INNING IS EVERYTHING
Emraan Hashmi plays a match fixer in an uninvolving romantic drama set against the world of cricket.
MAY 18, 2008 – THERE’S USUALLY A BIT OF POETRY – dark, brooding poetry – in the way people fall in love in Mahesh Bhatt’s movies. The films themselves may be about gangsters and pornographers and prostitutes and others who’ve made their peace with the margins of society, but there’s nothing marginal about their emotions – and the most interesting thing about these films is how these tragic figures attempt to reconcile the baseness of their lives with the beatitude of their loves. We’ve seen this struggle over and over in Bhatt’s productions – in Gangster, in Awarapan, in Footpath – and you expect to see it again in Jannat, helmed by first-time director Kunal Deshmukh. But what we get, instead, is Arjun (Emraan Hashmi) smashing the display window of a jewellery store in order to retrieve a diamond ring for Zoya (Sonal Chauhan). He’s seen her admiring it, and he’s fallen for her at first sight – and this show-offy act of destruction is so that he can get her notice, and her name.
Forget dark, brooding poetry – this is more like parody, as if the filmmaker threw up his hands, grinned sheepishly and confessed to being really desperate about how to kick-start his love story. Just before this incident, we’ve seen Arjun at the gambling table, in a scene written to establish his character as an inveterate risk-taker. He keeps raising the stakes, resting his hopes on the ace and the king that he holds. But unfortunately, the third card is a jack, and after conceding defeat, he mumbles, “Zindagi mein queen nahin, is liye patte mein nahin aati,” that there’s no woman in his hand of cards because there’s none in his life. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that this woman, when she does appear, will walk into his life with some majesty – but does this moment have to be built around Arjun acting like the court jester? How could you take anything seriously after that?
Jannat is as serious as it gets – and yet, it doesn’t appear to take its central relationship seriously, and hence, it’s hard to take the film seriously. In the affecting Gangster, for instance, we knew Shiney Ahuja’s love was real because he was willing to give up a life of crime for his woman. If fate hadn’t interceded – as it always does, in these movies – they could have rebuilt for themselves an anonymous life in an anonymous country. Love, in that film, was an agent of transformation, a hope for redemption. Here, Arjun is the kind of person who won’t raise a finger to help when a loan shark is breaking the limbs of someone who owes money; he looks on coolly, munching on an apple. This is, of course, the “before” Arjun, and you keep waiting for a transformation after he falls in love with Zoya – but you get the feeling that the “after” Arjun would be an apple-muncher as well.
Over a series of hastily (and unconvincingly) staged scenes, Arjun becomes a bookie and a match fixer for a Cape Town-based don (Jawed Sheikh), and when Zoya discovers this truth – she thought he was just a businessman who imported and exported cricketing equipment – she asks him if he realises that the monies he earns for his boss are going towards funding terrorist activities. Arjun responds with a mighty shrug of his shoulders. So now that we’ve established that Arjun’s a fairly loathsome chap, that his sole purpose is to make money (and then make more money), and now that it appears that there’s very little in terms of an arc that his character is going to navigate – the way Shiney Ahuja’s did in Gangster (speaking of which, there’s a pre-interval development in Jannat, involving an apparent act of betrayal, that’s right out of that earlier film) – what’s our investment in what happens to him?
We still could have stayed invested in Arjun’s plight – if, indeed, lolling about in Cape Town with far too much money can be considered a “plight” – had Jannat made something interesting of the fact that he’s actually an addict. The film dredges up some psychobabble about childhood traumas – his chawl-residing parents used to avoid walking on streets where there were toy stores, lest their son asked for something they couldn’t afford – but these explanations are unnecessary. Some people are addicted to booze, some to drugs, some to power and women – and Arjun is addicted to easy money. That’s all there is to it, really. (And Arjun does have a point about Zoya’s hypocrisy, when he says that, for all her posturing about honesty and such, her face never fails to light up when his easy money buys her expensive things.)
But Emraan Hashmi is just not able to put this addiction – or this character – across. The way I saw it, Arjun needed to be a mix of wheedling charm and borderline menace and spluttering angst, and all we get is a slightly petulant, slightly cocky cad – and I couldn’t bring myself to care about the rest of his flatly staged story, which hinges on whether he’s able to give up his bad ways for the sake of his love. (Samir Kochar, playing a cop on Arjun’s trail, paints a far more interesting character in half the amount of screen time.) Pritam contributes some nice tunes, but how much can anyone do to prop up a movie with so little energy, and whose cricketing backdrop is so ridiculously tacked-on? When a player glances at the lovely limbs of a cheerleader, Arjun observes that not only is this sportsman a great fielder at the fine leg position, he’s also a great connoisseur of… fine legs. The rim shot to this purported punch line is sounded subsequently, when Arjun drags the cricketer to a nightclub and promises better sights: “Gully aur slip bhi nazar aayegi.”
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