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Jaanu Review

T J Reddy /
Can watch again
Good for kids
Good for dates
Wait to rent it
Let us address the elephant in the room before we go any further: Jaanu is not as good as '96, the acclaimed 2018 Tamil movie by the same director starring Vijay and Trisha. Does that mean Jaanu is a lousy movie? Not at all - far from it.

Director C Prem Kumar's story is about the effects of one's first love. It is about the lasting shadow it casts upon one's life. When looked at through that specific lens, '96 looms as a massive specter over Jaanu while simultaneously being a source of warmth and nostalgia to its viewing audience. Jaanu, however, isn't a film that accepts that it is second best without putting up a fight.

K Ramachandra, aka Ram (Sharwanand), is a travel photographer. He chooses photography as his line of work because he likes to capture a split second of eternally fleeting time and make it his own. Like his pictures, he, too, is stationary. Time stopped for him when he fell in love with Jaanu during his days as a student at St Aloysius High School. Seventeen years after this experience, time stops for him again as Jaanu (Samantha Akkineni) reenters his life through a high school reunion. Jaanu and Ram find themselves with a rare chance to reconnect and find closure.

While the simple pleasures of this movie come in the forms of an abundance of nostalgic elements and a tenderly constructed love story that most everyone in the audience can relate to, there is more to it than meets the eye. The film's writing delicately places its richly defined characters in elegantly etched scenarios. The people add depth to the situations they are in and vice versa.

Take, for example, a split-second shot of Ram and one of his students driving past a temple he used to frequent when he was younger. The student tries to offer a quick prayer as they drive by. Ram scolds her for this by saying that it was a temple HE prayed at and visited. Ram's world is one that is built by him to service him and him alone.

This extends to his relationship with Jaanu as well. The concoction of Ram's years-long relationship with her comes without ever really interacting with Jaanu for an extended period. The Jaanu in Ram's mind is one that is constructed to suit his needs and to keep him functioning day by day. Ram finds himself lost for words when confronted with a version of Jaanu that isn't one he has constructed or is comfortable being around.

We pick the perfect moments we want to capture as photographs - that is in our control. However, a life that is out of our control consistently happens all around those perfect moments.

Jaanu, the character, however, isn't too far behind in the character sphere, either. Jaanu is a fully formed woman instead of being a figment of male fantasies we are subject to every week in cinema halls all across the country. While Ram feels stuck in time, Jaanu's wealth of life experience shines through in every conversation she has with the former. In one of the most emotionally potent scenes of the film, Jaanu illustrates how different their lives would have been had they been a tad more mature in their youth, and how she has reached that state of maturity in her life while Ram has not.

This instance doesn't say that Jaanu is a perfect embodiment of all that is great in the world. Far from it - her vulnerabilities find their way out when she finds herself in Ram's company. Jaanu's vulnerabilities force her into having new life experiences, which is in stark contrast with Ram's weaknesses which force him to stay where he is.

What could bring such thoughtful writing down? Almost nothing. Almost.

The downside of Jaanu, the film, is the lack of subtlety scattered across it. The film's title has an evident nature to it, and so does the opening song that sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The film lays its stakes down so thickly that they are unmissable. It is the difference between titling a film Vinnaithandi Varuvaya (will you cross the skies for me) and Jessie. Both movies are about the same subject matter, but one is more poetic, and the other is quite literal.

This sensation of "similar but not the same" extends to the young man who portrays the younger version of Ram. Sai Kiran Kumar looks like a spitting image of a young Sharwanand but is not as talented an actor as his older counterpart. While Gouri G Kishan adds depth and personality to the more youthful iteration of Jaanu, Kumar takes some of the impact away from this section of the movie.

But this is made up for in spades by the duo of Samantha Akkineni and Sharwanand. While Samantha delivers a strong performance as she does quite regularly, Sharwanand goes far beyond what was asked of him to dole out an acting masterclass for the ages. Redefining a beloved character is quite a hard task for even the bravest of actors, but Sharwanand does it to perfection. His 35-year-old eyes and shoulders seem to be carrying the weight and sadness of a man twice his age.

It is a mesmerizing transformation aided by a soothing background score, memorable tracks, and gentle camerawork. While Govind Vasanth offers a more opulent score to this iteration of the story when compared to the relatively barebones nature of the score in the original, the visual aesthetic remains the same. The calming effect the world has on the characters inhabiting it and the audience witnessing it is quite palpable. The film, too, has many shots of everyday items just a tad out of sync with each other. This choice is akin to the names Ramachandra and Janaki Devi, being almost similar to Ram and Seetha but not quite the same. Now that is subtlety at its sneaky best.

