Film Review: 'Jazbaa'
Opened: 9 October 2015
Cast: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Irrfan Khan, Shabana Azmi, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Jackie Shroff, Atul Kulkarni, Siddhanth Kapoor, Priya Banerjee, Sara Arjun
Director: Sanjay Gupta
Producer: Sanjay Gupta
The problem with vanity projects or a director being in complete awe of his lead heroine, who also happens to be the film’s protagonist, is that he often bases an entire production around her, to ensure that the spotlight remains focused solely on her while every other aspect of the film fades away in to the (in this instance green) background. So much so that every tear, every drop of sweat, every strand of hair and so on is virtually a character in itself.
And that’s exactly the problem with Jazbaa. It's so focused on being the perfect comeback vehicle for Aishwarya, that it forgets that the film also features some of Hindi cinema's stalwarts like Shabana Azmi, Irrfan Khan, Atul Kulkarni and perhaps to a lesser extent Jackie Shroff, all of whom are literally spectators as the still luminous actress takes centre stage, and to her credit, knocks a few scenes out of the park.
The thing with Jazbaa is that everyone already had preconceived notions about the fact that it was never going to be any good, and well, they were mostly right... Having said that though, parts of it are pretty watchable and not entirely insufferable, but was that what we wanted as a comeback for a diva who was once at the top of her game and one who's every move has been under scrutiny by the Indian media? In short. No.
In Jazbaa, a remake of a South Korean film, Seven Days Ash plays Anuradha, a self assured, top notch lawyer, who has a perfect track record having virtually never lost any case that's been handed to her. The problem is that none of her clients are whiter than white, they're all shady scum, purely because her firm is too expensive to take on the less fortunate clients who actually deserve justice. This is an interesting angle, where the plot could have focused a bit more on the effect this has on Anuradha's conscience, but Gupta never veers the screenplay towards there as he's too busy lighting up frames and getting mostly talented actors to mouth the most banal dialogues.
Anuradha's life goes for a toss when out of the blue, her only daughter Sanaya gets abducted, while she's busy playing super-mum at her school's sporting event. You see, Anuradha is a single mum, and we're told that her former husband would have none of it when he got wind of the fact that she was due to give birth to a daughter and not a cherished son. Again, there was an interesting angle here about the troubles of female infanticide but Gupta never delves into it for fear of digressing from what is essentially a puerile plot.
The only way Anuradha has a hope in hell of ever seeing Sanaya is by defending a convicted felon who's murdered and raped in cold blood without anyone so much as getting a whiff the fact that her daughter's gone missing. She's aided by a suspended cop with shady morals, Yohan (Khan), who, it would seem, has nothing better to do than to drink himself into oblivion, mouth whistle inducing dialogue, that falls flat every time, and to essentially, be the protagonist's arm candy which he does rather sportingly to be fair. How the duo uncover the truth about the murder and rescue Sanaya forms the crux of this haphazard story.
Sanjay Gupta must have really lofty misconceptions about his directorial abilities. I recall when the trailer of Jazbaa first aired, it tom-tommed about how this film was from the director of Kaante, Shootout At Wadala and Zindaa, all of which were quite frankly, sub-standard trash that themselves were copy and paste jobs of Asian or Western films. Which is fine if you credit them with the same, or at the very least, do a decent job of plagiarising them, neither of which is the case here. I haven't seen the inspiration for this film, but by and by, I can guarantee it was nowhere near as clumsily assembled together as Jazbaa is.
The plot unravels at break-neck speed, which sometimes can't be a bad thing, but when you're dealing with sensitive topics like rape and child infanticide, you need to slow down a tad, if only for a few seconds, to give the audience the time to grasp the magnitude of these issues. Here Gupta just skims across them, or leaves it the actors to mouth sermon-like, clunky dialogue in the hope that the fact will hit home. And that's one of the film's major downfalls. These points never do. So you may have a powerhouse talent like Shabana Azmi in your film, reciting lectures about women emancipation, but how are we supposed to be convinced about what she's saying if she looks like she's reading them off of a long scroll?
Coming back to the film's trophy performance, apart from the odd scene where her frenetic behaviour is nothing short of over enthusiastic and frankly, comical, Aishwarya is actually quite good, sportingly being stripped off of her glamour and game to get her hands dirty. Her luminous eyes still speak volumes and she's the most confident she's ever been in a few of the film's confrontational scenes. Where's the good director when you need him the most aye?
Most of Irrfan's lines are written so that they evoke 'ceetees' and mirth, but spectacularly fall flat – for no fault of his obviously. He's a gem of an actor, but there's only so many times he can be asked to enact his stereotypical, dry-humoured cop with swag before it becomes routine. In quite a few of the scenes he looks as perplexed as the audience, no doubt wondering why he signed up for this whoddunit that's neither here nor there.
Technically, Jazbaa passes muster, which is hardly surprising given that that's always been Gupta's forte, but after the first half or so, the green hue just grates and you long for some colour to break the monotone of the meandering plot and provide some form of respite.
I said it before. This film should NEVER have been Aishwarya's comeback (I'm still rooting for Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil), because she's an actress that needs a firm director's reign to keep her excessive theatrics in check. And believe me. Gupta was never right for the job because he misses the mark by a long shot.
As for the still glowing actress and for Irrfan, both of them have a lot more to look forward to than this green gunky mess, so we're willing to forgive them this time round. But someone needs to tell the self assured director that empty dialogue, deafening background music and a permanently filtered screen are by no means substitutes for mastering the art of subtlety and script sense.
If you're a fan of Ash you may lap this up, but for the rest of you I'd suggest you sit back and watch her in old school flicks and get encapsulated by her beauty and occasional glimpses of acting. There really is nothing for you here.