I wonder why some love stories work and some don’t. In each one of us, there is an eternally hopeless romantic and in each one of us is also a cynic who scoffs at the pangs of first love, maybe even cringes. Some movies bring out the former version of us, and some bring out the latter version. A lot of things have to click together to make audiences weep quietly and smile through tears, relate to a love tale playing out on the big screen, be enchanted enough to forget that we are just watching a movie, not real life.
96 did that brilliantly. Jaanu is a scene-to-scene remake of that charming brilliance, but I do not think it has quite the magic. However, it would be unfair to compare remakes with originals, for the second time around there is always a bar to reach, the hopeless romantics have raised their guard and hidden away and the surprise element isn’t there to break down that guard. Making those concessions, along with the concessions for linguistic differences, I think Jaanu does a wonderful job. It is not 96, but otherwise, it is a charming re-creation that narrates a pure tale of teenage love that manages to retain its serenity over a long period, only to sprout one fine evening with a fresh radiance.
Sharwanand plays K Ramachandran, a travel photographer in his 30s, who hasn’t managed to move on from the girl he had loved in school, Jaanu. At their school reunion, the childhood lovers are just as starstruck as they were 17 years ago. And the hours they spend together before Jaanu has to return to her life – her husband and child in Singapore – allow them to recount their love and the miscommunication that cost them a fairy-tale ending. We need to look at Jaanu’s character sketch in two parts, the teenage one (Gouri Kishan reprises her role in 96 and plays it with the same tender elegance) and the one all those years later.
But the big moment was Samantha stepping into the massive shoes of Trisha (not for the first time). I think it’s probably a moment of cinematic history too that Samantha’s entry got the loudest cheer from the audience (we are in 2020 and finally we have learnt to appreciate a good female actor, and probably the protagonist of a movie). Samantha eases into a role that focuses heavily on her countenance – every movement of her eye, every twitch, every frown, every turn of red on her face, the flush and blush, all of it.
The second half of the movie is an ode to how much a good actor can express on her face, especially when there isn’t a lot of dialogue. It is a massive burden that Samantha carries with elan, given Sharwanand’s character is more an awkward man who hasn’t moved on from his teenage uneasiness. So, even though Sharwanand’s supporting act is impressive, Samantha is the one who carries the weight of a lot of untold, unsaid emotions.
Govind Vasantha’s music has an ethereal element to it, filling all the gaps which a nostalgia-ridden love story, with whirlpools of emotions, is bound to create. In a way, Jaanu is two love stories, the teenage love, the pangs of first brush with a bittersweet emotion, and the mature adult love based on respect and admiration, unchanged despite the grind of time and circumstance.
Where the movie doesn’t do justice is in the selection of all those teeny-tiny song bits Jaanu keeps singing right through the movie. In Tamil, those bits were perfect; in Telugu, they are mostly jarring. A lot depended on those non-ornamental song bits (call each of them a cappella) being spot on to stir the emotions.
I could sense that director C Prem Kumar, who decided to repeat everything he did with the Tamil version, went ahead with a sense of ‘I got this’ rather than with a sense of ‘how can I refine what I already did’. For example, in both versions of the movie, the director tries to portray Ram as the ‘nice guy’ who respects women. We hear Jaanu praising him for how safe he is for women. But the ‘nice guy’ is a tad bit overdone. We do not need to emphasise the fact that the nice guy has a problem if his students wear sleeveless clothes. Ideally, it’s not his business, and Ram’s character doesn’t need that detail. But it repeats, which shows that more new thought hasn’t really gone into the script, where it should have.
And in trying to repeat the template as it is a little bit of the charm and magic drifts away, both in the way moments play out and in the way Gouri or Varsha (both reprising their rather important cameos) act in the movie. Take, for example, the mesmerising scene where Jaanu cycles back to Ram, who is sad that holidays have arrived, now that they have finished school. Without saying anything she splashes ink on his shirt and asks him not to forget her. Scenes like that work on a charm that is hard to mechanically reproduce. And Aadithya Bhaskar’s young Ram pulls off that innocence that I couldn’t really see in Sai Kiran, and I had wished the director made sure they got it absolutely spot on. (Another reason why scene-to-scene remakes are sometimes troublesome, the lethargy of having done it all this once before doesn’t quite let you push for perfection). Vennela Kishore as Ram’s friend Murali is stranded too barring a couple of funny moments, not quite the spontaneity of Bagavathi.
I liked Mahendiran Jayaraju’s camera work, and with high technical richness, every frame was a treat to watch, easy on the eye, heart and soul. All in all, Jaanu is a wonderful movie, if not compared to the original. That credit is due to Prem Kumar’s writing, as he manages to bundle together a bunch of mixed emotions into a musical journey. Whether it is Ram requesting Jaanu through others to sing his favourite song ‘Yamuna Thatilo’ (which she does eventually, during a power-cut as he frantically searches for a flashlight to be able to see her face), fainting every time she places her palm on his heart or revealing to her how he has kept a tab on everything that has happened to her while maintaining a ‘safe’ distance not to bother her – the movie is a treasure trove of beautiful moments. It also manages to gently touch on a sensitive topic, that of stalking and the pain and discomfort it could cause to women who find it hard to speak about it or confront the problem.
Ram is the nice guy next door, the quintessential friend women would probably like, and Jaanu is his lifelong muse. These two make the tale special and make you want to spend more time with them as they reminisce their short-lived happiness.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.