And that is why both Jaanu and '96 will stand the test of time as cleverly written, well-acted and competently directed films. Jaanu is the Ye Maya Chesave to '96's Vinnaithandi Varuvaya. It is up to the audiences to pick their vial of elixir. And in a weird twist of fate, Trisha Krishnan and Samantha Akkineni find themselves essaying the same roles yet again. Maybe time has stopped for a few hours indeed.
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Jaanu (telugu) reviews
Rating is quick and easy - try it!
  • Cast
    Sharwanand, Sai Kiran Kumar, Samantha Akkineni, Gouri G Kishan, Vennela Kishore, Raghu Babu, Varsha Bollamma, Saranya Pradeep
  • Music
    Govind Vasantha
  • Director
    C Prem Kumar
  • Theatres
    Not screening currently in any theatres in Hyderabad.
The Common Movie Goer on 10th Feb 2020, 10:56am | Permalink
Spoilers follow. Read at your own risk. I think this post is going to be a long one, written with the aim of just preserving my thoughts here so I can revisit them later. I would be more than happy if I can pull in a couple of people for a discussion.

I saw this movie yesterday and had to sleep over it to process what I had experienced. It was one of those movies that just hit hard. Why? I don't know. Was it the messaging? Was it that I had connected at a personal level? Was it the acting from two people who seem to be at the top of their craft? Was it that the movie is just about two people conversing about what could have been? Was it them undergoing all sorts of catharsis? Or was it that I walked away a better person?...I don't know!

First up, I want to let people know I did not watch 96 before watching this movie. It's part of the reason I think I had a fantastic experience. I got home and watched a compilation of all of Trisha's and Vijay's interactions, totaling about 56 minutes on an official YT channel. Having seen them...and this is strictly my opinion here...I think Sam and Sharwa outperformed their counterparts. Sharwa brought a strange mix of intelligence, pining, naivety, longing, and stupidity to the table, while being extremely lovable. Sam brought in pain and love in an equally eclectic mix. That one scene where Sam realizes she mistook the stalker fro Ram Chandra was gut wrenching really. Sam actually did better than Trisha there, considering that the dubbing was the same. Ditto for the last scene where Sam near kisses him but restrains herself, only because she knows it is morally wrong and emotionally chaos-causing.

Coming to the actual messaging, part of the reason I loved it so much, and as TJ and the editor(s) pointed out so articulately, is how well the characters are fleshed out. To borrow TJ's words, it's so well conveyed how one chose to live in the past and suffer, while another decided to live in the moment but suffer nonetheless. Isn't that what life is all about? You suffer either way due to how stupidly the brain is wired, and how unfortunately we get addicted to what is bad for us. But while Sam opts for the pragmatic path of suffering, Sharwa opts for the path of self-destruction. Funnily enough, it's the actions that seem to mimic each other, with vastly different end results, than the other way around.

At this point, I am positive that Sam goes all-out method on her characters. It takes some other-worldly intelligence to invoke the expressions in the eyes that she seems to manage so effortlessly all the time. Sharwa, for me, has always been the brilliant actor whose choice of roles was hit or miss (I hated how he played the hero in Run Raja Run and Mahanubhavudu). But this movie reminded me of what a class act he can be.

There've been a few telugu movies I've loved to bits in the last few months (Mathu Vadalara, Donga, Gang Leader, Sye Raa etc.). There were other that most hated but I thoroughly enjoyed (ABCD, Mr. Majnu, etc.). But there were two movies that left a lasting impact and haunted me for days on end. They made fundamental changes to how I approach life, and I feel I've changed a lot since. One was Jersey, which taught me to embrace the Karmic way of living. The other was O'Baby which was about how to make every day count. I think I'll look back a few months from now and add Jaanu to my list, and I think the lesson will be about how to move on from the past. Funnily, I think O'Baby and Jaanu end up preaching the same message but in two diametrically opposite ways, with the lesson being that you just need to do the thing you're most likely to regret not doing in the future.

I hope this review will motivate at least one more viewer to go watch this movie in the theaters. It pains me to see how atrocious / mediocre movies like SLNE and AV are able to advertise themselves as super hits (true or not, I don't know), but movies like Mathu Vadalara and Jaanu are being labeled average. I don't know if we, as Telugu audience are not ready for movies like Malli Raava (another gem that I adore), Jaanu, Jersey, and O'Baby, or it's simply a matter of luck and promotions.

As I wrap this up, I do want to thank Prem Kumar, Sharwa, Sam, and Dil Raju for making this movie happen. Movies have a profound impact on some people's lives, and I think I am a benefactor here.

P.S. I personally thought Jr. Sharwa was great. Jr. Sam was amazing, but that is being acknowledged by everyone anyway.

P.P.S. I think I am part of the problem with Telugu audience's tastes. As a Telugu guy, I was 5%-hoping that they would somehow get together at the end.

Pros: Everything
Cons: Stop going in for more procedures, Sam! We want those beautiful facial muscles of yours to glide.
Can watch again - Yes
Good for kids - No
Good for dates - Yes
Wait to rent it - No
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