Thirty-four years after he made the unforgettable Umrao Jaan, Muzaffar Ali returns to the cinemas with a film titled Jaanisaar. It is a desperate, sad effort to reclaim forgotten glory and where the original film continues to stun viewers with its fine performances and hypnotising aesthetics, this one is forgotten the minute you exit the theatre.
Sonam Kapoor's former stylist Pernia Qureshi makes her acting debut in this period drama where she plays a courtesan called Noor. More than acting, Pernia keeps twirling and you sadistically wish that she tripped on her own dress. She's a dancer and singer, a fighter and also has a "heart-of-gold." She's everything but an actor.
Imran Abbas Naqvi looks like he walked straight from the sets of his last film Creature 3D after visiting a local spa. He plays a prince raised in London who's returned to India with a misguided notion of the British Raj. He's a Nawab, so of course, he is smitten by the courtesan. He has been told by his grandfather (Dalip Tahl who dons a wig and looks shocked as if scoffing at the makers to have actually made the film) that their family was always close to the Britishers but Imran ends up learning a secret so dark, he quickly runs out of expressions to emote what he's feeling.
Which leaves us with a love-story that goes nowhere (unless you count a lovemaking scene on a piano-chair). The parallel track is about the pre-Independence battle which Muzzafar Ali is himself orchestrating. Eerily reminiscent of a drunken Sudhir Mishra, Ali delivers jingoistic lines with the conviction of a history professor but looks more like someone who needs immediate medication.
He keeps emerging whenever the makers feel the love story is getting tedious to talk about injustice and then disappears into the shadows only to show up for a climactic battle where he gets brutally killed. Oouch.
One can't help but think of the extraordinary Rekha with the dashing Raj Babbar and the late Farooq Shaikh, the gloriously enchanting costumes of Umrao Jaan, the memorable songs composed by Khayyam tuned to Asha Bhoshle's terrific voice. What a great film that was.
To think that this is the product by the same maker is not just depressing but also confusing. Why would someone want to do such great disservice to their own vocation?
Ali may still have had a story to tell here, although an already told one. But his choice of actors is a tremendous letdown. Pernia is an institution in how to not act. Her expressions are limited, her voice has an unmissable twang, her body-language is uncomfortable and she appears very camera-conscious. Add to it, she can't dance (Would you believe that Kathak legends Kumudini Lakhia and Birju Maharaj choreographed the numbers?). The less said about Imran, the better.
Jaanisaar's biggest saving grace is that it comes to an end. But that doesn't mean you've to sit through it. I don't think the film's editor did either.