Director: Sanjay Gupta
Cast: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Irrfan Khan, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Shabana Azmi, Jackie Shroff
Rating: 2 stars
From a former Miss World to a top actress to now a very involved parent, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's current real life role seems good reason for her to resume her acting career with a super mom act. In Jazbaa, she returns on screen after five years, to play an unbeatable lawyer and a doting mother. Unfortunately, since her daughter gets kidnapped right at the start of the film, we get to see motherly emotions expressed only in bloodshot eyes, shrill dialogues and never ending screams.
Director Sanjay Gupta seems too focused in coloring his frames green to work on the tonality of the story. Jazbaa, an official remake of South Korean hit Seven Days, has a compelling story line. A lawyer is forced to defend a rapist and a murderer as ransom for her kidnapped daughter. It's a personal, legal and a moral battle at the same time. There is so much scope in these contradictory layers of the story and the characters involved, that it is most frustrating to see it being reduced to a laughable, harebrained product. That while employing stalwarts like Irrfan Khan, Shabana Azmi and Atul Kulkarni (besides Ash) to do the job.
The film manages to remain engaging though, even when the laughter is unintentionally induced. Despite a shallow screenplay, dull moments are few. Barring one song where a lovelorn Irrfan floats around in drunken stupor, looking like a Devdas in a black leather jacket and aviators, the film doesn’t drag exactly. And in retrospect the song makes us chuckle too. Not as dull after all. Writer Kamlesh Pandey weaves in some interesting lessons in philosophy. Like how you hold your coffee mug says a lot about your attitude towards life. “Handle se pakadne se faasla reh hi jaata hai” says one of the characters at some point in the film. And how sleep is like “mashuka” or lover who leaves you if you don’t pay enough attention to her. One is even reminded of hard hitting truths like how in India nobody has rights. As Irrfan roughs up a suspect who screams for his “rights”, he tells him, “You are watching too much Hollywood. This is Bollywood, nobody has rights.”
What’s interesting is that the key protagonists, Ash’s lawyer Anuradha Verma and Khan’s corrupt, suspended police officer Yohaan are complex characters dealing with issues of their own, thereby making them somewhat relatable. It’s the melodrama that constantly eats into the attempts at realism. The way Ash is made to ham and scream when she spots her daughter being taken away by the kidnapper, it’s hard for the audience to empathise with something that is so loud and grating. Even though that sequence is meant to be one of the highlights of the film, mommy power unleashed in full force. Also in the court scenes, it’s her decibel that wins cases, not her arguments. Clearly Aishwarya needed a better director.
In a film where she is portrayed as the hero, it’s ultimately Irrfan who ends up stealing the show, riding on some chuckle worthy lines that only he can make bearable, even entertaining at times. His relationship with Ash is subtly handled and in this regard, for once Gupta keeps the drama in check. The other very complex character in the film is that of Shabana Azmi, who plays the dead victim’s mother. It’s a very layered role but we barely get to see what the actor is actually capable of. She and Ash seem to be engaged in a lachrymal war throughout. Atul Kulkarni is reduced to a peripheral cast member as Aishwarya’s opponent lawyer. It’s one of the most under-written roles ever, and it's almost a crime to waste an actor of his caliber. Siddhant Kapoor plays his usual druggie with flair and Chandan Roy Sanyal is reduced to a screeching caricature of a psychopath. Jackie Shroff tries to be a mumbling menace of a politician, but fails to strike.
A film like Jazbaa needs a constant tension in the story and in its characters given the straitjacketed situation they are in. The pace needed to transcend inane car chase sequences and seep into the restlessness of the characters. Gupta had a good story to work with and he lifts up the second half by several notches. But sadly, he gets too caught up in pandering to his Korean cinema fetishes to polish the story. He lands on a punch line every now and then, uses one slide of text in the end to make the film seem like one that is fighting the cause of rape, thereby completely stripping it of any character. He told us how to hold a coffee mug. If only he could hold on to a script as tight. But we guess handle se pakadne se faasla reh hi gaya.
Watch the trailer here.