First things first. I don’t know why they have called the film ‘Jazbaa’. ‘Jazbaa’ roughly translates to ‘passion’ in English and I am not sure how the theme of passion fits the bill to be this film’s title. Are the makers hinting at the passion of a mother to save her child or is it about the passion to fight against a social evil like sexual harassment? Whatever be might the intent, it does not come out well at the end of the film. The only aspect of the film that showcases true passion is Sanjay Gupta’s weird obsession with green filters that makes at least half of the film look like a series of poorly-edited Instagram posts. More on that later.
Let’s start with the positives. First, it’s a relief when we are told that Jazbaa is an official remake of a Korean hit film called Seven Days. This acknowledgment and ‘generosity’ is huge coming from a director who has been in the past guilty of blatant plagiarism, even for a handful of accomplished films that he has directed (Kaante, Musafir and Zinda). Second, Jazbaa is, in all fairness, a neatly executed and a well-crafted thriller for most of its 2-hour long runtime. The film is set on a riveting premise with ample scope of thrill and all the frills attached with it.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan plays Anuradha Verma, a legal eagle and a single mother to her daughter Sanaya. The top lawyer, who has never lost a single case and is seemingly not averse to even defend the guilty as long as she is winning, is forced into defending a rapist-murderer after her daughter Sanaya is abducted. Helping her out in getting to the root of the case and finding her abducted daughter is Inspector Yohaan (Irrfan Khan), a decorated but now suspended cop who also has feelings for Anuradha. Also in the fray is the murder/rape victim’s mother (Shabana Azmi) who is aghast at the idea of a woman lawyer defending a rape accused in the court.
Jazbaa is clearly designed to be a grand comeback vehicle for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and there’s nothing wrong in it. There are ample slow motion shots, lots of solo scenes, close-ups and the mandatory screeching and wailing that has become the hallmark of ‘heroine-oriented’ films in Bollywood. In fact, the film starts with a visibly fit and undoubtedly gorgeous Aishwarya jogging and exercising on Mumbai seaside with a non-descript song playing in the background. Yes, we get it Sanjay Gupta sahib, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is back, back both in shape and reckoning.
Aishwarya is mostly convincing and powerful as a tough lawyer and a doting mother. She does try a bit too hard in some of the scenes, especially in those where it seems the director asked her to screech and forgot to say cut, but overall it’s a fine performance that the former Miss World delivers with appreciable poise and tenacity.
Jazbaa’s biggest letdown is the poor Irrfan Khan (yes, you read it right) who wowed us in the role of CBI officer in Talvar just a week back. Irrfan is let down by a poorly conceptualized and heavily caricaturized character that relegates him to be an insignificant sidekick to Aishwarya. He gets to deliver some corny dialogues, wear some tacky jackets and misfit sunglasses, in what seems to be Sanjay Gupta’s tribute to the stereotypical cop of Bollywood. His romantic interest in Aishwarya is never fully justified and his attempt to act like a ‘cool’ cop who does ‘cool’ things does not cut an ice with the audience. Perhaps, we are just used to see the real Irrfan Khan all the time. This one is too fake and wannabe to be true.
Similarly, it pains to see Shabana Azmi trying to be all melodramatic and ‘act’ like a mother who is aggrieved by the demise of her daughter. Her conversations with Aishwarya are frivolous and non-serious at times, making you wonder what was the idea of putting those sequences in the film.
Jazbaa has a couple of unexpected and well-disguised twists in the narrative which will make you sit up in your seat and take notice. The film is also well-paced and sharply edited at 2 hours and 2 minutes. However, the director seems to be divulging into too many territories at several points in time. As a result, Jazbaa is neither a compelling courtroom drama, nor a candid commentary on the issue of sexual harassment or even a flawless thriller for that matter. Repeated enactments of the rape scene seems more titillating than heart-wrenching and you can’t help but question the director’s honesty as he delves into a matter as serious as rape. Equally questionable is the eventual finale that seems to have been enacted keeping in mind the current fad for feminism.
Similarly, the courtroom sequences are not compelling and fiery enough with the talented Atul Kulkarni, who plays public prosecutor arguing his case against Aishwarya, hardly getting any substantial arguments to put forward. All the supposedly ‘good dialogues’, most of which is nothing but 90s style cringe fest, are saved for Irrfan who looks woefully out of place.
But all of the above flaws do not put down Jazbaa as much as those ridiculous filters that Sanjay Gupta is obsessed with. Mumbai skyline has a strange hue of green all the time, the roads are always damp and the sky always overcast with clouds that look as fake as a wig would on Anupam Kher’s head. Complementing this Instagram-style filtering is a video game-like background music which is so loud and buoyant at places that it hurts your ears.
Overall, Jazbaa could have easily passed off as an average thriller with some interesting twists in between, but it is letdown by the director’s penchant for melodrama and obsession with green filters. It also seems non-serious on serious issues and does the cardinal mistake of miscasting Irrfan Khan in a role that simply does not suit him.
Watch it only if you have waited for Aishwarya to come back all these years!
Rating: ** (2 out of 5 – Average)