Monday, November 06, 2006

A gushing yet defensive post about Jaan-e-Mann

I so wish I could begin this post by saying I loved Jaan-e-Mann without reservation and recommend it to everyone unconditionally. For a solid one-and-a-half hours, Shirish Kunder’s directorial debut is a delightful, thoroughly absorbing film. I sank wholeheartedly into its marvelous stage-musical world, the constant self-referencing and clever sight-gags, the gorgeosity of the song “Humko Maloom Hai” and its picturisation, the tributes to Singin' in the Rain, What Price Hollywood? and even the dancing space stations of 2001: A Space Odyssey (yes!), and the performances of Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan and Preity Zinta. (All this was so well done that I was happy to overlook the one sour note in the film’s first half: the unfortunate bit of lowbrow slapstick involving Anupam Kher playing Salman’s midget uncle – with much tasteless punning on the word “bauna”, meaning dwarf.)

Unfortunately, after the intermission, the film lost its distinct style (and, crucially, much of its sense of humour), turning into a prosaic story with leaden dialogues and going on for at least half an hour too long. (I know I’ve been saying that a lot recently, but when you’re watching a movie at night in a hall that’s a one-hour drive from your home and you’re mentally geared for it to be over by 10 PM and it goes on till 10.45 and it’s been a long day … trivial though it seems, on such things do our lasting impressions of movies often hinge.)

And yet, despite the disappointment that comes from an immensely promising film losing the plot, the good bits were so brilliant I can’t get them out of my head. This is one of those times where I’m grateful I’m not reviewing professionally (especially for a newspaper that demands dumbed-down reviews and offers you just 400 words to be dumb in), because then I’d have to get into the business of evaluation – talking down to the reader, summing the film up in a few lines, explaining loftily why it’s Good or Bad. Writing in this medium, on the other hand, allows me to forget the bad and remember the good, to unapologetically talk about the many things I loved about the film.

In short, Jaan-e-Mann is about Suhaan Kapoor (Salman Khan), a budding actor who becomes distanced from his wife Piya (Preity Zinta) when his career seems about to take off; they get divorced, things subsequently turn bad for him and he can’t afford to pay the alimony. Just as he and his midget-uncle are scratching their heads about what to do next, in walks Agastya Rao (Akshay Kumar), a NASA astronaut and all-round geek who was besotted with Piya in college. Suhaan now plots to take Agastya to NY, re-acquaint him with Piya and eventually get them married off so she isn’t a financial burden on him any more.

There’s heaps to relish here. There’s the enthralling black-and-white montage of scenes from Filmfare Awards ceremonies from the early 1970s (featuring Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Mumtaz, Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh among others) in a Forrest Gump-meets-JFK-style fantasy sequence where Salman is presented a special trophy by Meena Kumari and goes on to thanks his buddies “Meena, Kaka, Amit, Dharam”. There’s the completely superfluous but still delightful shot of seven helicopters spelling out “New York” when the action shifts to that city. And Akshay Kumar’s infectious nerdishness, his Beavis-and-Butthead laugh – huh uh huh uh huh – which seems puerile at first but see if you don’t find yourself imitating it hours after you’ve seen the film.

There’s Salman dressed up as a statuesque woman in a nightclub (he participates in the film’s only fight scene in this outfit) and the mild dig at superhero films like Krrish when he dons a Zorro outfit with a black mask covering just the upper part of his face and muses “Now no one will recognise me”. And there’s a lovely scene where the two men, having trained a telescope (!!) on Piya’s living room and projected her “Live” image on their room wall, look at her crying as she watches a romantic film and end up in tears themselves – eventually falling asleep in each other’s arms. (Just by and by, what a fine screen couple Salman and Akshay make – remember Mujhse Shaadi Karogi? The girl is almost redundant.)

