In a movie that spins on deception, why should its title be taken at face value?
Sujoy Ghosh’s version of the Keigo Higashino novel The Devotion of Suspect X gets its name from the cabaret number Aa Jaane-Jaan from Intaqam (1969). The song is even performed within the movie, during a karaoke session. But rather than this tune, Ghosh’s thriller resonates thematically with the do-or-die lyrics of another Jaane Jaan, from Jawani Diwani (1972).
The karaoke sequence is one of the ways in which Ghosh’s movie localises a classically Japanese tale of selfless love, duty and sacrifice. Jaane Jaan channels the spirit of Vijay Anand’s thrillers about love and death in cold places. The 139-minute film, which has been premiered on Netflix, has enough technical finesse and performative heft on its side to overcome its shortcomings.
In The Devotion of Suspect X, a brilliant mathematics teacher who pines for his neighbour comes to her rescue when she gets involved in a crime. The novel’s genius lies in the teacher’s construction of an ironclad alibi for the woman he worships.
The deviously plotted bestseller has been adapted for the screen in Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Its basic premise unofficially inspired the inciting incident in Jeethu Joseph’s Malayalam-language blockbuster Drishyam (2013).
Jaane Jaan is set in Kalimpong, where Maya (Kareena Kapoor Khan) lives with her daughter Tara (Naisha Khanna). Maya’s cafe has a regular visitor: her introverted neighbour Naren (Jaideep Ahlawat). Naren’s infatuation with Maya, revealed through half-smiles and the hint of a blush on an otherwise stony visage, is his chief source of pleasure after mathematics.
Naren steps in when Maya gets an unwelcome visit from her spouse Ajit (Saurabh Sachdeva). Maya is the chief suspect for police investigator Karan (Vijay Varma).
Ghosh’s version gets off the mark immediately with its casting: Kapoor Khan emptied of oomph, worry lines on her face; Ahlawat as a silent romantic; Varma as a cop rather than a sleazy villain. The trio of superb performances has the impeccable support of a fourth, equally important character: Avik Mukhopadhyay.
The gifted cinematographer’s moody compositions ratchet up the suspense. Mukhopadhyay films night-time scenes in available light, brings texture to cramped sets, and showcases the actors by placing his camera inches from their faces. A single close-up is enough to measure the throb of Naren’s heart.
If there is frisson to the encounters between Maya, Naren and Karan, each of them has strong individual moments too. Jaideep Ahlawat’s Naren adroitly walks the line between creepiness and poignancy. Ahlawat movingly plays a man carrying the burden of loneliness with dignity until he cannot anymore.
Kareena Kapoor Khan radiates allure as well as grittiness, attractive in her vulnerability while aloof in her purity. Vijay Varma shines too as the easy-going, quicksilver Karan, who begins to get distracted by Maya.
Despite dialing up the romantic factor, Ghosh’s film is a bit dispassionate and out of reach, like Maya. The rushed denouement muddles the meticulous manner in which Naren has attempted to shield Maya. We needed to marinate in Naren’s audacity, especially after having been led there through careful lensing and editing.