KARACHI:What would you do for love? A love that does not know of your affection – one that has lived an entire life without you, and continues to, still? A love at whom you gaze from a distance, and are only ever allowed glimpses from windows left ajar, and walls that are too thin to hold secrets?

Naren Vyas (Jaideep Ahlawat), better known as Teacher in the east Indian hill town of Kalimpong, is crafted in Jaane Jaan to be a unique lover. The Netflix offering begins with a brilliantly shot scene where Teacher is about to hang himself, only to be interrupted by a neighbouring knock. He awakens from his nightmare, reminded of the noose around his neck, and he begins to practise greeting the woman he knows nothing about, but has come to love: Maya Dsouza (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

Spoilers ahead!

Director and writer Sujoy Ghosh works in tandem with Jaideep to craft a well-fleshed-out character, who, in a film that stars the inimitable Kareena, steals the spotlight. It’s the little things that make one do a double take: the way he is shown to be a man who often cares about how he looks, as is evident from the slightly dust-laden weights in his cluttered home, his occasional need to brush over his thinning hair, and his inherently human desire to search for hair transplant options.

Reserved, yet a mathematical prodigy, Teacher is the antithesis of mainstream heroes. He is, self-admittedly, not that handsome, but it is his mental acumen that sets him apart. He could run circles around a Raj or Rahul, possibly incriminating them for crimes they have not committed. His life-long romance with mathematics is impacted solely by his fixation with Maya, and both forms of his love are put to the test when he must work to free her from an ongoing murder investigation.

It is here that we shift our focus to Maya. In a previous life, Maya was Soniya – perhaps a bar dancer, perhaps a prostitute. The audience receives no definitive answers; excellent wordplay is a key tool for adding to Kareena’s character. Smitten in love, Soniya is sold by her cop husband into a life of sex work, only to escape and begin anew as Maya. Her journey from Soniya, the beloved, to Maya, the mystery, is cloaked in intrigue. True to her name, Maya is an enigma and remains so for a vast part of the film.

However, it is Maya who sets the plot in motion. In fact, Maya sets everything in motion – a vague statement, on the surface, but one that clicks once you watch the film. When visited by her estranged husband Ajit (Saurabh Sachdeva), she plans to give him money to ward him off their teenage daughter, whom Ajit intends to sell into sex work. Heavy implications of a marriage tainted with all kinds of abuse make the progression of events more complicated. When Maya eventually kills her husband, aided by her daughter, a moment of stunned silence paves a path for Kareena’s powerful performance to work its magic.

Jolted awake from her trance in which she murders the man who violated her agency and subjected her to torture, Maya must now come to terms with reality. It is through her series of changing expressions that the audience is forced to ask: Will Maya go to jail? Would that be fair to Maya? What about her daughter? Does Maya deserve to be imprisoned for killing her abuser? These queries are convoluted further with the knowledge of how the justice system can fail victims, and one is left asking: who is the victim in this situation? The film delights itself in dancing between greys, and therein lies the triumph of the offering.

It is at this point in the film when Teacher takes over, concocting a plan to hide the body. A man of pure logic, he barely keeps Maya in the loop – conversations to which we are not privy either. It is here that Karan Anand (Vijay Varma) sets his journey in the film as the shrewd investigative officer, who will not leave Kalimpong without solving the mystery of Ajit’s death. What follows is a brilliant chess match – a motif in the film, as Teacher tends to play chess with himself in his home – and while the audience can see Karan think out loud or visit his Sherlock-esque mind palace, the former’s thoughts and moves remain shrouded in mystery.

It is one thing to be able to romance Kareena; a force to be reckoned with in the world of cinema and Vijay does this exceptionally well – creating heat when needed, and doubling down on his interrogating gaze when required. However, the chemistry between Jaideep and Vijay is also one for the books. Teacher and Karan are former friends who unite in Kalimpong – one due to a murder, and the other due to his complicit nature in the act. A metaphorical chess match begins between the two the moment Karan calls Maya Teacher’s “hot neighbour,” and, in a stroke of ingenious dramatic irony, the audience watches the latent match between the two play out. Both are on each other’s tails, but both are also vying for the affection of the same woman.

Their equation is best depicted through a combative stand-off at Teacher’s dojo place, juxtaposed by a revelatory verbal exchange between the two. When Karan manages to trip up Teacher, finally onto his web of lies, the dialogues are shown in parallel to him landing blows during combat. When Teacher evades the line of questioning using logic, he is shown to block blows in their face-off. It is this mind-bogglingly nuanced level of storytelling that sets Jaane Jaan apart.

Everything about the film – from the visually breathtaking shots of Kalimpong that contribute to the overall setting, to the choice of grading, to utilising old Bollywood songs as eerily haunting soundtracks and foreshadowing elements – each choice shows that this is a narrative to which a lot of thought and love was given. Even the murder weapon is a nod to a culturally relevant aspect of Kalimpong, thereby creating an immersive experience.

It must be noted that creating a narrative as such, with the mystery addressed as the core conflict (that is to say, we know who killed Ajit) could not have been easy. The point of engagement is not the crime, but the evasion. Teacher talks about the truth often parading itself out in the open, with humans opting for a solution provided to them instead. The truth, does, in fact, march around openly, conversing with the investigating officer and peeking through walls to check on Maya. The truth does, in fact, triumph, in an absurdly arresting outcome.

The cold, calculated conclusion of Jaane Jaan can be interpreted in many different ways. Without giving too much away, one can trace Teacher’s journey as a logical dervish in love. He knows what he loves – maths and Maya – and he utilises the former to save the latter, only to be reunited with maths in a dark, intricate finale. When the audience finds out about Teacher’s motivations behind his actions, we are left with more questions than answers. If love is madness but it only impacts your life, is that love noble? Especially when one feels indebted to another for their life, in the first place. One cannot help but ask, in a twisted way, when the credits roll: what would you do for love?

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