Jaanisaar: An elegiac counterpoint

A still from the film ''Jaanisaar'   | Photo Credit: 08dmcjaanisaar

In history there are always two sides of a coin – one of the victor and the other of the vanquished. With Jaanisaar, Muzaffar Ali, returning after a long, long break, shows us the other side. The side of the routed, the side where Hindus and Muslims swam together in the estuary of mysticism. The times when courtesans were preserves of culture. An ode to the composite culture of Awadh, Jaanisaar takes us back to days when Nazeer Akbarabadi raised one hand for Ali and the other of Hari. When Hindu rajas observed Muharram and Muslim nawabs celebrated Krishna’s raas reela.

Set two decades after the First War of Independence or the Mutiny, as the British love to call it, it cogently questions their version of the events of 1857 and after it. Why Indian farmers were forced to grown opium at the expense of wheat when neither the demand nor the climate suited it. It puts the contribution of Wajid Ali Shah, who was exiled by the British to Calcutta after branding him as a debauch nawab, in perspective.

The story emanates from the epilogue voiced by Naseeruddin Shah, where Thomas Macaulay’s view that the only way to win over Indians is to make them feel inferior by liquidating their cultural and spiritual mores, comes forth. Raja Ameer Haider (Imran Abbas) is an embodiment of this falsehood that the British spread strategically by planting seeds of suspicion. Brought up in England, he believes in the democratic values of the occupying forces and their sense of fair play.

But when he comes across Noor (Pernia Qureshi), a courtesan with the heart of a rebel, the colonial cobwebs give way to clarity. Ali breathes Awadh and here again in the company of cinematographer Gianni Giannelli the scenes have been mounted as if a series of paintings have come alive. The frames have a matte finish for the lighting is according to the times when lamps used to light our lives. The unhurried pace, the measured poetry, might be an anachronism for the here and now generation but for the connoisseurs of art there is plenty to appreciate in Ali’s canvas and Shafqat Ali Khan’s compositions. Wajid Ali Shah’s “Champai Rang” is all there to be felt.

However, Ali falters in picking his lead protagonists and herein lies the difference between Jaanisaar and his magnum opus Umrao Jaan. This canvas looks appealing but it doesn’t converse with you beyond a point. It touches you but fails to shake you. Pernia is a consummate Kathak dancer but a clumsy actress. She might be good for stage but cinema is a medium of close-ups. She seems conscious of camera and her anglicised accent irks despite constant effort to neutralise it. It seems somebody has told her — be cautious, be very cautious. Ali tries to cheat his way through by long shots, shots of hands caressing each other but in matters of heart deception doesn’t work. As a result the first half is almost reduced to an irritating mess.

Ali appears stiff in a cameo. He improves through the course of the film. So does Imran. And Bina Kak shines as the motherly figure in the brothel but these are only small mercies.

Still Jaanisaar deserves a chance for it puts our shared past in perspective. It keeps the hope afloat in times when some people want to harvest hatred.

Genre: Period drama
Director: Muzaffar Ali
Cast: Imran Abbas, Pernia Qureshi, Bina Kak, Muzaffar Ali, Dalip Tahil

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 9:27:31 PM |

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