Jaane Jaan gets the thriller Math spot-on!

Kareena Kapoor Khan (back view) and Jaideep Ahlawat in Jaane Jaan. Photo: Netflix

When a story is adapted, you have two options: leave the original untouched or change it as per perceived need. In the Indian context, a happy ending for a basically wronged or innocent protagonist is a gratifying compulsion for the audience, as we have watched in the Drishyam franchise that is similar in tenor. And that is the only major shift in the adaptation, as per what I have been told about the book.

Basically, the film triumphs in the layering and the atmospherics that a crackling yet placid thriller needs. There are no sudden shocks, the culprit is known, and the story languidly progresses to its logical end. But to do that captivatingly without making the audience restive is the core of any thriller, and that is what director and co-writer Sujoy Ghosh accomplishes triumphantly. No fast or frenetic pace, nothing illogical or mundane, the script ticks all the correct boxes for adaptation into a different culture: Sujoy manages this with style, as the film is based on a Japanese book.

The small town of Kalimpong becomes a key character in the film, and why I am saying so is best experienced—for without the locale, the story would not have taken off as well as it does. And by that, I do not just mean the stunning and picturesque locale of this place but also its innate qualities. To be sure, another small hill-station could have substituted, but then the director was familiar with this town and so this became his only choice.

Maya D’Souza (Kareena Kapoor Khan) runs a café that serves everything from tea to biryani to fried rice to momos. She lives nearby with her 13 year-old daughter, Tara (Naisha Khanna). Her neighbor, Naren (Jaideep Ahlawat), an eccentric Mathematics schoolteacher who is obsessed with his subject and also loves Jujitsu, is in love with her for a reason, but never expresses it. He makes up for this by visiting her café everyday under the pretext of ordering food. Maya’s assistant, Prema, knows why he comes, but when she tells her boss, she refuses to believe it.

Enter Ajit Mhatre (Saurabh Sachdeva), who is Maya’s husband. A police officer, and a corrupt one at that, Ajit has been a terrible and violent husband to her and Maya has left him years ago when she was pregnant. Ajit has found Maya out after years. Years back, he had been the one who had forced his wife to become a bar dancer. At the time, Maya was known by her original name Soniya (younger version played by Uditi Singh).

Ajit makes vile threats now and in a struggle at Maya’s house, is strangled to death. Unexpectedly, Naren comes in and decides to help mother and daughter dispose of his body. The police, in the shape of sharp Mumbai cop Karan Anand (Vijay Varma) are already on Ajit’s trail for corruption cases and lands up in the town.

As the obvious investigations by this intrepid officer continue, and Ajit’s death becomes certain, suspicion falls on Maya, but Naren, who turns out to be a highly-regarded college mate of Karan, is guiding her at every step on how to tackle the police. His mathematical and logical thinking always keeps Maya and Tara one step ahead. Finally, Karan finds that nothing can be done about solving Ajit’s murder and prepares to close the case, but for a passing and needlessly casual lie told by Naren to him about Maya. What happens after that forms the intriguing and highly unusual part of this thriller that does not delve into anything extraneous in its narration, however important or conventionally necessary it may seem.

Sujoy Ghosh and Raj Vasant help things along with their superb dialogues, and though the pace is leisurely, we have some tension-filled moments that add a charm to this thriller, which is set—like so many good ones—in a small town. The cinematography (Avik Mukhopadhyay) that enhances the ambience manifold, splendid production design (Rajesh Choudhary, Madhumita Sen and Ajay Sharma) and the just-right editing (Urvashi Saxena) are all worthy add-ons. The background music (Clinton Cerejo and Bianca Gomes as ‘Shor Police’) is unobtrusive, as a good score must be. Sachin-Jigar’s end-credit song is mediocre, but they do a brilliant job of the re-creation of the Laxmikant-Pyarelal classic, Aa jaan-e-jaan from the 1969 hit, Intaqam.

The director is in his element, as usual in his best thrillers, and that includes inspiring and extracting perfect performances from his three lead players. Jaideep Ahlawat, as the mad genius at Mathematics, is astounding as Naren. He is the strong and silent type, who is also vulnerable, takes life as it comes, and is always prepared for eventualities in his own way. His inscrutable expressions add to his character’s finer nuances.

Vijay Varma as the cop would have come across as cunning and almost slimy had it not been for his focused determination to catch a killer. He is affable, menacing in a gentle way, almost like a filmi villain, and so human in his huge regards for Naren and his passing infatuation with Maya.

Kareena Kapoor Khan gets to sink her teeth into a different kind of role—she is a wronged woman and wife, a devoted mother and a helpless victim of circumstances all at once. She is excellent mostly, but there are areas where her expressions do come across as a shade inadequate for the emotional voltage. Nevertheless, she is spunky enough to compensate in many a sequence, like the momos episode with Karan, or her initial tryst with Naren after Ajit’s death.

The supporting artistes also come out tops. Naisha Khanna as Tara is endearing, and Lin Laishram a delight as the voluble and indiscreet Prema. Karma Takapa as the local cop Sundar is excellent, and Saurabh Sachdev etches out the perfect persona of a loathsome rogue that is Ajit.

This film is another winner from Sujoy Ghosh.

Rating: ****

Netflix presents Kross Pictures’, 12th Street Entertainment’s, Northern Lights Films’ & Balaji Motion Pictures’ Jaane Jaan   Produced by: Jay Shewakramani, Akshai Puri, Hyunwoo Thomas Kim, Shobha Kapoor & Ekta Kapoor  Directed by: Sujoy Ghosh  Written by: Keigo Higashino, Sujoy Ghosh & Raj Vasant  Music Laxmikant Pyarelal & Sachin-Jigar  Starring: Kareena Kapoor Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Vijay Varma, Naisha Khanna, Saurabh Sachdev, Uditi Singh, Lin Laishram, Karma Takapa & others







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