A single mother who has escaped an abusive husband, running a cafe and taking care of her adolescent daughter – the premise of Jaane Jaan looks like we are in for a feminist watch. However, Jaane Jaan makes no attempt to be feminist in the sense of empowering the female lead, and honestly, that is not the problem. The concern is that the makers seem to have, instead gone out of their way, to make the male leads creepy, dominating and possessive and the female lead a damsel in distress.
In an interview leading up to the release of the film with Anupama Chopra at Film Companion, Kareena Kapoor Khan says being known as an “actor” (and not just a Bollywood star) has also been of priority to her. Unfortunately, the film barely does justice to Kareena’s potential and does not explore her range and instead, limits most of her acting to turning up at the door when Teacher/Naroo (played brilliantly by Jaideep Ahlawat), her neighbour, gets back home, to say “Teacher, mujhe darr lag raha hai.” (Maybe, we could play a drinking game where we take a shot every time Kareena comes on-screen to say this.)
Jaane Jaan makes no attempt to be feminist in the sense of empowering the female lead, and honestly, that is not the problem.
For a woman, whose background story implies that there would have been so many life-changing decisions she would have had to take by herself, Mrs D’souza is relegated to simply following the instructions of the Teacher next door. She doesn’t think twice before trusting the quiet and discreet man and following his orders, which given her life story and circumstances, is difficult to believe.
Nevertheless, Mrs D’souza serves a clear purpose in the film. She appears to be looked at. And the camera is devoted to this purpose. As Karan Anand (Vijay Verma) asks Mrs. D’souza to accompany him to the station, his gaze follows her and lingers for uncomfortably long as he leers at her changing clothes. One would think he is regretful because his expressions right after the scene indicate so, but in one particular scene, he goes on to describe Mrs. D’souza as ‘teri hot neighbour’ in a conversation with Teacher, several times. To the point that several characters take time to emphasise on Mrs D’souza’s desirability and appeal.
As Karan Anand (Vijay Verma) asks Mrs D’souza to accompany him to the station, his gaze follows her and lingers for uncomfortably long as he leers at her changing clothes.
The Teacher, also suspect X, whose devotion towards Mrs D’souza forms the premise of the film (and the novel The Devotion of Suspect X (2005) by Keigo Higashino) also leers. He is possessive, watches with envy from a distance as Mrs D’souza dances with Karan Anand, and enquires with her repeatedly, later, if something happened between her and Karan at the karaoke bar. Devotion, in this scene, seems to overlap with an obsession that the Teacher displays, who seems to be enjoying the control he suddenly has over Mrs D’souza.
Devotion, in this scene, seems to overlap with an obsession that the Teacher displays…
While filmmaking is a matter of the creator’s discretion and freedom of expression, it also continues to be one of the most powerful media of messaging and propaganda. So, when narratives portray the helpful, next-door harmless teacher or a police officer meant to maintain law and order as objectifying or controlling a woman’s body and mind, and do not show them as being held accountable for their actions, they normalise problematic behaviour. For everyone rolling their eyes right now, we aren’t nitpicking at the lack of feminism in Jaane Jaan. Our case is for responsible storytelling. Feminism, inevitably, becomes a part of that ethos.
(The reviewer has not read the novel and her observations are only based on the film.)