Janaan looks beautiful and has its moments but is ultimately disjointed and, dare I say it, at times tedious 3/5
Janaan was a movie I was really looking forward to (see my preview piece for Destinations here). It promised to be a gloriously escapist film full of comedy, romance, action and thrills. The cast is gorgeous and the setting divine but the story and characters fail to engage while the relative inexperience of the cast intrudes in some key scenes. It’s a shame because there are episodes that are brilliantly done, which show glimpses of the movie Janaan could have been.
Set in Swat and Islamabad, it tells the story of expat Meena (Armeena Rana Khan) who returns from Canada to attend her cousin’s wedding. As she deals with culture shock, her cousins Daniyal (Ali Rehman Khan) and Asfandyar (Bilal Ashraf) vie for her attention.
The film starts badly with a cringe-worthy scene, apparently set in Vancouver, where Meena’s Canadian friends freak out about her going to Taliban-land. While the concept was good, funds apparently didn’t stretch to an actual jaunt to Canada and the set was obviously Pakistani in character. The two “Canadian” characters seem to have been cast purely for their racial characteristics and display no acting ability whatsoever. I may seem harsh but anyone who’s seen that scene will agree. It started the film off on a shaky note.
Things pick up once Meena arrives in Pakistan. The Swat scenery is breathtaking and the performances astronomically better. Unfortunately the story, particularly in the first half, is terribly disjointed. The team had said that they wanted to show Pakhtoons in a normal, relatable way but all of the rose-tinted togetherness is a bit like that Bollywood movie “Hum Saat Saat Hai”, like watching someone else’s wedding video. Meena’s culture shock is limited to being shocked that there’s still load shedding, nazar utarna and mice-infested houses in Pakistan. All make for comic scenes but anyone who’s ever grown up abroad knows that it’s the difference in mindsets that really causes culture shock.
In terms of romance, there are some scenes between the main characters than are very visually romantic but we don’t see enough of what makes them fall for each other – there has to be more to romance than smouldering glances and the odd one-liner. The characters go abruptly from antagonism to love, with a few references to why the guy is an admirable person, without showing how they connect with each other.
The second half of the movie moves in an entirely different direction, tackling a social issue that sees Asfandyar go into default angry Pathan mode with the villains toting guns – so much for showing Pakhtoon culture in a positive light. It’s actually great to see the plot moving along after a tedious first half but there is a disjoint between the two halves as if Janaan couldn’t really decide what sort of a movie it wanted to be.
Of the three leads, Ali Rehman is the best. Equally comfortable with comic and serious scenes, he commands the screen and elicits some of the best laughs of the film. Armeena Khan looks gorgeous but her performance is patchy. She emotes brilliantly in the scene where Asfandyar comes to her room but at other points her performance is stilted, particularly in the early scenes. Bilal Ashraf also looks spectacular – the camera loves this guy and the women in the audience seemed to sigh every time he came on screen. His acting skills however need work; while admirably natural at points, he struggled in some of the more emotional scenes. He’s streets ahead of that other chocolate-box hero Sikander Rizvi but more experience is evidently needed.
The supporting cast is generally good but uber-villain Nayyer Ejaaz, newbie Hania Aamir and Mishi Khan as Shireen Gul stand out. Hania Aamir was spotted Dubsmashing on Instagram by producer Imran Kazmi and is a real find. Effortlessly convincing as Asfandyar’s sister Palwasha, Hania shows enviable acting skills.
The Pakhtoon grandmother was another great character, something of caricature but full of dadi-type quirks that we see all over Pakistan. Since she spoke in Pashto, it was a little difficult following her dialogue as the film-makers chose to give urdu subtitles in roman characters. In fact the switching from Pashto to urdu to English must have confused everyone in the audience, no matter what their mother tongue. The only subtitles were those I’ve mentioned so I wonder what non-English speakers made of the large amounts of Meena’s dialogue that was in English. I actually went with a Pathan friend (who spent some time trying to work out whose house in Bani Gala was used in the shooting) and she said that the Pashto was also difficult to understand because not everyone saying it was a native speaker – sort of like when you get English people to speak Urdu.
There were lovely touches, the “relatable moments” that producers had mentioned in pre-release interviews, including cousinly one-upmanship and deciding who to send wedding cards to. However, the pace of the movie wasn;t quite right – despite the Bollywood editor who apparently worked on Rab ne Bana Di Jodi.
The movie ended much more strongly than it started – the final scene between the three main characters was a total gem. If more of the movie had been like that and if the plot had been less disjointed, Janaan would have been an excellent film. It’s still worth seeing – for Ali Rehman’s antics, for Bilal and Armeena’s gorgeous looks, for the stunning scenery, for some great comic scenes and for some excellent character performances by the supporting cast – just don’t expect a gripping story.