Movie Review: Jaane Jaan (2023)

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4 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Jaane Jaan / Suspect X on Netflix

In Jaane Jaan (also known as “Suspect X“) — filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh’s adaptation of the novel The Devotion of Suspect X — Ghosh showcases the same gifts for establishing atmosphere and directing actors as he displayed in 2012’s brilliant thriller Kahaani.

Much of what made Kahaani so engrossing were the subtle interactions between characters, like the tender way Officer Rana looks at pregnant Vidya, the woman he’s helping search for her missing husband. He’s smitten with her, even though he (and we) know they can never be together. Jaane Jaan is full of poignant glances and meaningful expressions that command the audience’s attention even more powerfully than a flashy action sequence.

Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Maya, a single mother living in the West Bengal hill town Kalimpong with her 14-year-old daughter Tara (Naisha Khanna). One day, the nightmare Maya has feared for almost fifteen years comes true: her husband Ajit (Saurabh Sachdev) — a sleazy Mumbai cop who dabbles in human trafficking — finally tracks her and Tara down. Though Maya assumes that Ajit is there for her, his intentions are more sinister.

Maya’s next door neighbor Naren (Jaideep Ahlawat) — a respected but aloof mathematics teacher — is reticence personified, but he’s a keen observer. He puts some clues together (thanks in no small part to their apartment building’s paper-thin walls) and determines that Maya is in trouble. He knocks on her door at a crucial moment, offering mother and daughter an unexpected but desperately needed lifeline.

Days after Ajit’s arrival, another stranger comes to Kalimpong: dashing Mumbai police officer Karan Anand (Vijay Varma). He hopes to find Ajit and use him to bring down the human trafficking racket he’s a part of. Soon enough, Karan figures out Maya’s connection to Ajit. And he’s surprised to meet his old college buddy and fellow martial artist, Naren.

By the time Karan arrives, Ajit is nowhere to be found. The three characters engage in a delicate dance, careful not to disclose more information than they should while trying to figure out what each other knows. It’s a dangerous situation because Naren knows how smart Karan is, and it won’t be long before he assumes Maya is involved with Ajit’s disappearance. Complicating things further is that both men are attracted to Maya.

All three of the main actors give some of the best performances of their careers in Jaane Jaan. Varma moves Karan through the world with the easy confidence of a man with looks, brains, charm, and authority. He instantly befriends his new partner on the local police force, Sundar Singh (Karma Takapa). Even when Karan is focused, he’s physically relaxed.

Karan is the opposite of Naren, who Ahlwat plays with imposing rigidity and minimal expressions. Ahlawat’s job is to convey the complexity of Naren’s feelings through microscopic movements of facial muscles and barely perceptible changes in appearance. It’s a daunting challenge, but Ahlawat pulls it off beautifully. Naren is a fully realized character of great emotional depth, even though those around him can hardly tell. He’s misjudged, but he also engages in some problematic behavior, so he’s more complicated than just a sympathetic underdog.

Kapoor Khan is excellent in guiding Maya through the storm that upends her life when Ajit and Karan come to town. Whether Maya is afraid, resolute, standoffish, or vulnerable, Kapoor Khan executes everything that’s asked of her with precision.

The masterful acting isn’t limited to the main three characters and their battle of wits. Sachdev’s Ajit is a total slimeball. Khanna is wonderful as a young teen forced to shoulder unfair burdens. Characters like Officer Singh and Maya’s well-intentioned but nosy co-worker Prema (Lin Laishram) are delightfully performed and give Jaane Jaan a real sense of place.

Kalimpong is the perfect location for a mystery, full of twisting roads, hidden alleys, and towering hills. Low-hanging clouds obscure and conceal, yet its beautiful vistas and lush forest invite exploration. With Jaane Jaan, Sujoy Ghosh shows again that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

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