Review: Janaan has many virtues but painting an accurate portrait of Swat isn't one

Review: Janaan has many virtues but painting an accurate portrait of Swat isn't one

The film sets up a visual treat, but loses out on the plot
12 Sep, 2016

Janaan’s story unfolds in Swat and the mountains have never looked more scenic; undulating in emerald hues, looming over scenic lakes and pastures striped in yellow and green. The family home, that is central to the movie, has an exquisite affluence, replete with wooden carvings, traditional embroidered upholstery, antique doorways and balconies with breathtaking views. Add to this a multi-colored wedding, fireworks in the night sky and effusions of fairy lights and you end up with a movie that has gorgeous aesthetics.

One wishes that this attention to detail had been extended to the plot, the soundtrack, the styling and in many cases, the acting. There were some elements that worked in Janaan – but so many more that didn’t.

The plot is standard romantic movie fare: anglicized girl, complete with accent and a perpetual blow-dry, returns to her ancestral Pakhtoon home; she gets wooed by two of her cousins and falls in love with one and remains just friends with the other. And as the two protagonists stumble their way to finding love, they truss up and dance at a family wedding, brood through in-house politics and the hero comes head to head with a villain with evil designs on the innocent.

With better direction, this story could have been riveting. For instance, the love triangle between Armeena Khan, Bilal Ashraf and Ali Rehman Khan could have been pepped with more angst, better punchlines and a poignant soundtrack. Aside from the very melodious title track Janaan and the Pashto Reidi Gul, there wasn’t really any memorable music in the movie.

Luckily, the acting served as the saving grace to some extent. Bilal epitomized the handsome hero to the tee and aside from a few stilted scenes, acted well. Ali, meanwhile, played well into the limelight, delivering multiple witticisms and switching effortlessly from comedy to heavy duty emotions. Amongst the lead triad, he was easily the most comfortable in front of the camera and the best scenes in the movie invariably featured him.

Moving on to the actors' wardrobes, the boys dressed so well; in fitted shalwar kameez with waistcoats, suits and smart-casual shirts. In contrast, Armeena Khan dressed up a bit too much. For someone so pretty, it is perplexing why the actress insists on being swathed in make-up every time she acts in a movie. It is also unfathomable why the movie’s stylists chose to dress Armeena – and the other female characters – in blingy wedding wear at all times, even when they were at home watching a movie.

As the lead actress, Armeena plays the girl next door character well but lacks the screen presence and skill to develop nuances to her role and make it more interesting. In contrast, some of the supporting cast stood out: particularly Ajab Gul and Nayyar Ejaz as the sinister villain.

Other things that don’t make much sense: why does producer Hareem Farooq make a guest appearance only to disappear immediately afterwards without any explanation? Also, the Pakhtoon family is a bit too glossy to be believable, setting paper lanterns into the air, orchestrating grand fireworks and grooving onto the mehndi dance floor. Given that the movie is also releasing internationally, audiences unfamiliar with Swat may end up assuming it to be a vibrant, thriving metropolitan hub rather than a resort-town ensconced away in the mountains. There is a dire need for better editing and crisper, more lucid storytelling.

So should one watch Janaan at all? One could. It may be a bit over-long but there are also some definite entertaining bits. Ali Rehman and Bilal Ashraf make the story work. There are funny instances such as Ali’s character’s obsession with Facebook, the jibes at overuse of Botox and the grandmother telling the prospective non-Pakhtoon groom to try to get fairer by using Zubaida Apa’s whitening soap.

Of course, one should also watch Janaan out of patriotism, for the revival of cinema and what-not. In retrospect, if the movie had released a few years earlier, one would have applauded it for its efforts and the sheer beauty of Pakistan captured on-screen. But Janaan has come at a time when Pakistani cinema is fast coming into its own; where a Moor has captured love for the motherland, a biographic Shah has captured the world of boxing, a Jawani Phir Nahi Ani has rollicked and a Na Maloom Afraad has played with social satire.

Janaan is also releasing at a time when the competition is tough, sharing cinema space with Bollywood big banners and a much-touted promising release like Actor in Law.

Faced with such heavy duty contenders, Janaan may find it difficult to last the long haul.