Endearing concept, nice cast, lead characters that feel so real, the genuine atmosphere of a small town in a film set in a small town … there’s a lot going for Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga. Where the film falters and fizzles out is in its inability to go beyond an enjoyable first half or rise above a unique premise, to be a well-rounded satire. Still, while the going’s good it’s worth a watch.
Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga is set in Sonepat in Haryana, where Puttanpal and his wife struggle to make ends meet in the face of back-breaking inflation. He is a government-employed cattle breeder, she runs a beauty parlour in the house. Both incomes combined are not sufficient to keep the kitchen running in a household that also includes a forever-crabby old father and an unemployed younger brother. Matters take an interesting turn when Puttanpal arrives at an idea to beat inflation: he takes a 3-year interest-free loan under a new government scheme to start a shop, but uses the money instead to hoard much-needed household supplies for 3 years.
So far so good. It’s a joy to see comedian Sanjai Mishra being given a role that, for a change, does not require him to be an over-the-top laugh monger … this is a genuinely talented actor who has been repeating himself in some of his recent films, saddled as he has been with repetitive roles. Pragati Pandey (playing Puttanpal’s wife Noori) is unbelievably believable, and scenes of her with clients at Noori Beauty Parlour are among the best written in the film – hilarious and yet so poignant. The relationship of complete understanding between Puttanpal and Noori is very moving. Writers Rupesh Thapliyal and Vijay Manral are in fine fettle up to this point. Another evocative angle is added to the story in the form of Puttanpal’s father – played convincingly by Vishwa Mohan Bhadola – as the old man who fails to realise the pressure he’s placing on his son with his perennial cribbing. And actor Zakir Hussain as a loan inspector is his usual reliable self.
So why doesn’t the film work all the way? Well, firstly, Puttanpal and Noori may be simple, but they’re not stupid, yet it doesn’t occur to either of them (or any character in the film) to wonder how perishable food items are expected to last for 3 full years. Slight problem, no? Even if you do grant the writers this oversight, it’s hard to accept the lack of depth in the relationship between Gopal and his girlfriend Suman (Disha Pandey) and sadder still, the writers’ inability to come up with new ideas as the film rolls along. So okay, the pre-interval portion is fun and telling, but with nothing fresh coming up post interval it’s hard to swallow the over-dramatised final scene in which Puttanpal delivers a long long lecture about inflation and the film takes the populist stance of actually endorsing corruption among members of the public in response to corruption among the political class and inflation. Wonder how Victor Hugo would have wrapped up this story.
Producers Revel Films had earlier given us 2010’s Phas Gaye Re Obama, a tragi-comic comment on the global recession. That film suffered from the same weakness that plagues Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga: lovely concept, excellent execution at the start but a second half that feels stretched once the novelty wears off. SJSM is skating on even thinner ice. Whoever said “well begun is half done” forgot to add that half done still means another halfway to go, and Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga doesn’t manage that journey. This is a sweet film, but it should have been so much more.
Rating (out of five): **3/4
Photograph courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/SaareJahaanSeMehnga?fref=ts