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JAANISAAR - Despite being pale in comparison to the director's earlier gems, the film shows how even a mediocre work of the master can teach some important lessons of life lost in our history books. (Review by Bobby Sing)

11 Aug, 2015 | Movie Reviews / 2015 Releases

Expecting the youngsters born in the 90s or later being well informed about director Muzaffar Ali’s GAMAN (1978 - feat. Smita Patil), ANJUMAN (1986 - feat. Shabana Azmi) or even the most famous masterpiece UMRAO JAAN (1981 - feat. Rekha) would be asking too much from them in my personal opinion. But many young students of cinema must have watched at least one or two of these films and almost all must have heard the exceptional, path breaking soundtrack of UMRAO JAAN proudly conceived by Khaiyaam, Shahryar and Muzaffar Ali together with Asha Bhosle and Rekha taking it to further heights through their incomparable rendition and onscreen presentation respectively. Moreover the true followers of Hindi film music would also know the value of songs in both GAMAN and ANJUMAN having their own individual merits and rare features. Plus the lesser heard soundtrack of his AAGMAN (1982) too featuring names such as Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Where UMRAO JAAN established Muzaffar Ali as a maestro director with a vision, the soundtrack of his various films clearly proved his deep understanding of music and poetry undoubtedly. And that’s the reason Ali’s ambitious venture ZOONI on Kashmiri poetess Haba Khatoon was widely awaited, which unfortunately got shelved and couldn’t reach its target audience due to various undisclosed reasons. The film featured Dimple Kapadia and Vinod Khanna in the lead roles and had music by the same team of Khaiyaam and Shahryar returning with many memorable songs (conceived in the late 80s). And in the present, I sincerely wish someone inspires the music company SAREGAMA (then HMV) to release its unheard songs soon as a rare music album reviving the lost memories.
Post ZOONI in the 90s Muzaffar Ali became the man of many talents exploring much more in the field of music, documentaries and even the world of fashion/design. His famous musical works include albums such as Raqs-e-Bismil, Paigham-e-Mohabbat and more along with the introduction of an annual Sufi music festival tradition called as Jahan-e-Khusrau beginning in 2001.
So it’s almost after three decades that the icon is returning on screen with his new venture JAANISAAR once again made with the backdrop of Avadh, taking you back in time around 1877 when the early sparks of revolution were seen in India against the British rule.
But before talking about the film, I would like to add that whenever a name of this stature decides to make a comeback after a gap of three decades, it forces us to assume that the man must have got something extremely important to say on screen, that he had to return back to his first love and couldn’t resist it. May be some kind of powerful revelation or message he couldn’t hide forever in his heart and thus had to take the hard step of making a complete film after almost 30 years of indulging into distinctive professions.
However, after watching the big effort made, one feels quite surprised as well as confused since the film has nothing new to convey or represent either in terms of storyline or cinematic expression conceived by the man behind many cult classics. In fact coming out of the awe of Muzaffar Ali - the master-filmmaker, I would have to admit that JAANISAAR remains far away from what was expected from him as a courageous attempt and turns out to be quire pale both in comparison to his earlier masterpieces as well as an individual film to be honest.
Once again dealing with the same old story of a handsome Indian Prince (brought up as an English gentleman abroad) falling in love with a beautiful courtesan after returning to his country and then revolting against the British rulers in the end, JAANISAAR simply fails on the story level walking through the same ‘seen before’ track quite close to the basic theme of UMRAO JAAN. And astonishingly this (supposedly inspired from true events) story is written by three highly creative minds namely Javed Siddiqui, Shama Zaidi and the director himself.
But even if you decide to ignore the routine plotline, the film falters badly in its choice of lead pair wherein the Pakistani actor Imran Abbas plays the Prince and Pernia Qureshi plays the courtesan with Muzaffar Ali himself playing a key role with a clearly visible stiffness. Admittedly I was not able to find the reason, but having worked with stalwarts like Smita, Shabana and Rekha, it was indeed shocking to see Pernia Qureshi being chosen as the lead, who is reportedly a fashion entrepreneur doing her debut in the role that actually required a whole bunch of talent in terms of looks, elegance, dance movements, facial expressions, dialogue delivery and a bit of passion too. The lead actors keep struggling throughout the film with no chemistry between them whatsoever. And probably that is the reason the DOP uses long shots a lot more in its key sequences to cover up the immature acts.