There’s the deliberate, self-aware theatricality of the song sequences – so Broadway-like, so different from the standard Hindi film idiom. (Musicians and back-up dancers materialise when a song situation arises; when it’s over they exit the room muttering “Arre, jaldi karo”, like the band-baaja wallahs at a shaadi, once they’ve been paid for their efforts.) When characters reminisce about their past, they walk into their own flashbacks, asking peripheral figures to “clear the frame, please”. The need for a sutradhar character and for persistent commentary is so strong that when our heroes make it to New York, leaving the midget uncle behind (thankfully!), what do we have but Anupam Kher showing up as an unrelated character and essentially proceeding to perform the same function that he did in the early scenes as the uncle – listening to the heroes’ problems, conniving with them and such (soon Salman even starts calling this stranger “maamu”, and it doesn’t feel odd).

Even the things one would usually consider irritants are put to good use here. Akshay Kumar’s unremarkable voice (often cited as a reason why he never became a really big star) is completely suited to Agastya’s bland personality. And Salman Khan’s self-conscious, Yank-accented English works superbly in a couple of scenes, including one with an air-hostess and another where he shrugs off a TV scriptwriter.

In praise of Salman

Jaan-e-Mann is nothing if not self-referential, and I thought it was interesting how some scenes are almost like a commentary on Salman Khan’s career. An admission here, which research suggests will cut my blog traffic by 15 per cent: I’m a closet Salman fan. (Okay, just a Salman fan now.) I’ve enjoyed his willingness to risk looking ridiculous onscreen right from the time he ran around a college campus in a bikini for a ragging scene in a very early film, Baaghi – how many other good-looking hunks do you know who are open to becoming objects of derision? In comic roles, he’s often very good. As a dramatic actor he’s sometimes laughably bad (which still makes him fun to watch), but there’s also a directness, a transparency about his performances that can be effective when he’s in good hands; some of his emotional scenes in Jaan-e-Mann aren’t bad at all.

It’s been difficult in recent years to separate Salman’s loveably goofy, self-effacing screen image from the unpleasantness of his real-life doings (running over sleeping people on pavements, slaying endangered deer, being nasty to Aishwarya Rai – oh wait, does that count as a character flaw?) but I’ve managed somehow to retain a morbid affection for him through it all, and I like the way this film played with his image. Take the montage scene where, after a series of unsuccessful auditions (inspired by Gene Kelly’s “Dignity. Always dignity” sequence in Singin' in the Rain), he removes his shirt, flexes his muscles and is promptly signed on by a producer. Or his character’s refrain that he only accepts “main lead” roles (which quickly becomes ironical in a film where Akshay Kumar is playing the conventional romantic lead for the most part). And later, when Piya tells Agastya, “I feel so bad for Suhaan, no one ever has anything good to say about him but he’s good at heart,” it almost feels like an appeal for Salman Khan.

Okay, since I realise how enthusiastic this post has been, let me get back to being defensive: Jaan-e-Mann does fall short in the final reckoning, and if anyone goes to watch it based on this post and then comes back and complains to me, I’m simply going to go “I told ya so”. (One thing I found especially problematic is that a couple of the songs are downright mediocre – not a good sign for a musical of this type.) But if this film is unsatisfying on the whole, it also contains at least an hour’s worth of entertainment that’s richer and more dazzling (if you’re willing to open yourself to all the strangeness) than almost anything else that has come out of Bollywood so far this year. So there!

P.S. Much enjoyment comes when a reviewer you greatly admire is in 80 per cent agreement with you about a film. Do read Baradwaj Rangan’s excellent review (the unedited version, please).


  1. well, i dont know about the film. I am anyway not going to watch it. I dont like akshay kumar films.
    But it was a pleasure to read your review. Quite well written and vivid.

  2. I haven't seen Jaan-e-mann but from the description it sounds like the telescope projected on the wall idea has been done before in "Addicted to Love", a film that has the most unlikeably cute actors in Hollywood all in one place.

