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'Jaanisaar' review: Exquisite, yet vacant!

'Jaanisaar' review: Exquisite, yet vacant!

SIFY

Friday 7 August 2015

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Movie Title

Jaanisaar

Director

Muzaffar Ali

Star Cast

Imran Abbas, Pernia Qureshi, Muzaffar Ali

The camera snakes around the corners of the opulent room, as courtesan Noor dances the Lucknowi-gharana kathak (this graceful kathak style came into existence in Awadh in the 19th century) with mischief and poise. The accomplished dance, the heavenly music, the breath-taking costumes, and the visual splendor of the room put in you in a kind of stupor, as you soak in the artistic experience.

And then the song ends, someone speaks, the stupor is broken and you're brought into the reality that you're watching a movie. Jaanisaar, set in 19th century India, is a pretty intense tale of a courtesan Noor, also a covert freedom-fighter, who falls in love with the London-bred prince of Awadh.

Director Muzaffar Ali, known for his cult film Umrao Jaan, sets Jaanisaar in 1877, twenty years after the first war of Indian Rebellion.

It was a time of friendship and solidarity between Hindus and Muslims such that Muslim kings celebrated Hindu festivals with aplomb with one of them dressing up as Krishna, while Hindu poets wrote beautifully about Allah's glory.

Just back from London, Awadh's prince Ameer (Imran Abbas) is a friend of the British. The local British officer Cavendish, however, is slowly getting aggressive and his attempts at dividing Hindus and Muslims is opposed by both communities. Such that Ameer steps down from a rigged election that was meant to make him win over his Hindu counterpart.

Despite the clear indications of the British trying to divide India, Ameer chooses to describe the British as an "insaaf-pasand kaum" (justice-loving clan) that he childishly believes that the British 'never lie'. The naiveté is believable at first, since he has been raised in their country, but honesty gets on your nerves later for its improbability.

We're given glimpses to the daily harassment by the British. Taxes are levied on starving farmers, kings are treated like glorified slaves, and courtesans are harassed and labeled prostitutes.

In the midst of this chaos, Ameer and Noor share an old-worldly romance with lilting songs, conversations by the lake, and a certain formality maintained in the conversations even when they're a couple. Muzaffar Ali plays the role of an underground movement leader, who tells Ameer some hidden truths about his past.

The dialogue is beautifully written with the 'tehzeeb' of that era seeping into each word. Music directors Muzaffar Ali and Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan give us such soul-stirring songs, (with highly accomplished lyrics by eminent poets) that they transport you into another era. Kumudini Lakhia and Birju Maharaj choreograph the Kathak portions that are beautiful, but not extraordinary.

The performances are a downer. Pakistani actor Imran Abbas (Creature 3D) looks the part, but his vacant expressions do not help, and this character appears quite clueless till the end. Debutante Pernia Qureshi impresses with her utterly graceful dance, and she is a vision in the rustling silks and opulent jewellery. However, the character she essays needed a more solid stance and dialogue delivery.

Ali's storytelling is lucid at times, and simplistic at others. There are total filmi scenes like the villain holding off hurting anyone despite having a gun, only so the hero can finish his nationalistic dialogue. Characters have overnight turnarounds, and the layers are not explored. You cannot help feeling that under the exquisite veneer, the film is a rather vacant rendering of a solid story.

The film is about unknown, brave freedom-fighters, and the tale is indeed a remarkable one. If only there were performances to back these inspiring, spirited characters, and a film that worked together as a whole, instead of delightful separates.

Rating: 2.5 stars