Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is on the screen after five years. Yeah, you read that right. Five years is a long time. Her last film was Guzaarish and before that, in the same year, was Enthiran. How long is five years? After Enthiran, Rajinikanth did a cameo as Chitti for Shah Rukh Khan in Ra.One, we had Lungi Dance, there was Rajini’s next film Lingaa that tanked painfully and he is now shooting for his upcoming film Kabali. If you are aware of Rajini film cycles in the post-Baba world, you’ll realize that’s a long time. So I was fairly surprised at how mute the promotions were for an Aishwarya Rai comeback. Whatever you may think of her acting skills, a bonafide star of almost two decades having a low key run up to her first film in five years? Then I watched the film and it dawned on me. The sound, the volume, the screams have all been reserved for the film. That’s all the film is. Rai screaming and screeching her way through the film, Irrfan dialing up his histrionics in the worst way possible and a film that needs its decibel levels checked more than the quality of script or filmmaking.

Jazbaa, a remake of South Korean film Seven Days (is this the first time a Sanjay Gupta film explicitly states its inspiration/original material?) has Aishwarya Rai Bachchan playing a famous and successful lawyer Anuradha Verma who is forced to defend an accused in a rape and murder case. Not that she doesn’t go for such cases otherwise. Only this time her daughter has been kidnapped and this is what the kidnapper wants. This is a ripe subject in the Indian context and Gupta recognizes it. Only the things he decides to do with it come across as juvenile, perfunctory and devoid of heart. Some great counterpoints here. We have a single mother with a girl child in trouble and defending a rapist. Another single mother (Shabana Azmi) – of the victim – having constant face-offs with Verma concerning not only about her bizarre last minute decision to take up the case but also her methods. Done with more tact, this should have been the film’s focus. But we have Inspector Yohan (Irrfan), a corrupt cop with some noir elements added. For some reason Gupta seems to use that green tinge he so loved in Kaante. Withdrawal symptoms? And Yohan does look like an extra who walked out of the Kaante set straight into this one. What with wearing shades even in the interior sequences and all that. A night club scene leading to a dingy terrace with a discarded couch and other paraphernalia gives the movie that noir push. But Gupta eschews all that for a film made so straight that it is lifeless. Jazbaa is a dead body that occasionally metamorphoses into a banshee.

Yohan is the anti-hero to be played at a heightened pitch like a star. And Irrfan complies but it comes across as out of place. That moment when Yohan learns about Verma’s predicament is especially pedestrian filmmaking and acting. Give us Irrfan from last week’s Talvar please. Now that’s a performance reminiscent of a hero. Yohan here has no business being a hero. It would have worked if the triangular conflict here was among Verma, Garima that is Azmi’s character and the kidnapper. The cop here is only a tool, a fixer acting at the behest and to the whims of these three. Now that makes for an engaging film. Instead we have courtroom proceedings that make you laugh out loud reminding you of viral videos that are really unintentional parodies. At one point we are told Anuradha Verma the famous criminal lawyer hasn’t even got the lowdown of the actual events of the crime from her client. Nobody is asking for Court (and if everyone starts doing Court it will only lead to ennui) but a little less style and more sincerity Gupta?


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