There is a famous anecdote that goes that in the earlier days of film, people got so scared that they would be run over by a shot of a train coming onto the camera, that they actually ran from the cinema. This was one of the first real examples that heralded the coming of a new expression medium, and its biggest strength: Spectacle. The art of portraying something on screen realistically larger than life, and making you enjoy it while munching popcorn, remains cinema's biggest draw.
This is because film is not just about the image, the sound or the story. Cinema cannot linger in its beauty like a painting, and cannot have as deeply characterized plots as novels. In much the same way as a kickass car chase can only be done justice to by cinema. Cinema is a medium that delivers spectacle, and it is this quality that keeps us coming back to it. Debutante director Shirish Kunder understands this, and provides us with a truly celebratory film this Diwali and Eid. He razzles and he dazzles, and he gives us a patakha of a boisterous film.
Jaanemann is a tired old romantic triangle, but what ultimately comes across is a cinematic spectacle with all the colors and joviality that Kunder could cram in 24 frames every second, tongue firmly in cheek. Tongue-in-cheek remains the operative word as the film starts off with a dream sequence of Suhaan (Salman Khan) winning the Filmfare award for best actor, in front of the ‘70s stars, beating Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh and Dharmendra to it.
What only the geeks will recognize is that the footage being used to juxtapose a blithesome Khan is of the same award ceremony which gave the real life trophy to Bachchan for Don, the remake of which it stands head to head against this Friday. See? Tongue. In. Cheek.
With this newly established and extremely refreshing gall, and a strong visual sense, the film then cruises forward telling the story of Suhaan and Piya (Preity Zinta), who elope, jointly struggle to get Suhaan a break as an actor, run into some rough water, and divorce.
This whole sequence is as I narrated it to you – fast forward in a Broadway inspired song sequence, with some of the most vibrant cinematography and rambunctious art direction. Forward a year after the divorce where Suhaan is broke and has an alimony non-payment suit on his head, and old collegemate Champu/Aditya Rao (Akshay Kumar) comes to meet Piya.
Aditya is an astronaut (I kid you not) with NASA (still not playing the kidding game), and is a tongue-tied geek who always was in love with Piya. His arrival is a ray of hope – if Suhaan can help Aditya win his ex-wife, he can be home free with the alimony case. So begins one of the most shocking first 30 minutes of a film you have ever seen.
Shocking not because they are badly executed. Shocking because you had bought in on the cleverly deceptive promotions that promised a weepie, and the film puts its comedy gear on top, and starts the roller coaster. The Broadway inspirations keep seeping in all the songs, especially in the way Kunder's wife Farah Khan choreographs them, and the art direction he employs to give the songs a vivacious and chatoyant feel. Make no mistake, this film delivers visuals like nobody else's business.
The film begins to settle a bit when Salman and Akshay reach New York, the former tutoring the latter on ways to woo his wife. As Akshay's efforts begin to pay off, however, Salman falls back in love.
This is where the film could have gone haywire with clichés and hamstrung tried and tested formulas. But in another twist, Kunder deftly uses his narrative skill to make the older than Hangal plot points raise above the clichéd, and infuses his visual and aesthetic charm in the proceedings.
While the going is relatively easier in the first half, the second half has a tougher nut to crack – piling on the emotional quotient. The cinematic vocabulary being used until now does not lend itself to most of the second half, and Kunder tries valiantly to create a semblance of the goings on of the first half, largely unsuccessfully. The promising insouciance of the first half makes way for a serviceable flamboyance of emotion in the second. It's not that the second half is bad, it's just that it is not in synce with the first, and that hurts the film's hard earned cred.
This film is written strongly to support Suhaan's character, and Salman, though looking tired most of the time, pulls of an erstwhile rockstar who is desperately trying to find a buyer for his untalented acting skills, a cocksure ego maniac, all said and done, quite well. This is his film, and the script makes no bones about it. Salman's portrayal is in keeping with the visual grammar of the film, and doesn't let Kunder down.
Akshay could have played a fumbling, bumbling dweeb as straight as he wanted to, but he gives it his all, creating a charming character that steals the show from everyone else. During the interval, the X-Box 360 commercial with Akshay playing his usual self played. That just bowled me over – the difference between the controlled and methodical way he constructed his character in the film became all the more apparent. All the effort put into making Champu lovable by Akshay is commendable, and his charm is infectious throughout. His nerdy hay hay hay laugh wins you over, and never lets go.
Preity has an underdeveloped character, and just a few scenes to weep her heart out. Which hurts, as an actress who debuted with Mani Ratnam is relegated to being just pretty. Even so, she tries to infuse little touches to her moments, moments that make you realize why just another pretty face wouldn't have done.
Anupam has nothing to do apart from playing the buffoon, and while most of the zaniness relied on him in the first half, the focus shift to NY robs him of that too. This is just not his film.
Until you see Jaanemann, you don't appreciate why the music is how it is, or why Gulzar of all people needed to pen lyrics for a romantic triangle. This is a film that celebrates cinema's achievement in creating the spectacle as an art form, and hands out a visual storytelling device that fuses music and colors in a vivid narrative, with a style that is entirely Kunder's.
The movie understands the need for a flamboyant, larger than life Diwali product, and behaves exactly like a Diwali rocket – goes up fast, fizzles out for a bit, and then goes off with a fizz. It's not the bang at the end, but the journey skyward that makes it worth your while.