    I've come to appreciate Salman quite a bit of late. He taps into the goofy bad boy in a lot of us (your reasons for liking him may vary). He is at least a wonderfully physical actor, like Wesley Snipes but with better range.

  3. Yikes! A Salman fan? He looks so vapid! Another reason I though AR and he would get along just fine. One vacuous being and another, it outta have been a communion of the souls. He was the main reason I've been dithering about seeing J-e-M.

  4. Having seen Don I think I have done my Q4 quota of Hindi movies on the big screen, so will wait for DVD (if at all) of J-e-M. J's review makes it sound rather interesting :-) I wanted to point out this comment on the NYTimes review of the movie by Anita Gates:

    "The cultural juxtaposition is inherently amusing, especially when the producers make unexpected choices to illustrate American culture. (The vehicle parked in the driveway of the heroine’s parents’ tasteful suburban mansion? A white Hummer limo.)"

  5. Somehow the film's promos never highlighted the film's goofy factor and it came across as just another vapid, weepy love triangle. These days it's more common to see slick promos for essentially boring films.

  6. Ya, the promos were very indifferently done - including the "Are you ready to fall in love...again?" on the poster, which by itself was enough to put many people off the film. But then, towards the end it does get a bit vapid and weepy.

  7. Wow! You sound enthusiastic...Have you lost your cutting edge cynicism..of late???:-) Wouldnt have recognised this as a review written by you..

  8. Aspi: yes, just remembered the Addicted to Love scene (which I must have seen in a promo, because I haven't watched the film).

    Revealed: he IS vapid and bland in some ways, but I'd much rather watch him in his comic roles than watch AR in anything...

    Tipu: on the one hand, I want to advise you to not spend much money on watching it and wait for the DVD. But on the other hand, the better scenes/setpieces really do need to be watched on the big screen.

  9. Tanveer: to answer your question indirectly - well, yes, I have grown up quite a bit since the Britannica days. Sarcastic writing is always great fun (and much easier to do) but these days I'm more interested in writing about something if I can say something good about it.

    (But don't worry, the cynicism/nihilism is still very much in place in my day-to-day life! :)

  10. you are probably the first person to say nice things abt the movie. i had begun to question my sensibilities, cause i loved the movie whereas most of my pals chose to wait for the DVD.
    completely refreshing, colourful is how i wud describe it, and yes a bit dragged too.

  11. Btw J, where did you get to see 'What Price Hollywood'? I have been looking for it for some time now in the US, but it's not out on DVD & the VHS versions have disappeared (Amazon has used ones at $27 +). Is it available on VCD or VHS in India?

  12. Tipu: I saw it years and years ago when I was hugely into the classic Hollywood thing (also saw the first two versions of A Star is Born around the same time). Somehow, during the videocassette era, it wasn't difficult to get hold of even long-forgotten films. (Or maybe I saw it on Star Movies or TNT, I'm not completely sure.)

    whitelight: not seen yet. might not be able to before next week.

  13. Loved this post! You have really translated into words what most people would have felt. You cant help feeling sorry for Salman in the movie and not Suhaan! I watched this movie also at 10 at a theater one hour's drive from my home but I daresay that when I went back home I could happily get into my bed and sleep and not have to try and jerk out the ostentatious moments. I remember watching KANK under similar circumstances and had to come home and watch a goofy MTV show to get rid of the headache!

  14. Aah, the good old days of TNT & Star! TNT would show the great MGM & Warners movies (Ted Turner had bought those libraries), & I recall they showed the second Star Is Born. Star Movies showed all the old Fox movies (with the Arabic/ Hindi subtitles), & some Brit movies (A Matter Of Life & Death, the Ealing comedies). So for many long years, I never got a chance to see what Paramount, Universal, RKO or UA had from those years. It's only now that I am catching up on those lost years. I wish I had recorded some of those movies, because you can't get them anymore.

    I liked Departed. Infernal Affairs 1 & 2 were (as Ravi Shastri likes to say) 'crackerjack' thrillers, but Scorsese's remake had many good things to recommend. Mark Wahlberg was superb.

  15. Besides the fact that I couldn't get past the midget jokes in the first scene.. I thought the film was quite "American" - the prom, the loser geek, the rock show, the marriage proposal, the Indian who's working in NASA. The plot was interesting, but your analysis of Salman Khan's "acting" might come from your admiration of him. The freak cannot act, Jai. Period.
    However, I do totally get your metaphor analysis, but metaphors alone don't make the film.
    PS: I didn't like the music either. The lyrics seemed extremely forced.

  16. shirish kunder is xtremely lucky to have got a chance to direct a film so early in his career..
    (more so coz of farha khan's connections,than his talent..)
    what was he thinking when he made this piece of trash ? either he's too dumb or he thinks his audience are.. the gr8est sin in movie making is to take d audience for granted and kunder is guilty of committing it..
    he had top actors,one of d best producer's and an xcellent team of technicians..
    still he manages to make a film which can easily win top honors at d raspberry awards..
    and mr jai arjun,all those gimmics which u found interesting
    work only when there's a good story line around which they are woven.. here the story line is wafer thin.. almost non existent and full of loopholes..
    d scene which u mentioned in d same breath as u mention d works of felini,bergman,traffaut n kurusawa were straightly lifted from hollywood..
    (d filmfare award scene and d scene where preity zinta walks up the stairs and there's a shadow of a man playing violin in d background..)
    i used to be a regular visitor to ur blog but now i have doubts..
    i think u were more impressed by the film coz rangan found it excellent..
    the film is all style and no substance.. i suggest u watch it again and then read what u've written.. given this budget,this platform.. i'm sure Joginder saab wud have done a better job..
    i'd like to end this using ur words.. There's heaps to cherish..
    Heaps of trash,that is..

  17. I knew nothing when I saw this movie. I watched it cuz we couldn't get tix to anything else. I saw the poster, I saw Salman Khan and expected to be thoroughly brain-dead by the end of my time.

    But what a lovely surprise it turned out to be! I laughed with tears streaming down my eyes the whole time. The absolutely brilliant self-parody was fabulous...

  18. I watched Jaan e Mann with zero expectations. But when I saw the movie, I was releived. It wasn't a great movie. But I wasn't dissapointed. It was refreshingly different, especially the candid way in which the actors admitted to the filmi element. A candid dig at filmi humor.

    There's a moment at the beginning of the movie when Akshay Kumar meets Salman Khan and Anupam Kher. They were to break into the song Jane e Janemann..when all the background artists and dancers come in to room. Anupam Ker asks them what they are doing in the room, they reply " Then Who the Hell Will Sing The Song?"

    It's a relief to watch Salman Khan in a genuinely believable role. Its about time he was given such roles. Its so Salman like, yet likeable.

  19. this film can be described in one word: C R A P

    Here are some recommendations for you:
    khosla ka ghosla
    pyar ke side effects
    bas ek pal

    watch them...atleast they have something to offer, unlike jaaneman! which kunder could have used his editing scissors on his own film.

  20. decent a review is what i'll say and i sooooo agree with you on SAlman Khan. I am a fan too.

  21. I watched this movie quite recently on TV. Didn't realize when it came and went in theatres. I liked your review more than the movie for sure. Although the movie was passable (I managed to finish watching it in spite of those innumerable commercial breaks!) but it is definitely not worth recommending.

  22. Yes, distinctly a 'Addicted to Love' rip, besides which resorting to dwarves is just weak. But the film awards and space scenes and theatre lighting are brilliant. It's a bad movie IMO with some innovative bits.

  23. I'm glad somebody sees the stylistic merits and moments of parodic brilliance in the film. (The shared disdain for the Bachchan Bahu helps too.)