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Jaane Jaan scores with performances and atmospherics, but is more a human drama than a thriller

In an interview with director Sujoy Ghosh earlier this week, I started off by asking the self-confessed “R.D. Burman loyalist” why he had decided to name his latest film after a Laxmikant Pyarelal song

Priyanka Roy  Published 22.09.23, 12:16 PM
Kareena Kapoor Khan in Jaane Jaan, streaming on Netflix

Kareena Kapoor Khan in Jaane Jaan, streaming on Netflix

In an interview with director Sujoy Ghosh earlier this week, I started off by asking the self-confessed “R.D. Burman loyalist” why he had decided to name his latest film after a Laxmikant Pyarelal song. Sujoy, whose devotion for RDB aka Panchamda can only be challenged by his almost reverential love for chilli chicken, had said that the song — the slow and sensual Aa jaane jaan from the 1965 film Intaqam, picturised on Helen — best suited his film. I agree, given his latest outing’s slow-burn thriller vibe, its enchanting atmospherics and its mysterious, almost exotic, feel.

But there is a primary thread — that of unrequited, devoted and selfless love — in Jaane Jaan, which Sujoy himself counts as its strength, which finds echoes in an R.D. Burman gem. Jaane jaan from Jawani Diwani. Its lyrics: ‘Jaane jaan dhoondta phir raha, hoon tumhein raat din main yahan se wahan. Mujhko awaaz do, chhup gaye ho sanam, tum kahaan...,’ is a personification of the ephemeral nature of love where one lover yearns for another who mostly remains in the shadows, perhaps never to be found. That it’s written by Anand Bakshi and sung by Kishore Kumar, two other Sujoy favourites, is a win. Coincidentally, it’s picturised on Randhir Kapoor, whose daughter Kareena makes her digital debut with Jaane Jaan.


But then, what’s in a name, as they say? Well, in this film, quite a bit. Adapted from the Keigo Higashino bestseller The Devotion of Suspect X and transposed from bustling Tokyo to sleepy Kalimpong, the ‘devotion’ in the source material’s title finds its living embodiment in the character of Naren Vyas, played by Jaideep Ahlawat. Yet, everyone in Kalimpong knows the man — a mostly silent, always lonely, perpetually socially awkward math teacher — as, well, ‘Teacher’. And that applies to single mother and cafe owner Maya D’Souza (Kareena Kapoor Khan), whose home is separated from the Teacher’s messy tenement — heaps and heaps of books and walls plastered with math equations, with only a prized Game of Death poster featuring Bruce Lee giving away his regular visits to the local dojo — by a wall. As Teacher, Jaideep has the responsibility of bringing alive the most complex and compelling part of Jaane Jaan. With equal amounts of endearment and beguiling awkwardness, secrecy and sinisterness, Jaideep shoulders the film, his presence — though sometimes performative — helping to crease out many of Jaane Jaan’s shortcomings.

A murder takes place. You see the murder and you know who the killer is. Another person steps in to cover up the crime and build evidence in support of the killer. And that, at once, takes you back to Drishyam, whose Malayalam original is believed to have also leaned on Higashino’s book for its story. The success of Drishyam has spawned many remakes, including in Hindi, and that makes Jaane Jaan a tad familiar, which is never a good thing for what is essentially a thriller.

It is here that director Ghosh steps in with experience and craft and his trusted allies. Avik Mukhopadhyay’s moody lensing of the nooks and crannies of the misty hill town as well as his unflinching close-ups of the faces of the film’s three protagonists — Vijay Varma’s Karan, a Mumbai cop who lands up to lead a missing persons case that eventually turns into a murder investigation, is the most showy flamboyant part — maintains the taut tension throughout. So does Anirban Sengupta’s work with the sound, which sometimes conveys more than anything else does. And Sujoy, of course, slips in an R.D. Burman song or two — Aaj ki raat koi aane ko hai to Shono mon boli tomay — in the backdrop to keep the fanboy in him (and us) happy.

Jaane Jaan’s cat-and-mouse game glides along smoothly for the most part, punctuated by occasional dashes of humour — like Karan’s tear-inducing tryst with Bhut Jolokia sauce and Naren’s insecurity over his fast-receding hairline. There are nice touches like that light moment in the karaoke bar and Maya’s heartfelt moments with her teenage daughter.

Kareena’s stone-faced demeanour imparts the right dose of mysteriousness to her character but never allows Maya to come across as cold and unfeeling. Vijay brings lightness to a part which could well have been heavy and a special word for Karma Takapa as Sundar Singh who turns in a confident, assured act.

What separates Jaane Jaan from the regular thriller is that it encourages the viewer to deduce and decipher, with math often being used as a moral compass to distinguish right from wrong. However, the film gets ahead of itself in the final act, its last 15 minutes rewinding and reframing with so much haste that the final act/ twist doesn’t deliver the thrilling punch it should have. Instead what it does is bring a lump to the throat. Is that the payoff you expect from a mystery that packed in murder, thrill and atmospherics from frame one? That’s for you to decide.

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