Jaane Jaan is a curious title for a murder mystery, an investigative thriller. The phrase suggests romance, and in Sujoy Ghosh's new film, we see the song sequence from Intaqam, where a sultry Helen beckons to her lover while mouthing the lyrics to Aa jaane jaan… The moment occurs in a karaoke bar in Kalimpong, and it brings all the lead characters together and tells us how each one of them is linked to love. One of them is a single mother, played by Kareena Kapoor Khan. Her name is Maya. She hasn't been with a man in what looks like ages, and she is having the time of her life with the cop played by Vijay Varma. His name is Karan. He is investigating Maya, but – just for that instant – they stop being cop/suspect and become man/woman. He joins her on the floor as she sings and they dance with reasonable abandon. Karan appears to be a bit of a player, so there's possibly some lust mixed into what he's feeling here. He keeps calling Maya "hot".
The third person in the bar is Naren, a maths teacher played by Jaideep Ahlawat. he is Karan's age, and they studied together – but he does not have Karan's looks. He is losing hair and knows that he looks twice as old as Karan. He is Maya's neighbour, and he visits her cafe everyday to catch a glimpse of her. It’s the good, old, unspoken, one-sided love, and it’s the "devotion" you find in the title of the Keigo Higashino book this film is adapted from: The Devotion of Suspect X. Naren looks at Maya singing karaoke and he looks at Karan beside her and he knows he is never going to find himself in that situation: because of his looks, and because of his social awkwardness. In school, he plays games with students and argues with teachers, but once he steps outside those walls, he is a nobody. At least, that is what he thinks of himself.
The driving incident of Jaane Jaan is a crime that occurs due to a visitor from the past. It's a Drishyam-like situation. (That film, too, was believed by some to have been sourced from the same book.) And that's the problem. For those of us who have seen the Malayalam blockbuster or its various adaptations in other languages, Jaane Jaan offers little that's new or intriguing. Given that numerous Drishyam-s have already appeared, maybe Sujoy and team would have been better off treating this material as a moody story of people yearning for love, within the confines of a murder mystery. The emotional beats in Maya, Karan, and Naren give us an idea of where this story could have been taken had it been treated as drama. But this angle exists as scribbles on the margins, as footnotes.
Yes, the last hour is intriguing, but the low-key screenplay takes too long to get to the twist. In theory, it's nice that the film resists loud theatrics, but the flipside is that it comes off a bit sterile. Despite the best efforts of Kareena and Vijay Varma, their interactions have neither the nail-biting tension you'd expect from a cop/suspect situation nor the slow-burn push and pull between a single man and a single woman. Jaideep plays his author-backed character with admirable restraint, but we sense the hints of a "performance". And he is not helped by the writing that has Naren reduce everything to maths equations. This may read elegantly in the pages of a book, but when put across in visuals, it looks silly. There's a callback to a scene about a suicide attempt. When you think about it, the reason for the suicide attempt and the reason it did not go through are extremely moving. But on screen, I did not feel that feeling. Jaane Jaan is watchable enough, but in an easy, generic way. With this cast and this plot and with these emotions bubbling underneath, it should have been a punch in the gut.