From Kolkata to Kalimpong, director Sujoy Ghosh's penchant for setting his whodunits in a setting where the location itself plays an important character has been such a treat. The man behind Kahaani, Badlaa and several other mind-bending mysteries has struck again with Jaane Jaan, which has begun streaming on Netflix. It stars Jaideep Ahlawat, Vijay Varma and Kareena Kapoor Khan, who makes her OTT debut. While we know that the film is an adaptation of the book The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, it is as good a fresh presentation for anyone.
Has Ghosh struck another winner? That and many questions are answered as having had the chance to see the film beforehand, here is what I thought about it-ALSO READ: "I was pregnant with Jeh when we began talking about 'Jaane Jaan'" - Kareena Kapoor Khan
The Little Things (Not a Netflix Promotion)
I didn't mean to plug the header above, but hey, Netflix, you're welcome! It has been Ghosh's signature style of filmmaking to put in nuggets of information, clues and easter eggs in his film throughout the viewing period, just like a fascinating treasure hunt. Such should be the case with suspense sagas or whodunits anyway. The catch, though, is that Jaane Jaan isn't a whodunit but still becomes a whodunit, presenting some Bananatown twists towards the second act and then in the climax as well.
But Ghosh makes sure to have callbacks that are subtle yet important, and some others being obvious yet shocking. From having metaphorical denotations about phrases and dialogues to playing on the traits of a few characters that play a role in the larger picture later - the knitting and weaving of the screenplay is done with intricacy and care. It is always the little things that make for the biggest moments in films like these, and that stays true with Jaane Jaan as well.
The Setting, The References & The Traits
In one of the interviews, director Ghosh mentioned how he chose Kalimpong for the film's setting because his story demanded a small town, and he happens to know this town really well. I couldn't agree more. Even though he doesn't have the same cinematic liberties as he did with Kolkata in Kahaani, every scene in the film screams of being apt to the intimate story we are witnessing. The story has three primary characters and one issue in hand - the supporting characters keep reminding us how Kalimpong is a small town and hence not much can be hidden - the gloomy weather and lighting, the cold atmosphere, fog and minimalistic options of recreation - all play such a key role in the story in one way or another.
Apart from this, the references to old Hindi songs and humor is also such a fine detail to enjoy. The first half is filled with old Hindi songs playing subtly in the background, ranging from dil to hai dil, dil ka aitbaar, aao na gale lagalo na, aaj ki raat koi aane ko hai and of course, aa jaane jaan, among others. It is a recurring instance that play a key role in the way the characters behave. The little bits of humor are also the perfect relief at the expense of Vijay Varma's character of Karan. Lines like 'abhi harry potter vali feeling aa rahi hai', 'same Mithun da, thoda tond kam kar' in the context of the scenes are actually funny. And finally, the traits of each and every character are a thing of beauty - right from the introverted, awkward guy with inferiority complex who is a Maths teacher - Naren (Jaideep Ahlawat), the charming, affable but smart cop, Karan (Vijay Varma) and of course, the independent, scared, vulnerable, and doting mother Soniya aka Maya (Kareena Kapoor) - the 'Indianisation' of the characters adapted from the book is done rather well.
When you assemble three stalwarts, you expect nothing but perfection, and that is delivered. Firstly, it is such a relief to see Vijay Varma in a fun yet charming but 'normal' role after all his viciousness in the projects earlier. The fact that Varma has a linear role itself is the biggest achievement, and he delivers. Also, fine chops of jiu-jistu by the man! We might have a new action hero in the making.
Then comes the lady, who just seems to create magic when she appears on-screen - Kareena Kapoor Khan as Soniya/Maya. I have said it so many times earlier - nobody can cry as fantastically as she does on-screen, and yet again, the scenes of her being vulnerable, scared and crying are just pure class in how to emote on-screen. And even apart from that, Kapoor Khan is such a gifted actor that not once do you feel her trying too hard to 'match' her co-stars, who are usually known for their acting prowess. More than two decades in the industry, and Kapoor Khan is indeed the embodiment of being a fine actor in the so-to-speak 'commercial' and 'content-driven' cinema.
But my oh my! Jaane Jaan is a Jaideep Ahlawat masterclass in acting and characterisation. In spite of Varma and Kapoor Khan being fabulous as ever, it is Ahlawat's Naren who is the show-stealer. The complexities of his character, the mystique attached to it, the big reveal in the end and everything else - Ahlawat reminds us why he is one of the finest actors to have graced the entertainment industry.
The Underwhelming Aspects
There are seldom instances where murder mysteries achieve the status of being perfect. Jaane Jaan has a few loopholes with itself, too; one is its runtime. Even though it clocks about 2 hours 15 minutes, the treatment and sequences after the first hour and before the third act seem a little stretched and, hence, boring for a while.
There are scenes that are essential to the plotline in the bigger picture, but then there are scenes that are just fillers, and they do fill the time well but don't justify an extended time of getting to the point. While the big reveal was indeed good fun and unpredictable, the other factors 'but then what happened to that?', 'What about that?' remains unanswered and a little convenient.
Jaane Jaan is a fanstastic debut for Kareena Kapoor Khan on OTT as it not only presents her acting chops in its entirety but also allows her to explore and venture into places she might not have done on the big screen. With fine assistance from Ahlawat and Varma, the trio create a fascinating and intriguing world for us to delve into, revel in, question and be shocked in the end.
Rating - ***1/2 (3.5/5)
ALSO READ: "My character's superpower was his charm. So, then I found out how to be charming" - Vijay Varma