Mystery thrillers are a beast to deal with, and Sujoy Ghosh has, in the past, managed to deliver on the storytelling in the same genre. Kahaani 1, 2, and Badla are a testament to that. Even though Badla was a remake of a Spanish film, Sujoy managed to get a hold of the narrative and present a story from a female perspective. The same could not be said for his latest Netflix outing Jaane Jaan. This Kareena Kapoor Khan, Vijay Varma, and Jaydeep Ahlawat starrer was released on the streaming platform on September 21, 2023.
Jaane Jaan, a Hindi-language Netflix Original is about a single mother, Maya D’Souza, who makes a living off running a small restaurant in the hilly town of Kalimpong with her 15-year-old daughter Tara. The two live a peaceful life away from all the dark secrets that Maya left behind years ago. Their lives are threatened for the first time in many years when Maya’s estranged husband, Ajit Mhatre, an officer with Mumbai Police, shows up in the town supposedly to restart his life with his wife and daughter.
Things turn ugly when Maya and her daughter accidentally kill him inside their tiny home with no way to get rid of the body. Maya’s next-door neighbor, Naren Vyas, aka ‘Teacher’ for the townspeople, has always kept an eye on what is happening in his neighbor’s life, which seems like borderline stalking. He is the first to know about the accidental murder that happened and offers to help Maya without gaining the attention of the locals or the police. Is the teacher successful in getting rid of the body? Will Maya and the teacher get caught as the police are desperately looking for Ajit? All these questions are answered as the film progresses.
This two-hour, nineteen-minute-long mystery thriller is reminiscent of the Drishyam films. The murder has already been committed, and the audience is aware of the killers. The cat-and-mouse chase begins between Karan Anand from the Mumbai Police and Maya D’Souza to find out what happened to Ajit. The screenplay from the start until the end is complicated for all the wrong reasons. It does not unfold like an investigation is supposed to and becomes intricate for unnecessary reasons.
The structure of the screenplay is such that it does not bring out the intensity that went behind planning the cover up of a murder in this cold, hilly town. The story and screenplay take plenty of time to establish, and so does the arrival of Karan Anand, the third lead. The unnecessary back and forth between him and Maya D’Souza to find proof of her involvement in Ajit’s death stretches the narrative, making it tiresome. There are plenty of plot holes that writer Sujay Ghosh did not cover. There is no proper reasoning given by writers on how Karan concluded that Maya is the culprit. It felt like a plot convenience used to get to the point, and there was plenty of beating around the bush until the film finally concluded. Maya’s character in the film states, ‘Kuch samajh nahi aa raha’, which loosely translates to ‘I am unable to understand anything’. This was the state of the audience, who were trying to figure out what Maya and the Teacher were up to, as Karan was hell-bent on proving Maya to be the culprit.
Everything in between is plain bizarre because it felt like the writer had nothing in hand to expand on the story. For no reason, we get to see Vijay Varma’s character fantasizing about Kareena’s character Maya and objectifying her as a ‘hot suspect’. There was no reason for such comments to be made or added to the screenplay. Instead of spending so much time trying to create tension between Maya and Karan in the screenplay, the makers should have spent time expanding on the trauma Maya as Soniya D’Souza went through being Ajit’s wife and the bar dancer. There is hardly anything mentioned about her reasons for leaving Ajit almost two decades ago. Maya’s trauma comes back in flashes, but to be able to understand it, one needs to get the context. The makers barely touched upon her marital dynamics other than her life as a dancer she led eons ago.
The makers should have spent more time making the plot more linear instead of going back and forth multiple times with the investigation, which only made the narrative repetitive after a point. The direction also feels good in certain places but awkward in many others. Sujoy Ghosh seems to have lost control of the writing as well as the direction because the film takes its own sweet time to reach the climax. Once the film reaches the endpoint, the climax is rushed, and the last fifteen minutes of the movie are just plain outlandish.
The audience couldn’t find the connection between Karan Anand and Naren and their devotion to the martial arts dojo. It doesn’t make sense to include that in the narrative. If there was a symbolic meaning to it, the director was not able to bring it out convincingly enough. Naren tried to bring in mathematics at many junctures as a way for a puzzle to be solved, but it was not explained well in the screenplay. If only the director had not trivialized the subject matter, the movie would have remained an engaging experience till the end. The well-spread-out narrative as executed just like in Drishyam would have helped Sujoy Ghosh make the film a tight-knit story.
It is just the performances that keep the entire movie flowing till the end. Kareena Kapoor Khan as Maya D’Souza put across a wide range of emotions through the film. If only her acting prowess was not let down by an obscure screenplay. Her character could have been given more depth to explore her traumatic experience and the complex relationship she shared with her husband. Vijay Varma felt like he reprised the role he played in Sujoy Ghosh’s segment in Lust Stories. There were no layers given to him, which makes his character flat and bland. Jaideep Ahlawat, the teacher, aka Naren, was given some meaty subplots to work on, but sadly, he was also let down by clueless storytelling. These three characters are pivotal for the movie, but somehow they could not carry the film on their shoulders.
There were plenty of expectations from Jaane Jaan, for it promised to deliver an out-of-the box mystery thriller. Sadly, there was nothing new when it came to the narrative. This was a lost opportunity for Sujoy Ghosh.