Jism-2, the new film directed by Pooja Bhatt but better known as the launch pad for the Indo-Canadian adult-movie star Sunny Leone, opens with a Biblical quote (from Job): “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.” This probably explains the choice of heroine, who comes with a pair of sandbags strapped to her chest. Okay, bad joke. But it was just begging to be made. This quote, at first, is a bolt from the blue – then again, perhaps only pertinent in a story whose characters, we assume, are raring to obtain biblical knowledge of one another. At least, that’s what the steamy posters promised us, and for a while, the film strives to make good on this promise. Leone, as adult-movie star Izna, appears in bikinis and lingerie, and most impressively, she shows up for a business meeting in a yellow blazer that seems to have been thrown on over sheer black undergarments. We’ve heard of actors who dominate films with their footage. Leone dominates this film with her cleavage. It’s a performance with considerable… um, depth.
The story of Jism-2 seems as knowingly ludicrous as the ones in the films that made Leone famous. Get this: Izna walks into a nightclub, where she catches the eye of Ayaan (Arunoday Singh). She leads him to a room upstairs, straddles him, and the camera cuts away coyly to a wall. She wakes up the next morning to see him humming Frank Sinatra’s It happened in Monterey while making a glass of nimbu pani, which he calls the world’s oldest cure for a hangover. And then he tells her he’s from the intelligence department and that she needs to save the nation. I kid you not – and the words, mulk ki madad, sound more ominous in Hindi. Does it bother Izna that someone she picked up for a one-night stand is now lobbing word-bombs like mulk ki madad at her, even before she can chase away her hangover with nimbu pani? Does she bristle at this pig waiting to reveal his true self after he’s spent the night with her? Of course not. She just smiles and says that she’s already doing plenty of mulk ki madad, by dropping her clothes. Truer words may never have been uttered. In 1990.
Before internet porn, the actresses who bravely bared their bodies under rainclouds and showerheads and the gaze of lecherous co-stars were indeed doing the nation a service. They provided what the nudie magazines couldn’t, which is a heaving facsimile of a sexual partner, and the minds and the hands of the men in the audience took over from there. For the price of a movie ticket, these men, many of whom had never even talked to women (other than family) in a casual context, bought themselves release. But now, when all imaginable sexual acts (and several unimaginable ones) are just a click of the mouse away, and when our heroines routinely parade around in bikinis, what could possibly entice male viewers to a film whose heroine reveals far less than the models on Fashion TV? Pooja Bhatt may think she’s being a feminist of some sort, by choosing not to exploit her heroine – there’s even a line in the film about rescuing a fallen woman, a “keechad mein giri huyi ladki” – but by constraining Leone, who seems quite guiltless about her body and the business she’s in, Bhatt is being an anti-feminist. She’s fighting the battles of someone who doesn’t realise there’s a battle to be fought in the first place.
All we’re left with, other than teasing flashes of Leone, is a bummer of a plot about a girl who’s recruited to ensnare the terrorist she once loved (Kabir, played by Randeep Hooda). And Bhatt smothers this story with high-toned art. Jism-2 is the kind of movie where a girl looking to thank a guy does so with orchids, a note written in her blood, and a night in her company. Seeing her creamy complexion and unscarred skin, you may wonder where she cut herself – but that would be too slovenly for Pooja Bhatt, whose real refuge lies in the pages of Architectural Digest. The couples in her film don’t make love – they drape themselves around one another as if posing for 13th-century temple art. There’s no sweat. The lighting is always perfect. And when they’re done, they catch their breath amidst sheets that are artfully rumpled, the kind of mess simulated by someone who has a pathological fear of making a mess.
To make things worse, every second line is scented with poetic sentiment. Izna talks of a man who was her sea, and whose waves rolled gently towards her. (You are welcome to mine these nuggets for pornographic subtext.) Elsewhere, Kabir mourns that seasons pass while memories stay behind. These dialogues, to be pulled off, need actors of stature – Leone’s voice and diction, unfortunately, aren’t among her assets. All scenes are slowed down till they feel like they’re taking place under water or in outer space. If Bhatt’s idea was to imagine how a rueful Buddhist monk might make a late-night Cinemax feature, she’s succeeded beyond her wildest dreams – but as a director, she’s a disaster. The nation of Sri Lanka, where Kabir lives, seems to be occupied by five people, the characters in this story. There are no passers by, no housekeeping staff, no vendors of milk and groceries, no children in the streets. Bhatt shrinks a country torn by strife to a scenic diorama.
Jism-2 could still have been watchable had it, like its predecessor, proved a fount of unintentional laughs. You remember Jism, of course – the unofficial remake of Double Indemnity that included a touch Billy Wilder never dreamt up, the scene where John Abraham, consumed by love for Bipasha Basu, empties a glass of whiskey on his hat and sets it on fire. The declarations of love here, alas, aren’t issued through smouldering Stetsons but by a cavalcade of gauzy songs, the aural equivalent of scented candles. Izna, in order to cook up a past for the benefit of Kabir, is instructed to read the falling-in-love bits from a bestseller by Barbara Taylor Bradford. But even those pulpy pleasures aren’t to be found here. Pooja Bhatt has actually managed something remarkable. She has taken a subject with a love triangle, the threat of terrorism, guns, bloodshed, double crosses, spy operations and an adult-film star and rendered it utterly boring.
And in the middle of all this, a drowning Hooda clutches at imaginary straws. He takes this inane script seriously, and he demonstrates his commitment by looking constantly at Leone’s… eyes. But even his misplaced intensity cannot salvage a character who lives alone, pining for a lost love, and plays the cello in a blue-walled room lit up like the night sky. He paraphrases Faiz (“Aur bhi gham hai is duniya mein gham-e-mohabbat ke siwa) and weeps while listening to Mukesh’s Woh subah kabhi to aayegi, awaiting a new dawn that will wipe out the dark nights of his soul. He’s supposed to be a dreaded gangster, but he spends his time decorating Izna’s hair with fireflies – he’s a thirteen-year-old girl’s idea of a hurting mobster. He looks less likely to polish off someone than pour down his day’s thoughts into the diary underneath his mattress. He gets the film’s second Biblical quote when he turns martyr and cries to the heavens, “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do.” I suspect Hooda slipped in that line himself, after the first week’s shooting. He was doubtless referring to the people who made this movie.
Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.