Kareena Kapoor in Jaane Jaan. (courtesy: netflix_in)
Be it a retaliatory, spur-of-the-moment act or a pre-planned strike aimed at eliminating a threat, a murder is a murder. But when the principles of mathematics are employed to either disclose or obfuscate the truth, can a killer escape the noose? That is the question that writer-director Sujoy Ghosh's deftly crafted, superbly acted mystery thriller Jaane Jaan answers.
The Netflix film hinges on a single mother and her 13-year-old school-going daughter who are drawn into a calculated but risky cover-up attempt and a police investigation that hits a trail that nearly goes cold.
A taut script, spiffy dialogues (by Ghosh and Raj Vasant), first-rate performances and a keen sense of place serve to enhance the mystery that surrounds a lonesome math teacher who goes about his daily chores with mechanical detachment and a woman who moves in next door and becomes an object of silent, obsession for the reclusive man.
Based on the third novel of Keigo Higashino's Detective Galileo series, The Devotion of Suspect X, Jaane Jaan takes only a few minutes to deliver the watershed moment from which everything else in the plot flows.
The suspense stems from the chain of events that are set in motion by an unfortunate incident that tests the math teacher's genius and puts his neighbour's future under a cloud.Jaane Jaan is a genre-bending police procedural that dissects the minds of three characters rather than play out like a standard whodunit (in any case, we know who from the very outset).
Maya D'Souza (Kareena Kapoor in her OTT debut) has escaped an unhappy past and settled into a stable life that revolves around her daughter and a thriving cafe in Kalimpong. Naren Vyas (Jaideep Ahlawat) is in love with mathematics more than with anything else in the world.
Mumbai Police detective Karan Anand (Vijay Varma), sent to Kalimpong on a mission, is the only one who puts all his cards on the table. He is in search of a wanted man. With no emotional or psychological baggage weighing him down, he gets down to work with a local policeman, Sub-inspector Sundar Singh (Karma Takapa, who loses no opportunity to make his presence felt).
When Maya's past returns to hound her, the well-being of her daughter Tara (Naisha Khanna) becomes her priority. She finds an unlikely ally in Naren, who is awkwardly trying to find a life beyond math and his evening jujitsu sessions.
It transpires that Karan and Naren were classmates. As the two men probe each other's susceptibilities, the cop is under increasing pressure from his boss to find a corrupt policeman and hawala racket kingpin, Ajit Mhatre (Saurabh Sachdeva in a terrific cameo), who was last seen in Kalimpong.
The precise world building and the measured dialogues - a Hindi crime drama for once steers clear of cuss words - make the battle of wits between the two men consistently gripping and intriguing despite the fact that the audience is in the know of what is being sought to be swept under the carpet.
Love or, to be precise, infatuation that inches dangerously close to stalking, finds an exceedingly strange way of expressing itself in Naren's case, while a hint of lust colours Karan's exchanges with Maya, his prime suspect. Obsession, jealousy and anguish are all at play as the trio tread on ethically slippery ground.
The wall around the uncommunicative math teacher, an inscrutable enigma locked in an unbreakable shell, is like the mist that hangs over f Kalimpong. It hides a great deal even as it constantly shifts to reveal hitherto hidden nooks and vistas. Karan nearly gives up on the case, having hit his head against the wall a few times.
Maya has to hold her ground through it all in the face of the dichotomies that confront her. Her assistant Prema (Lin Laishram) claims that their cafe makes the best momos in town. But it isn't for the dumplings that Naren makes his way to the eatery every day.
The staid, painfully shy Naren has a receding hairline, looks older than he is and walks like a man who would rather let time pass him by. He plays chess with himself and sets question papers so tough that the school authorities request him to take it easy. But he has his reasons. Pull yourself higher, the world will not descend to your level, Naren tells a student.
Jaane Jaan explores the debilitating isolation of a man lost in his own world as well as the pitfalls in the way of a woman determined to put her troubled past behind her. Multiple dualities - protector-predator, victim-perpetrator, friend-foe and genius-oddball - are central to the twisted plot.
The title, which might suggest that this is a story with an undercurrent of romance, comes from one of the rare cabaret numbers that Lata Mangeshkar sang (Intaqam, 1969, filmed on Helen). The song plays in a karaoke bar and provides a fleeting glimpse of Maya's back story.
Jaane Jaan is laced with a slew of retro songs from other decades of Hindi film music. Some of them play so faintly that they are almost inaudible. Anirban Sengupta's sound design and the background score by Shor Police (Clinton Cerejo and Bianca Gomes) add appreciable allure to the film's soundscape.
The choice of songs may seem a tad arbitrary, but they together hark back to an era of perennially popular Hindi film music even as it points to - at least a handful of the numbers do - what the female protagonist of Jaane Jaan is running away from.
Editor Urvashi Saxena creates crisp and aptly complex patterns as she intercuts scenes into each other all through the film. Cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay locates the mystique of Kalimpong in everyday settings without resorting to any obtrusive means.
Kareena Kapoor's conveys a wide gamut of emotions in a performance marked by remarkable restraint. Jaideep Ahlawat makes light work of an extremely demanding character, capturing the man's interiority and body language to stunning effect.
Vijay Varma, who has to work the hardest because his policeman is bereft of the layers that the single mother and the math teacher have, lifts the character well above the ordinary by imparting to it the subtlest of behavioural nuances.
Jaane Jaan stays true to the text it is based on (but for minor tweaks here and there and a major departure from how the novel ends) - and to its genre - but it consciously and intelligently waters down the conventional crime drama tropes.
With the writer-director, the technicians, the music team and the actors at their very best, Jaane Jaan is an all-round triumph.
Kareena Kapoor, Jaideep Ahlawat, Vijay Varma and Saurabh Sachdeva