Tarsem Singh's latest movie is a hard-hitting true crime story that sheds light on the phenomenon insultingly known as Honour Killing. Based on a famous and now rather historic case, this important film shows us how the Indian diaspora has taken its cultural norms to its new host nations, both the good and the bad, and seen the latter calcify into something unbending and ruthless. (I know whereof I speak here, as a second generation Punjabi immigrant in England).
The first hour of the film is a sweet, earnest and almost naive love story between Jassi and Mithoo. The former is a Canadian citizen, living an outwardly wealthy modern life, but we can tell from her home set-up that her family is still incredibly traditional and controlling. They live in a multi-generational joint family, where even the married adult children do not establish themselves as independent, and Jassi is dropped off and picked up from work, her pay packet taken by her parents. On her annual vacation she goes back to family relations in northern India who are similarly controlling. Her cousin Santo is not allowed to date either. But despite all of these restrictions she still manages to meet and fall in love with a handsome Kabbadi player called Mithoo. The problem is that her family will never approve of her marrying "beneath" her to a lower caste uneducated poor boy.
The second hour of the film becomes far darker as the naivety of the young lovers is met by the intransigence of her family. This gives the film more energy and narrative drive. The first half is sometimes cloyingly slow-paced. We are as desperate as Jassi for Mithoo to do something. But the second half of the film is a Kafka-esqe world of immigration rules coupled with the highest stakes of whether the couple can be reunited. I won't spoil the events if you are not familiar with them, or cases of this type. Suffice to say that Jassi's big mistake is to go back to India where bribes allow her family to act with impunity. This is not to say that there aren't horrific acts of violence against Asian girls in Britain, but clearly justice is even more corrupt over there.
I am full of praise for Tarsem Singh both in his tenacity for bringing this important subject to the screen but also in the way in which he handled it. We get his beautiful trademark visuals, helped by DP Brendan Galvin, but there is a restraint in what they are showing and how. This is not touristic magisterial India but everyday rural Punjab in all its beauty but also its run-down ramshackle chaos. Without spoiling it, the way he handles the pivotal final scenes is masterful and searing but never exploitative.
DEAR JASSI has a running time of 132 minutes. It played Toronto and London 2023.