Displaying the director’s class touch, JAANISAAR does have a few positives to mention in its department of costume designing, lighting and some dialogues too. But it’s the weak narration, tiring progression and the uneven look of the film (art direction/production set-up) which doesn’t let you cherish the recreation of that historical era completely. Plus the choreography that was expected to be outstanding doesn’t turn out to be even close to anything enjoyable due to an unimpressive depiction on screen by the leading lady.
In the music department, though one strongly misses those crisp vocals of Asha Bhosle singing the meaningful words of Shahryar composed in melodious notes by Khaiyaam, yet the soundtrack does have its richness of lyrics and few fine compositions rendered beautifully by names such as Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Shreya Ghoshal, Sukhwinder Singh and Malini Awasthi. Composed by Muzaffar Ali and Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan together, the tracks have been penned by the renowned poets such as Daagh Dehlvi, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Rahi Masoom Raza and more. But despite of all the big names it still doesn’t have any ‘highly lovable track’ that you can take back home with an urge to hear it again except “Aye Zulf-e-Pareshan” by Sukhwinder Singh.
However moving ahead of criticism, I would like to present a highly appreciable fact related with experienced, knowledgeable personalities such as Muzaffar Ali. And the fact is that, whenever such icons come up with their new projects, then despite being a mediocre venture you can still find many precious gems in their presentation (about our rich heritage), if looked upon with a keen eye of a student of cinema and life together.
And here is what I personally found worth-mentioning and worth passing on to our present and next generation featured in Muzaffar Ali’s JAANISAAR.
1. The film reveals that there was a time when Kotha (a place of dance performances for the rich and affluent) and Chakla (Brothel) were two different concepts in the society. And the talented girls performing in front of their rich clients were not into selling their bodies for a price simultaneously. But with the changing times and conditions this differentiation got blurred, becoming one unfortunately.
2. Another eye-opener truth of those times was that these courtesans (not involving in any flesh trade) were also given the responsibility of preserving and teaching the ‘Tehzeeb’ (Traditional culture) to the young ones (including music) without any hesitation by the reputed families.  
3. The writer-director also informs us about many misconceptions spread about Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s rule by the British. Incidentally he was also a major part of Munshi Premchand’s story SHATRANJ KE KHILADI filmed by Satyajit Ray in Hindi with the same title.
4. The film enlightens us about the era when Hindu rajas celebrated Muharram and Muslim Kings or Nawabs celebrated Krishna’s Raas-Leela together with reference to the rule of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.
5. But most importantly, JAANISAAR introduces the present generation to Janaab Nazeer Akbarabadi, a famous Indian poet of the 18th century who is known for writing beautiful verses in Urdu for both Ali and Krishna together representing the harmonious living of those times far away from any religious hatred and jealousy.
And here are few of his verses written describing the childhood of Lord Krishna,
“Yaaron Suno, Yeh Doodh Ke Luttaiya Ka Baalpan,
Aur Madhupuri Nagar Ke Basaiya Ka Baalpan,
Mohan-Saroop Nrit Karaiya Ka Baalpan,
Ban-Ban Ke Gvaal Goyen Charaiya Ka Baalpan,

Aisa Tha Bansuri Ke Bajaiya Ka Baalpan,
Kya Kya Kahun Main Kishan Kanhaiya Ka Baalpan”
                                                - (Janaab Nazeer Akbarabadi)
(Interested friends can read this complete nazm/poem and more of the poet’s works clicking HERE)
In the end, with all due respect towards the master filmmaker, JAANISAAR is a film that reduces the overall impact of the writer-poet-actor-director’s rich repertoire or body of work. And I get truly worried as this might make an entirely different impression on a young mind watching the film about the name Muzaffar Ali. In fact I seriously wish the director had released the soundtrack of the film alone as a musical album, skipping the idea of making a complete film altogether. So do watch the master’s GAMAN, ANJUMAN and UMRAO JAAN if you haven’t seen them yet, but don’t draw any lesser graceful picture of the icon from his avoidable JAANISAAR to say the least.  
Rating :  2 / 5

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11 Aug 2015 / Comment ( 0 )
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