On a dull, lazy, hot Saturday afternoon, you rest on the couch and lazily surf the television channels, still recovering from the hangover of the Friday night booze overdose and five days of mind-numbing office torture. As you shuffle across channels, cursing the stupidity of television content producers, suddenly you come across a movie that holds your attention. And as you are hooked to the movie, you slowly realize it is one of the best things that ever came out of Bollywood. Suddenly, you are no longer despondent. You are instead filled with a sense of joy at watching awesomeness unravel on the screen.
The movie is called ‘Jaani Dushman – Ek Anokhi Kahani’. The second part of the title is frankly an understatement.
Not only is ‘Jaani Dushman’ a unique story, it is also a pioneering work of art, a visionary masterpiece. Set in a dystopian future, the fag end of the mythical Kalyug when the human civilization and its values are coming apart at the seams, it features a group of college students, living in a self-imposed cocoon of debauchery, ill-deserved wealth, atheism, bad humour and pathetic fashion sense. Predictably, each of the characters, save Sonu Nigam, is sent to its death throes by a mythological Iccha-Nagin.
Apparently, no purgatory is bad enough to punish Sonu Nigam for his vicious assault on acting and senses.
The casting of the movie is top notch and features who’s who of the Bollywood hall of shame of poor acting. It does take a lot of artistic courage to feature a 35 years old Akshay Kumar, 41 years old Sunil Shetty, 32 years old Manisha Koirala, 34 years old Arshad Warsi and 37 years old Aditya Pancholi as a bunch of twenty something college kids. This is quite a feat, especially considering the facts that Aditya Pancholi looks like the father of the girl he is dating in the movie (Kiran Rathod) and Sunil Shetty exposes chest hair that would put Anil Kapoor, grizzly bear or any other hairy mammals to shame. Poor Sunny Deol must have felt really bad at being made to play a recent pass out of a college where Sunil Shetty is still studying.
The story of the movie, like any other good, family-oriented Bollywood movie, begins with an attempted rape. But, of course, before the heinous act could be inflicted on Manisha Koirala, Sunny Deol, like the loyal boyfriend that he is, barges in and beats the two miscreants to a pulp and hands them over to the Principal of the College (played by Raj Babbar), a God-fearing amalgamation of a Hindu priest and a Christian Father, the only voice of reason in these mad times. He agrees to pardon the sinners on one condition, that they be pardoned by Manisha first.
From here, the movie starts getting really bizarre. In the next scene, Manisha is seen surrounded by all her friends, collectively coaxing her to pardon her attempted rapists, with logics varying from the strange (“Can you blame these guys for trying to rape you? You are so hot that you can arouse even a dead man”) to the surreal (“If you do not pardon them, we will consider you a real arrogant, narcissistic prick”). Finally, like a bunch of adults, they agree that the decision be made through a joke; if Manisha laughs at the joke, she will have to pardon the criminals. The joke, cracked by Arsad Warsi, goes something like this:
Wife: Darling, do you know that the kings in the old days used to have a hundred wives. How did they manage to feed so many wives?
Husband: First think about what would be left for the husband to eat.
If you are still looking for the punch line, you are not alone. Experts over the years have tried to decode this joke, but have failed miserably.
Normally, you would not laugh at such a joke or even consider it a joke, unless you are high on a cocktail of meth and nitrous oxide while being tickled by a monkey from behind. But considering the vile, humourless alternative universe that the characters in the movie inhabit, the whole gang, including Manisha could not but burst in laughter, an act that looked as spontaneous as Rahul Gandhi cracking a joke.
However, in a damning indictment of the doctrine of ‘let there be mercy’ that should serve as a warning to all the pacifists in the world, the rapists do not repent their vulgar act; instead, they plan on another attempt, after all as the character of Rajat Bedi says, “Sabka izzat karu to lootu kiski?”. With that noble sentiment in mind, they hoodwink Manisha to come to a lonely fort, where they try another attempt at outraging her modesty, but before their plans can come to fruition, Manisha, like a progressive, feminist icon, saves her izzat by committing suicide.
