Let’s say there’s this new restaurant in town. It’s being hosted and launched by a gorgeous restaurateur, who’s been out of circulation for a while now. To help her launch this new effort are Michelin star chefs, who are known to be on top of their game all their careers. So, with some excitement and some hunger, you walk into the restaurant, salivating at the prospect of enjoying a six-course meal, served by the very best. Imagine your culinary horror, then, when you are served what could be best described as a jejune meal of McDonald’s industrial-tasting burger, with a limp lettuce on the side.
Replace the restaurateur with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and the Michelin chefs with Irrfan Khan, Shabana Azmi, Atul Kulkarni, and to some extent, even Jackie Shroff, and what you get is “Jazbaa”. What you didn’t account for is director Sanjay Gupta and co-writer Robin Bhatt, who churn out the Indian remake of the South Korean thriller, “Seven Days”. (Disclosure: I haven’t watched the original, so once again, I had no bias whatsoever.) The opening credits of the movie begin promisingly, and you eagerly draw into the story of Anuradha Varma, Mumbai’s most expensive and moneyed criminal lawyer, who has no qualms representing the worst of the worst, so long as they pungle up the money. Her only weak point is her daughter, Sanaya, (and Sanjay Gupta ensures throughout the movie that you don’t forget her name, ever – more of that in a minute.), played by Sara Arjun. There’s a parallel track featuring Inspector Yohan (Irrfan Khan), Mumbai’s most decorated police officer, who’s suspended and being pursued by the Anti-corruption bureau. Anuradha’s fencing opponent in court is a public prosecutor, played by Atul Kulkarni.
And then, Sanaya is kidnapped during a school sports event, and all Anuradha gets are phone calls from the unknown kidnapper. To get Sanaya back, Anuradha must get an incarcerated rapist and killer, Miyaaz Shaikh (Chandan Roy Sanyal) out of jail. To make things spicier, it’s Yohan (who’s also Anuradha’s friend, college mate, and also holds a flask full of residual feelings for her) who had thrown Miyaaz into jail for the rape and murder of Sia (Priya Banerjee). Obviously, Anuradha cannot tell Yohan of this development, and it is to Yohan’s policing skills on the run, that he stumbles in on the situation, and he rallies around her. Throw Into this mix a politician (Jackie Shroff) whose drug- abusing son was Sia’s boyfriend, and Sia’s mother (Shabana Azmi). On paper, what is supposed to happen is a breathless race against time to save Sia even as the kidnapper is unmasked.
What happens instead is a numbed-down version of what could have been an edge-of-the seat thriller. Director Sanjay Gupta is too busy showing off his camera filters, while lazing around in scenes that ought to have been highlights that knock your socks off. Take the scene where Sanaya is kidnapped. Instead of making it a dreadful and nightmarish scene for Aishwarya, he unbelievably keeps her at the same spot, screaming out her daughter’s name, even as the crowd melts away, as do your eardrums. “Sanayaaaaaaaaa!!!!” screams the distraught Aishwarya, standing in situ, not moving, while the camera rotates, flips, runs, and flies. And as the movie progresses, Gupta makes Aishwarya holler “Sanayaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” in painfully seat-squirming slow motion shots, on the phone, all by herself, and in every possible situation. How can you ever forget the name “Sanaya” ever?
There’s another scene which could have been full of drama and a superb piece of acting chops for Shabana Azmi – where she walks into Aishwarya hacking her dead daughter’s laptop in her dead daugher’s house. What happens instead is an absurd scene of listless dialogue that does nothing to credit either of the actors. And this is the bane of “Jazbaa”. Kamlesh Pandey’s dialogues range from the innocuous to the inane. When, in a flashback scene, the rebellious Sia tells her mother something like, “I want to feel my life like my naked fingers feel this cup of coffee”, you suspect that along with Korean DVDs, Gupta and Pandey have also been digging into some Gulzar as well. Which results in the usually top-class Shabana Azmi sleep-walk through the role, including in some embarrassingly listless court scenes as well. Ditto for the classy Atul Kulkarni, who tries and injects some semblance of sincerity and likeability into his thankless role, but he’s equally fettered by his writer and director. Chandan Roy Sanyal as the killer is okay, but appears too suave for the role, and mouths some very polished English lines for someone who’s supposed to belong to the Mumbai underbelly. Jackie Shroff joins the band of actors in this enterprise who’re more bit than miss.
Which brings us to Irrfan Khan. In his role as the cynical, hard-drinking cop, he gets by with some dry wit, but he can take it only so far. When he’s made to compare lovers and sleep, it gets a bit too thick even for him. And the main vehicle of “Jazbaa”, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – in a better scripted role, with more heft and depth, she might have shone. In reality, she is dazzlingly beautiful in scenes (as in commercials) where she’s happy and playing with her daughter. In dramatic scenes, the only way she conveys drama is by screaming (the aforesaid daughter’s name), shouting in the court (even if just inches away from the hapless Atul Kulkarni) and copiously using her tear glands.
What’s notable, then, in “Jazbaa” are the breathtaking aerial shots of Mumbai – Jogger’s Park, Navi Mumbai, the coastline, Reay Road – all have their sense of depth and drama, and are skillfully snipped and put in place by editor Sunil Nayak . Then there’s that beautiful , soul-stirring “Jaane Tere Shehar Mein”, sung by Vipin Anneja, and composed with heart by Arko. Finally, a gasp-inducing shot where Irrfan is pointing his gun at his pursuit, the camera from the ground, and the Doppler-rush of two local trains in opposite directions, with Irrfan in the middle. That’s terrific direction, but about the only one with Sanjay Gupta’s usual flourish. Which means that even the big reveal in the end comes too late, and when you’re past caring, busy counting the barrage of plot- holes instead.
Which is why, as you walk out of “Jazbaa”, you feel exactly the way you would if you ‘d had a Mac burger instead of a full-fledged meal. You’ve eaten for the record, but without exercising your senses or your taste-buds.
Watch the trailer of Jazbaa here: