Koi Jaane Na movie review: Kunal Kapoor's film is narratively weak with veneer-thin characters
Koi Jaane Na fails to get a single filmmaking discipline right, much less all of them
In my callow youth, I watched the Aftab Shivdasani/Gracy Singh starrer Muskaan (2004) in a single-screen theater in Darbhanga, Bihar (it’s where I was born, where my grandmother still lives). Not only was the film a flaming hot mess, it also seemed to be edited with a cleaver —121 minutes of runtime had been reduced to just over 90, because of which our enterprising Darbhanga hall-owner was able to run a mind-boggling six back-to-back shows (bookended by soft-porn fare).
Years later, I only remember two things: one, that Aftab really should’ve stuck to modeling and two, that the murderer in the film was played by the versatile Vrajesh Hirjee, saddled with a goatee and a clichéd (possibly homophobic) fashion designer character called ‘Saturn’ (I don’t know why either).
Since that day, I have not watched such a gloriously sloppy mainstream Bollywood film as I did earlier today — this was Koi Jaane Na, directed by Amin Hajee and starring Kunal Kapoor, Amyra Dastur et al. Muskaan, like Old Bollywood relics, had songs right at the beginning of the film, so that people coming late don’t miss the story. So does Koi Jaane Na, which begins with the Aamir Khan/Elli Avram song ‘Har Fan Maula’ which means “all-rounder” or “good at everything” in Hindi.
Sadly for Hajee, Koi Jaane Na fails to get a single filmmaking discipline right, much less all of them. The story is weak, the characters are veneer-thin, the screenplay is loaded with 80s clichés (Bombay is the “city that never sleeps”, for example) and the performances are shockingly bad, to be honest. The characters, the women in particular, are a parade of worn-out tropes: the ‘gaon ki gori’, the manic pixie dream girl, the conniving ex-wife.
The protagonist Kabir (Kapoor) is a renowned author of a motivational bestseller, which is this movie’s idea of ‘serious’ literature (no motivational book has ever been literature; fight me, cowards). When Kabir, afflicted with writer’s block, is unable to write the sequel to his non-fiction bestseller, his publisher (who’s also his scheming ex-wife) gives him a legal ultimatum. The problem is, Kabir has also been writing Hindi pulp thrillers on the side, featuring his vigilante character Zaraan Khan; if this news becomes public he will be forced to return his Rs 50-lakh advance. To solve this problem, Kabir retreats to his Panchgani bungalow to hammer out a new motivational book within three months — unless someone realises that a slew of copycat revenge killings is connected to Zaraan Khan and therefore, Kabir himself.
Amyra Dastur (playing Suhana, a manic pixie dream girl) trying to pronounce Hindi words is about as good as Donald Trump’s attempts at getting “Vivekananda” out of his mouth. Hajee casts himself in a crucial supporting role as a sleuthing reporter, only his character seems incapable of uttering words that aren’t also 70s and 80s Bollwood lyrics.
The reliable Ashwini Kalsekar is visibly tired and sleepwalks through her umpteenth cop role. Even Atul Kulkarni, playing a doctor, seems to be in on the joke. And through all of this, Kunal Kapoor delivers another underwhelming performance — the Rang De Basanti actor is as easy on the eye as ever, but he really must start picking scripts that don’t look like they could fit on the back of a Champak issue. Films like Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana or Raag Desh were also failures in the final equation, to be honest, but they had plenty of redeeming features. Maybe someone can use Ketto (the crowdsourcing platform Kapoor co-founded) to cobble together a decent script for Kapoor?
It’s a shame, really, because against all odds, Koi Jaane Na did have the odd moment where these characters could have explored some important, typically Indian binaries. Like Kabir’s dual identity as a Hindi and an English writer—as his agent (Achint Kaur, having fun with a burgundy-ish hairdo) explains, Kabir the English writer is the “thinking woman’s sex symbol”, but Kabir the Hindi writer of penny dreadfuls carries immediate lower-middle-class connotations. “Yeh bus stand pe bikne waali kitaabein likhoge?” (Will you write these bus-stand books now?) she asks him, visibly horrified. Or the idea of writers preferring the worlds they create to the worlds they actually live in, or the idea of writers being glorified stalkers. Alas, Koi Jaane Na drops every one of these strands the moment they start becoming even mildly interesting, and they are never seen again.
Amin Hajee clearly loves the movies; of that there’s no doubt. The opening credits include an animated sequence that announces the name of his production house. It features Bagha the mute drummer, the character Hajee played in Lagaan, his best-known role till date. It’s a joyous little animated jig. And fellow Lagaan cast members Aamir Khan and Apoorva Lakhia do their bits in Koi Jaane Na, but salvaging this film is, sadly, beyond their combined powers.
Koi Jaane Na is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
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