Jazbaa (“Passion“) is a mess from start to finish. It’s such a trainwreck that it manages to make top stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan look silly.
From the very beginning, it’s obvious that something is off with Jazbaa. It just looks wrong. Director Sanjay Gupta is obsessed with putting filters on the camera, so every shot is a sickly green or yellow, with the occasional merciful blue. The grotesque palette makes Irrfan appear in urgent need of hospitalization.
That’s when you can actually see him clearly. Gupta also likes to play with lighting, to stupid effect. A group of cops sit around a dark conference table, light illuminating only their cheeks or chins. Their eyes and mouths — the parts of the face that actually convey meaning — are in shadow.
Although the plot has promise, Gupta mucks it up as well. Aishwarya plays Anu Verma, a successful defense lawyer who is happy to make evidence disappear if it will help her win. She’s also a single mom with an elementary-school-aged daughter, Sanaya (Sara Arjun). Anu’s best friend, Yohaan (Irrfan), is a corrupt but highly decorated cop who’s facing suspension.
At Sports Day at Sanaya’s school, Anu crosses the finish line first in the mother-daughter relay. But when she turns to celebrate with Sanaya, the girl has vanished.
Anu — who is standing in a crowd of people — calls for her daughter for all of five seconds before her eyes fill with tears and she starts shrieking her head off. Why does she immediately assume that something has gone horribly wrong? It’s almost like Anu knows she’s in a movie. The fact that Sanaya actually is missing doesn’t justify her overreaction.
A kidnapper calls, demanding that Anu free a rapist/murderer from death row in exchange for Sanaya’s safety. Anu enlists suspended Yohaan to help her, even though he’s the man who put the rapist behind bars in the first place.
All this happens in frantic fashion. Within the first fifteen minutes, Anu leads the cops on a high-speed car chase, even though we’ve hardly had time to get to know her, her daughter, or Yohaan. Gupta expects the audience to invest in the characters simply because they are there, not because they have earned our sympathy or affection.
Gupta’s obsession with using camera techniques for their own sake — rather than for the sake of the story — reaches its absurd apex in courtroom scenes. Every single shot is peppered with numerous micro-movements of the camera: up, down, in, out. It makes no sense. It’s as though Gupta is deliberately trying to distract us from the acting.
That may be a good thing, because the acting is bad. Aishwarya screams and sobs and pounds her fists on the ground. Irrfan throws a tantrum, kicking over barrels like a frustrated baseball player taking out a Gatorade cooler in the dugout. While sitting in a car with Anu, Yohaan emphasizes a point by breaking her passenger window with his elbow. It’s so stupid, it’s sublime.
Chandan Roy Sanyal — who plays the rapist, Niyaz — is the hammiest of the hams, cackling as though he’s a villain from the 1960s Batman TV show. He’s nearly outdone by Sam, the rape victim’s old boyfriend who is now crazy from having taken too much “angel dust.” Don’t do drugs, kids.
The anti-drug message is secondary to the real moral behind Jazbaa. The screen fades to black as the movie ends, and sad piano music plays as Indian rape statistics appear on screen. The note ends not with a call for an end to rape or greater aid for victims, but for speedier executions of those convicted of rape (a death penalty offense in India).
The problem with the message is that the plot of the very movie that precedes it cautions against such haste. During the course of their investigation, Anu and Yohaan uncover enough evidence to suggest that the crime that got Niyaz thrown behind bars didn’t proceed the way the original prosecutor concluded it did.
Regardless of the fate of the fictional character Niyaz, Jazbaa presents a case in which a potentially innocent man is sentenced to death. The movie then ends with a note encouraging speedier executions, thus limiting the opportunities for a person wrongly convicted to overturn his or her own death sentence. Even if one agrees with the sentiment at the end of the film, it doesn’t follow logically from the actual events of the film.
Rather than trying to make a moral point, Gupta needs to focus on telling a good story. He fails to do that, getting hung up on distracting camera techniques and overacting that puts soap operas to shame. Jazbaa is a disaster.