Sujoy Ghosh’s directorial debut with Jhankaar Beats is considered to be one of the best Dil Chahta Hai-esque movies with a heavy dose of R.D. Burman. Despite the similarity with Taking Lives, in terms of the final twist with the fake pregnancy, Kahaani rivals every other thriller that India has produced, and that includes Ghosh’s own Kahaani 2. That brings us to the big issue with Ghosh: he hasn’t made anything decent outside of these two films. Home Delivery had a good premise, but it was a slog. Aladin was atrocious. He tried too hard to beat his own film with Kahaani 2, and it ended up being a bore. Badla was a frame-by-frame remake of The Invisible Guest, which made the whole film feel pointless. His short films were fine. When he tried his hand at serialized storytelling with Typewriter, it didn’t end well. His segment in Lust Stories 2 was outright disgusting. Yet, here he is with Jaane Jaan.
Based on Keigo Higashino’s 2005 novel, The Devotion of Suspect X, Sujoy Ghosh’s Jaane Jaan follows Maya D’Souza, who lives with her daughter Tara in Kalimpong. She works at a restaurant called Tiffin. One of her regular customers is Naren, who is the mathematics teacher at the local school as well as Maya’s neighbor. It’s evident that Naren fancies Maya, but neither Naren explicitly states his feelings, nor does Maya reciprocate Naren’s not-so-subtle hints that he is into her. This apparently simple life is disturbed by Ajit, Maya’s ex-husband, who wants money from her and wants to turn Tara into a bar dancer, i.e., the same profession that Ajit had pushed Maya into after their marriage. Maya and Tara fight back, and, in the heat of the moment, they kill Ajit. Naren helps Maya get rid of the body. However, Naren’s old friend from college, Karan, who is a police officer, reaches Kalimpong searching for the missing Ajit and starts treating Maya as his prime suspect. In an attempt to save Maya, Naren hatches an elaborate plot that’ll get Karan off Maya’s back.
Personally speaking, I struggle to understand the act of adapting something that has already been adapted several times or is so well executed in the original medium that it doesn’t need to be transferred to another medium. The Devotion of Suspect X has been adapted four times prior to Jaane Jaan, with the most recent one being a Tamil film by the name of Kolaigaran, which deviated heavily from the source material and, obviously, repurposed the Japanese story as an Indian tale. So, does Sujoy Ghosh have anything new to say about it or present the story in an interesting way? No, and that’s underscored by Ghosh’s weird homage to the story’s Japanese origins, where he makes Naren a Jiu Jitsu expert. I mean, the character is one of the best mathematicians, and he is getting to use a chess metaphor to explain how he’s tricking Karan. So, by the time the Jiu Jitsu shtick shows up, it seems like Ghosh is appeasing the Japanese fans of Higashino’s novel. And, to be honest, he should be doing some form of appeasement because he has completely misunderstood the source material.
The Devotion of Suspect X delves into the notions of selflessness and gratitude, and almost every adaptation of the novel has successfully portrayed that. There’s a palpable sensation of dread and tension regarding the mother and the daughter’s wellbeing if the police officer finds out about the murder. And there’s a huge cloud of doubt regarding the teacher’s ability to take care of the situation despite his introverted demeanor. Now, as soon as you turn Naren into a giga-chad action hero who is way too arrogant about his intelligence, you instantly dispel any doubts you have about the character’s acumen. Naren and Karan should technically be equals, but the former is a math genius, a chess genius, and a Jiu Jitsu genius, while the latter is kind of good at mixed martial arts and is dedicated when it comes to analyzing his suspects. There’s no competition, and if there’s no competition, there’s no suspense. Amidst this display of masculinity and testosterone, though, Maya’s story and the aforementioned themes are not allowed to fully materialize, thereby making their inclusion feel like an afterthought. That brings us to a greater problem: Sujoy Ghosh’s voyeurism.
There are many ways to portray lechery on screen. Back in the day, directors thought that they had to literally objectify women and put the audience in the shoes of the disgusting men doing said objectification in order to make their point. The result was the exact opposite of that because the point was lost somewhere in the imagery, and objectification became the focus of the film. Hence, it seemed like the directors never wanted to comment on objectification; instead, they wanted to objectify women under the garb of social commentary. I noticed this habit of Ghosh’s all the way back in Ahalya, where the camera lingered on the titular character’s derrière to let us know that she was being objectified. He took that habit of his to such a dizzying extent in Lust Stories 2 that he was lambasted for it. And he has done it again in Jaane Jaan with Kareena Kapoor Khan’s character, where we are made to see how Karan and Ajit perceive Maya. He even makes Naren feel like a creep, which totally undercuts his apparent affection for Maya. I hope that one day, Ghosh understands that he doesn’t need to objectify his actresses to make his point. Once he learns that, I think he’ll be able to improve the cinematography of his films, because Jaane Jaan looks horrible. It’s probably one of the worst-looking films of the year.
The performances in Jaane Jaan are its only saving grace. Kareena Kapoor Khan is quite brilliant. Her need to protect Tara and her desperation to get out of the situation she is in are totally relatable. Her stern responses and her moments of vulnerability display Khan’s range. I am sure the actress has her reasons, but she should be in more movies because she is awesome. Vijay Varma is cool, as always. I don’t think he has ever delivered a bad performance. He has been in bad projects, but I don’t think anyone can say that Varma was the reason for its poor quality. That said, I hope Varma gets to play more non-lecherous characters in order to balance things out. Jaideep Ahlawat’s wig and nose are very distracting. Apart from that, Ahlawat is pretty good. His character is poorly written, but he aptly essays Naren’s weird emotional swings and his violent undercurrents. Saurabh Sachdeva doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but since he is Saurabh Sachdeva, he manages to make an impact in that small amount of time. Naisha Khanna is great, and her scenes with Kareena Kapoor Khan are well done. Karma Takapa is excellent as Varma’s sidekick. It’s sad to see Lin Laishram, who was amazing in Axone, reduced to such a small role. She has her moments, and I hope this leads to better acting opportunities.
In conclusion, Jaane Jaan is not a good movie. It sort of peaks during Maya and Ajit’s violent altercation and then drags itself all the way to the finish line. Sujoy Ghosh makes a valiant attempt to give the impression that he has been marinating the themes of the story, whereas, in reality, he has let them go stale. If you are a fan of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Vijay Varma, Jaideep Ahlawat, or all three of them, you can give it a watch because they are genuinely good in this film. If you are a fan of Keigo Higashino’s novel and you want to know how Bollywood has treated it, prepare to be disappointed. If you aren’t interested in a Bollywood-ized take, then take a gander through the Japanese, South Korean, Tamil, or Chinese adaptations of the novel. At the very least, they’ll engage you on an emotional level. With all that said, what you have read is just my opinion. Please feel free to watch Jaane Jaan on Netflix, form your own opinion, and share your thoughts with all of us.