Kareena Kapoor has always bounced back from toxic men on screen, but Jaane Jaan is too obsessed with her motherhood
Role Call: Kareena Kapoor gave back to toxic men on screen through indifference, seduction, resourcefulness and guilt. But in Jaane Jaan, her arsenal is empty.
Kareena Kapoor's Maya is living an anonymous, isolated life at a hill station in Sujoy Ghosh's Jaane Jaan. We know through flashes that she used to be a vivacious girl, and is living a diametrically opposite life now, after heartbreak. Maya is no Geet, but there's surely a parallel here to Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met (2007).
Jab we cared
Of course, one can't put Anshuman, the clueless and indifferent crush of Geet in Jab We Met, to her abusive, exploitative husband in Jaane Jaan. But we shared Kareena's crushing heartbreak because of what it did to her inside out. She tumbled down from the perennially enthused dreamer in the first half to the melancholic, lifeless realist in the second. When we see a glimpse of the old Geet in the scene where she hurls abuses at Anshuman over phone, it feels cathartic because she gains a bit of herself that she lost.
But do we know Maya at all? Was she a dreamer like Geet too? Or a realist instead? When we see her confront her estranged husband, we see fear and concern, but only for her daughter. We have no reference point to her own past self. Even the flashback glimpses, where we see her pole-dancing, it's another younger actor in there, only adding to the alienation we feel towards Maya.
The Supreme Seductress
Two years after defending her husband in the court of law against a seductress making false claims in Aitraaz (2004), Kareena weaponised seduction to lure men to death in order to avenge her husband's murder. In Farhan Akhtar's Don (2006), Kareena went all gold-glam to seduce Shah Rukh Khan's titular character. You could see her play around with his gun (pun intended) as she lip-synced to Ye Mera Dil. Sure, she couldn't get the job done, but only Roma (Priyanka Chopra) could come as close to killing Don. High testosterone is clearly his Kryptonite.
In another Farhan production, Reema Kagti's Talaash: The Answer Lies Within (2012), Kareena seduced another Khan - Aamir this time - as a ghost. She uses him as a pawn to punish those responsible for her death. However, in Jaane Jaan, Kareena is just witnessing things happen to him. A man smitten by her (Jaideep Ahlawat) needs absolutely no seduction here. Similarly, when Kareena switches on the former bar dancer within and sings Lata Mangeshkar's coquettish best, Aa Jaane Jaan from RK Nayyar's Inteqam (1969), to the cop investigating her (Vijay Varma), she does so rather casually, instead of deviously using her skills to control men vulnerable to her sex appeal.
No love lost
There's no reference to how Kareena fell for an abusive man in Jaane Jaan. Was she tricked into it or was it a genuine sweep off the feet? For instance, in Rensil D'Silva's Kurbaan (2009), Kareena is wooed by Saif Ali Khan's character who marries her to get a green card. When she learns of her terrorist background, she tries her best to avert his plans, but in the end, when she sees Saif succumb to bullet injuries by the police, she can't help but bawl, thinking with him of their life that could've been.
Similarly, in Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine (2012), Kareena's Mahi, a leading actor, demands her boyfriend (Arjun Rampal) embrace and accept her in public, but he ends up abusing her and throwing her off his car. Instinctively, Mahi's reaction is to report abuse to the cops. But later in the film, during a career low, she ends up collaborating with her ex, a successful filmmaker.
One doesn't wish she treats the abusive husband with any leniency, but the only ask is some complexity, when it comes to handling of relationships. A woman, however protective she is as a mother, cannot completely divorce herself with the feelings she had for someone she used to love.
In last year's Laal Singh Chadha, we saw her character Rupa get drawn towards a rich, abusive man. But we also knew the motive: the daughter of a poor, alcoholic, and abusive man and his distraught wife, Rupa assumed marrying rich was the panacea. But when she gets stuck in the same cycle of abuse in the process, she thinks of ending her life one night. When she reunites with her childhood friend Laal (Aamir) and learns of the extraordinary life he has led out of love, she repents at how she wasted her whole life while operating on fear.
On the other hand, in Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara (2006), she seems to have a happy relationship with the titular character (Ajay Devgn), till another man (Interestingly, Saif) feeds into her husband's male ego and insecurity and leads him to believe she has another affair. This culminates in a terrific scene, where Kareena's Dolly stares at her husband in disbelief as he accuses her of sleeping around. Even when he kills her on their wedding night, the expression that stays on her face is so heart-wrenchingly memorable that it forces him to end his life besides her upon learning that he's been misled.
Dying in guilt or making others die out of guilt is what Kareena Kapoor has mastered on screen across her career. In Jaane Jaan, when she kills her abusive husband while protecting her daughter, her expression at the epiphany is coloured with relief: as if she's in the labour room, and the umbilical cord with her past trauma has been cut. We needed more of that Kareena through the film, instead of relying on an unrequited lover to do the rest of the job for her.
Jaane Jaan is streaming on Netflix India.
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