Now to add more complexity and layers to the plot, Armaan Kohli, one of the most talented actors of the generation, makes an appearance as a snake-man who was in love with Manisha’s character in the ages gone by, but was condemned by a furious sage to separate from her, live inside a tree till the 21st century and await the rebirth of Manisha as a human. But before their reunion could get meangingful, Manisha gets trapped and killed, and somehow, the blame for this falls on the entire gangof her college friends. The snake-man then seeks out revenge and kills all the characters in the movie one by one.
You may think the movie becomes predictable from thereon, but it does not. Armaan Kohli alternates between the appearances of a digital snake (a piece of state of the art special effect that would give Peter Jackson, the creator of ‘Lord of the Rings’ multiple orgasms) and a frustrated human. In most of the action sequences, he looks like Bobby Darling in goggles and a batman costume, complete with a bat mobile. In his throwback to the earlier days, he dresses up like a gay Tarzan. He terrorizes and gradually kills one character after the other, in most innovative and varied ways possible, including beating them with hands, beating them with sticks, beating them with rods, beating them with swords and just generally beating them around.
The last character left alive is Sonu Nigam, the effete younger brother of Sunny Deol, a possible homage to the character of Chutiya, played to perfection by Shakti Kapoor in ‘Gunda’, the similarly effete younger brother of gang lord Bulla (‘rakhta hoon mai sabkuch khulla’), who needs sex ki goliyan from London and a supply of girls arranged by his brother’s henchmen to keep his manly juices flowing. The character of Sonu Nigam is not similarly sex crazed, but he has a penchant for keeping himself alive inspite of being stabbed with a knife, going through serious accidents and being beaten to a pulp. This sets up the epic climax scene where Sunny Deol breaks open a jail to fight the snake-man in an abandoned factory. And inspite of his dhaai-kilo ka haath and the girly shrieks of Sonu Nigam, what saves them in the end is the Father of the College, who in a rare feat of religious chemistry, summons an ‘Om’ (swastika) symbol and a cross, fuses the two and sends them to kill the icchadhari nagin.
In between all these mayhem, there are other surreal scenes like a skeleton appearing dressed as a bride, the Father Raj Babbar presiding over a boxing match that has no relevance to the plot, the same boxing match degenerating into mayhem as the digital snake appears in the stands even while the blissfully unaware Sunil Shetty coolly celebrates his victory on the stage, Akshay Kumar unloading his gun on the spirit of Manisha Koirala during a planchet session, Sonu Nigam trying to get drunk when the snake-man serves him a 24 hour deadline, Manisha Koirala and Armaan Kohli banging their heads against bricks in a synchronized motion after getting cursed by Amrish Puri and Arshad Warsi getting electrocuted in a swimming pool.
With a plot as mind-blowing as this, you tend to forget everything else. But if you pay close attention, you find that the acting is top-notch, after all nothing else can be expected of such an exhaustive list of Bollywood B-graders. But even in the midst of such assorted performances, Sunil Shetty and Sonu Nigam shine above the rest, like Pele and Garrincha in the Brazilian football team of the 60s. The range of their histrionics and dialogue delivery, which vary widely and emphatically between 0 and 0.01 on a scale of 0 to 100, leave you blinded in a spell of dull monotonousness. Special thanks are also due to the likes of Amrish Puri, Johny Lever and Raza Murad who agree to be part of this masterpiece, even if their cameos last less than a drunk man suffering from erectile dysfunction.
The editing is tight and crisp. In fact, it is so crisp that scenes are cut in the middle and the movie jumps from one scene to another, having no relations with each other. It is almost psychedelic in effect. The background music is a cacophony of random sounds. The action set pieces are so well executed that Hollywood movies like ‘Matrix’ and the ‘Dark Knight’ series actually look inspired from them. And the costume designing is first class, with costumes that look like they have been stolen from a 70s circus troupe.
By the time, the movie ends, you find yourself floating in a sea of satisfaction which comes only after watching something truly epic. ‘Jaani Dushman’ is a true masterpiece, a movie that should be shown to every wannabe director. Not only is it cinematically brilliant, its expert handling of existential questions of religion, morality and the sensitive topic of rape stands out. It is a real pity that mainstream Bollywood does not produce such fares any more.