We live in an age of distraction, so if an ominous thriller can keep you invested for 139 minutes without prompting you to check your messages on your phone or scroll through Insta reels, then it’s worth wading into these murky waters.
Director Sujoy Ghosh’s atmospheric murder cover-up ‘Jaane Jaan’, entitled ‘Suspect X’ in other International territories, is intriguing enough to have our undivided attention for over two hours. Led by a stellar cast with acting heavyweights like Kareena Kapoor Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, and Vijay Varma fronting it, this film - with macabre twists -- is high on building tension and stocking up on that grim pallor.
Set in the sleepy and picturesque Kalimpong town, we enter the world of the single mother, Maya D’Souza (perfectly cast Kapoor), and her teenage daughter, Tara D’Souza (Naisha Khanna). While their suburban lives in that hilly hamlet are uneventful, the same couldn’t be said about their troubled neighbor, Naren Vyas (Jaideep Ahlawat), who seems to be battling some sinister personal demons.
But Maya’s seemingly idyllic and insulated life takes an ominous turn when skeletons from her past creep up on her. Her abusive estranged husband, Ajith Mhatre (Saurabh Sachdeva), hunts her down and is armed with a list of unsavory demands. Without giving too much away, it sets into motion a chain of events that thrusts Maya as the prime suspect in a grisly murder case. She finds an unlikely mate in her socially-awkward neighbor Naren Vyas, known to everyone as the “teacher.”
The diffident balding man, who isn’t much of a looker and who harbors an unhealthy obsession with his luminous neighbor, schools her quickly on how to get away with murder by putting together a water-tight alibi for his crush. As far as fostering co-dependency goes, this trauma bond is a keeper.
Things get even more complicated when the officer investigating the gruesome crime, a dashing Karan Anand (Vijay Varma), happens to be Naren’s college mate. Karan has aged far better than Naren in looks, a point that Naren wistfully makes during the second half of the film. It’s these little details that help you root for Ahlawat’s character, despite his ghoulish misdeeds.
Make no mistake, the twists are predictable, but what keeps us hooked is the compelling performances from the formidable and diabolically talented trio – Kapoor, Ahlawat, and Varma.
They are independently wicked in their roles and their compelling acts elevate this engaging, but inconsistent murder whydunnit. Many of the macabre twists are even borderline ludicrous.
For instance, the swiftness with which Varma, a playful forty-something cop, zeroes in on Maya as his prime suspect isn’t wholly believable and the way the mother-neighbour duo hoodwink the cops seems like child’s play. And, let me not get started out on how niftily these guys can dispose of corpses after disfiguring them.
Themes of domestic abuse, lack of agency for an abused woman, obsession, and retribution are explored in a fleeting manner, but they don’t make much of an impression.
While all the actors are compelling in their roles, its Ahlawat’s fractured genius part that struck deep. The scenes were he breaks down is achingly vulnerable, even Kapoor Khan – who makes her streaming movie debut with this film – leaves a lasting impression. Her eyes, which reflect her fear stemming from systemic physical and emotional abuse, speaks volume. Apart from her perfectly kohl-lined eyes, she is make-up free and wears her scars, her age, and her searing vulnerabilities like a badge of honour.
She’s good, even at her lowest point in her life.
While Varma is saddled with an ill-defined cop role, he has enough charisma to make it work as this effortless rake who also harbours an inappropriate crush on his prime suspect. How else can you explain why an investigating officer on a case would prod his prime suspect of taking him out for dinner?
Interestingly, women are at the centre of the crime in this film, but it’s the men that yield maximum clout and power. Between an abusive ex-husband, a reclusive Mathematical genius, and a calculating cop, Maya often comes across as hapless victim doing some terrible things. A bit more agency would have enchanced the movie’s appeal.
Also be warned, the movie will remind you of the blockbuster ‘Drishyam’ where nitpicking on alibis during a murder investigation was its recurring theme.
But that shouldn’t stop you from giving this eerie thriller a shot. Just like how there’s no perfect crime, there’s no perfect crime movies either. 'Jaane Jaan' scores big on performances and less on plot twists.
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Kareena Kapoor Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Vijay Varma, Saurabh Sachdeva, Naisha Khanna, and Karma Takapa
Streaming on: Netflix
Stars: 3 out of 5