The most notable aspect of Jannat 2 may be the numeral in its title, which suggests either a prequel or a reincarnation drama. After all, if Emraan Hashmi is the protagonist here, and his character perished in a hail of bullets at the end of Jannat (see review here), also directed by Kunal Deshmukh, then the only possible explanation for the title is that these events are from earlier in Hashmi’s life or from a different life. But Jannat 2 is a sequel in spirit, and the closest equivalents I can think of are the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road comedies, where the films were similar in tone and filled with the same actors, but their plots – if you could call them that – were independent of one another. And like Jannat, this sequel tells the story of a small man who has no qualms about slipping into short cuts to make big money (it was match fixing earlier; here it is illegal arms dealing), and the other constants are a heroine initially unaware of the hero’s profession, a cop who becomes his shadow, and a tragic-redemptive conclusion.
In theory, then, Deshmukh can keep churning out Jannat movies as long as he can keep thinking of immoral and dangerous get-rich-quick schemes to foist upon his hero. Jannat 3, like Imaan Dharam, could be about Hashmi stalking courtrooms in search of lawyers seeking false witnesses, and in Jannat 4, he could be a blackmailer or kidnapper. The possibilities are endless – and to non-fans of Hashmi, I imagine, quite terrifying. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, and he’s certainly become a lazier actor over the years following his arresting debut in Footpath, but there’s something about a man so beloved by the masses that’s impossible to dismiss. At least with Govinda, that other man of the masses, you could sense a certain felicity with comedy, a vulgar desire to entertain at the cost of personal dignity, but Hashmi has nothing. He has no presence or voice to speak of – he doesn’t so much command his scenes as loiter around the corners, like a roadside Romeo waiting for a glimpse of the girl he has a crush on, and his wispy weightlessness is never more evident than when Randeep Hooda walks in as a cop with a tragic past nicked from a hundred noir films. Just seated at a table, drink in hand, Hooda sucks you into the torments of his soul.
And yet, Hashmi is a star, and Hooda has, before his time, become something of a “character actor,” who’ll never be the lead but is always sought out for meaty supporting parts. Decades later, Bollywood scholars from the United Kingdom may propose theories about why certain sections of the audience (especially the distributors) are so drawn to Hashmi, but for now, we can only watch with amazement this actor’s continual embodiment of Audrey Hepburn’s excessively modest confession: “I probably hold the distinction of being one movie star who, by all laws of logic, should never have made it.” In Jannat 2, Hashmi plays Sonu Dilli, a smooth operator introduced to us as he is apprehended by a man to whom he owes money. (He ends up selling the man an overpriced gun.) Sonu is not a bad person, merely a practical one – if not guns, he reasons, people will find other ways to kill each other, with knives and sticks. And when not selling weapons, Sonu sleeps with local prostitutes as songs from Ram Balram blare in the background. (How fortunate that Rafi passed on before seeing Ek rasta do raahi painted with vaguely pornographic associations.)
ACP Pratap (Hooda), on the other hand, has no music left in his life. We see him, first, perched on the parapet of his terrace, clutching a bottle of booze, and the only person he wants to kill more than himself is the mastermind behind the illegal guns racket. He latches on to Sonu Dilli in the hope that this small fish will lead him to the sharks, and the cat-and-mouse interplay between them is very enjoyable. Deshmukh is no innovator, and like many directors from the Mahesh Bhatt stable, he’s a storyteller in the classical sense – but narratives like these come with their own pleasures, like the villain being introduced just after Sonu Dilli makes an ominous reference to him. The minute the words slip from Hashmi’s mouth, we know what this next shot is, just as we know what the intermission point is the instant Hashmi gets married to Jaanvi (Esha Gupta, who looks like Zeenat Aman with breast implants and a broader jaw). There’s a fine line between predictability and inevitability, and Deshmukh knows it well.
He isn’t out to reinvent the wheel – he merely wants to keep the gears spinning and make a solid, if not especially memorable, B-movie. And he manages this for the most part. Jannat 2 looks beautiful – this may be the only villain’s lair in cinema history bathed in lambent candlelight (we almost expect to see a sunken bath in a corner) – and is far more watchable than its predecessor, which became quite ludicrous in its depiction of the world of match fixing. As is to be expected with Bhatt’s films, references to other movies abound (The Departed, and even his own Naam) and there’s a moment of hilarity surely unintended by the filmmakers. (When the heroine, whose past we’re informed is tainted with a dark secret, drops a business card with the name Jaanvi Singh Tomar, we wonder if her father is a bandit in the Chambal from a movie we saw a few months ago.) The only major failing with Jannat 2 is that its emotional charge is muted – when someone close to Sonu sacrifices himself, we don’t feel the moment the way we’re meant to. But I went in with low expectations and the film surpassed them at every level – and this isn’t faint praise.
Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.