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‘Jaanu’ movie review: Sharwanand is outstanding in this Telugu remake of ‘96’

Samantha and Sharwanand in a still from the film   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

The beauty of storytelling, of cinema, lies in its ability to draw us into a story that we may not completely believe in. Practically speaking, if someone holds onto the memories of his Class X crush and stays single even after 17 years, and stores clothes and photographs in an old trunk that becomes a treasure chest of memories, I’d gently suggest counselling. But writer-director C Prem Kumar draws us skilfully into the world of his protagonist Ram (Sharwanand), a romantic and a loner who prefers to live with nostalgic memories of his Janaki or Jaanu (Samantha).

The Tamil original 96 (the 1996 school batch) is a much-loved film, just like the Malayalam film Premam. Such films are tough to remake. The deliberately languid pacing and poignant storytelling that works for an audience of one region, stands the risk of falling flat elsewhere. Yet, the universal idea of love that binds such stories together, can find resonance anywhere.

Prem Kumar takes up the challenge of remaking his own film in Telugu. Sharwanand and Samantha step into the shoes of Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha. Most of the scenes and dialogues remain the same. Instead of 1996, the school batch here is from 2004, to fit the slightly younger protagonists.

The film begins with a ‘thanks to nature’ note and the opening song introduces us to Ram, a travel photographer who’s exploring Maasai Mara. He sports a beard, is unkempt and his eyes have a lost look. The nomadic lifestyle and photography define Ram. A little later when he trains photography students, he tells them about freezing a moment forever. He, too, has remained that way.

Memories come rushing back when during a long drive, a detour takes him to his school. The watchman (Raghubabu) hasn’t changed. The building and the classroom, too, seem frozen in time.

  • Cast: Sharwanand, Samantha, Vennela Kishore
  • Direction: C Prem Kumar
  • Music: Govind Vasantha

The loner feels the need to talk to his schoolmates. It’s a nice stretch that shows friends reconnecting on Whatsapp and planning a reunion. Vennela Kishore, Sharanya Pradeep and Thagubotu Ramesh (for a change he’s not inebriated) come into the picture. The friends and the witty lines step up the momentum, ably offsetting Ram’s serious demeanour. Sharanya is a hoot and between her and Vennela Kishore (yet another film where he adds value and shows why he’s so sought after) lies the weight of the Ram and Janaki reunion.

In the school portions, the setting and conversations feel so real. Gouri G Kishan as the teenage Samantha is brilliant and Sai Kiran Kumar who plays young Sharwanand (there’s an uncanny resemblance too) is spot on. Ram and Janaki share an easy rapport until the former realises that he’s fallen in love with her. He withdraws and is too shy to speak up. He is enamoured by her, her music. True to her name, she sings S Janaki’s songs like a dream. Ilaiyaraaja melodies from the 80s and 90s play out in all beauty.

The happy buzz of the past is shaken when the grown up Jaanu makes her entry, accompanied by a lilting background score. Composer-vocalist Govind Vasantha and Chinmayi (who has rendered many of the songs and is the voice of Samantha) are the behind-the-scenes stars of this film, along with cinematographer Mahendiran Jayaraju, elevating the narrative. Where words take a break, Govind Vasantha’s music does the honours.

Soon, the fun lines are replaced with moments of silence and conversations between Ram and Janaki who have so much to share after destiny put them on different paths. Like he says, he has remained at the point where he left her. But she had to comply with family expectations and have a family of her own. She’s at peace, she says, when asked if she’s happy.

Jaanu is a complex character. She’s prim and proper unlike the rugged Ram, outspoken of the two, acknowledges that she has a good husband and a daughter, and yet feels the pain of long-lost love.

How much we buy into the later half depends on whether we connect with the actors. Sharwanand surrenders himself to the world of Ram and presents a nuanced portrayal from the beginning. He’s superb and this is, by far, his best act. Samantha comes into her own gradually, after the hotel room scene where she breaks down; the conversations that follow give her, and Ram, a sense of closure of the past. Jaanu is another feather in her cap, but there are portions where she seems to struggle, as though a tad weighed down by the part.

The later half is also where the film feels bloated and could have done with some trimming. The piece de resistance is Jaanu singing ‘Yamuna thatilo’ from Thalapathy and Ram fumbling for a lamp, to see her and treasure the moment forever.

Jaanu, like 96, is poetic. Stay with its pace and give in to the performances and the music.

This story has been corrected for an error.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:52:34 PM |

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