhaliwal (screenplay/dialogue) breathing life into the characters of the film, you would expect nothing less than a relatable female lead.
Not a size zero, hair tied in a bun, clothed in elegant ethnic wear during outings to a coffee shop or a wedding, Jaya allows us only a glimpse into her inner abyss of grief. She fills the void by almost living vicariously – she babysits her friends’ kids and cat. As self-assured as she appears, Jaya is almost in denial about her need to connect with a significant other. Jaya steels herself with an impenetrable metaphorical wall.
She buys two tickets to a movie even when she attends it alone, so that no one is sitting in the seat next to her, almost like drawing an invisible boundary. When a colleague directs her to a dating site, she tentatively gives in. Her character’s loneliness is not overstated but is palpable when she breaks the fourth wall and confides in the audience, sharing her doubts and fears.
Yogi may not understand boundaries but he is respectful and patient in a very old-school way.
The first half of Qarib Qarib Singlle successfully sets out to draw the portrait of a modern ‘widow’ (as she introduces herself). Yogi (Irrfan Khan) almost offers a lens of interpretation to understand her complex ways.
He also drops truth bombs without being caustic. Only a man who is a feminist can articulate how women venerate their husbands by adopting their surnames when they are alive and by using their names as passwords, when they are gone – a comment on how Jaya is trapped in the prison of her past.
In the second half, I begin to get irked by Jaya’s self-defeating ways, just as one would get impatient with a friend making wrong choices or being haughty. The predictability of the film towards the end conjures stereotypes of characters that take too long to express themselves.
Her ascendant but hesitant metamorphosis is compromised with the scenes that follow her inebriation, ridiculously caused by an overdose of pills. It is again Yogi’s tough love that redeems the narrative. When she refers to her husband in the present tense, he pushes her to embrace the cruel fact that the tense is reserved for only those who are alive.
Qarib Qarib Singlle touches upon how overcoming the loss of a spouse is like extricating oneself out of a self-impose exile. Transitioning into a newer, less lonelier life in middle-age includes dealing with relationships that may be in flux. It is both the triumph and the flaw of the film that it only peripherally deals with this glorious mess of relationships and bereavement.