Director: Muzaffar Ali
Starring: Pernia Qureshi, Imran Abbas
Jaanisaar looks like a flipbook of exquisite landscape paintings, part Thomas Daniell with romantic ruins and jungles of Faizabad looming over its star-crossed protagonists; part-miniature paintings of Faizabad’s boudoirs and drawing rooms, naachghar and kothis. Each frame, whether the protagonists are taking a buggy ride, or riding into the sunset, could make for breathtaking stills. Muzaffar Ali has employed his and his producer (and wife) Meera Ali’s aesthetic sense to create the 19th century painstakingly. The costumes especially are worthy of mention here, the fine cotton of the noblemen, the diaphanous anarkalis of the courtesans, the jhummar and tikkas adorned by the women, the fine benarasi weave dinner jackets and jodhpur pants of the characters are intimately informed from that period. However, the connection ends there. The drop-dead gorgeous scenes and people in the film, perfectly cast (perhaps except for Noor, played by Pernia Qureshi)
remains an elaborate puppet show. At some point, we are left thinking if it would have been better if this were a play,
where this kind of play-acting is kosher.
Then, there is the question of Pernia Qureishi, who is no Rekha. Yes, she might be a more accomplished dancer than Rekha would have ever been in Umrao Jaan. But her screen presence doesn’t hold the light to Rekha’s magnetic draw — despite the breathtaking sets, and costumes, she doesn’t make for the memorable image that Rekha’s kohl drawn eyes transported us back to; “teri kateeli aankhon ne mara” fits Rekha’s Umrao Jaan much more than Qureshi’s Noor. With Qureishi, we do not leave the ramps of fashion weeks — they might be simulating the Nawabi era, but they do not take us back in history. Her hesitant accent and enunciation, her vacant eyes — they do nothing to make us empathise with the epic nature of her character’s love story.
Set post the revolt of 1857, Jaanisaar is centred around the love story of Noor, a courtesan who is also a revolutionary fighting the British’s oppressive regime, and the London-returned Raja Ameer Haider (played by Imran Abbas) who falls in love with Noor promptly and effortlessly upon his return (am I the only one thinking of Devdas here?). Meanwhile, the lands under his control has been taken over by opium farming, through compulsory instructions from the Britishers. The new age brown man-of-reason, educated in the “civilised” ways of the British, is horrified at the state of affairs, and reasonably fired by passion for Noor to delve into her pet nationalist cause. This is where we reach intermission, and post-interval, the story starts getting convoluted and unwieldy, going forth in territories that the narrative has not established enough groundwork for. Muzaffar Ali himself plays a heroic figure; robed in black with a vague turban, his mentees on his side. It is unclear what the troupe wants to do, or their connection with Noor, who seems to be thick with them. The inevitable lover’s tiff, where everyone tries to persuade Haider to give up Noor, also doesn’t hold — neither the plot, nor Qureshi or Abbas can build it to the level of a melodrama. The dialogues in the film don’t support them either, we go back to Maulvi Saab’s advice to budding poet Umrao Jaan when she presents her first bandish “Dil cheez kya hai” to him: “Khayal ki nazaakat, aur alfaaz ki bandish” — the delicacy of expression and the complex composition of words is the essence of beautiful poetry. Jaanisaar bypasses all risk of delving with dialogues from that era with the help of predicatable clichéd phrases such as, “Kya aap humse mohabbat karti hai? Khud se zyaada, aur awadh se kam.” Cue Jodha Akbar. The floundering plot is abruptly ended to make matters worse, as soon as Ali’s character’s role draws to a close. Umrao Jaan will never be as beautiful looking a film as Jaanisaar; Jaanisaar will never have its immediacy and raw appeal. Perhaps Rekha is the key behind this puzzle?