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Movie Review: Jazbaa

... Rajeev Masand/CNN-IBN:

Jazbaa, written and directed by Sanjay Gupta, wants to be many things at once. First and foremost, it's intended as a comeback vehicle for Aishwarya Rai who hasn't made a movie in five years. It's also - as we've been constantly reminded - Gupta's first 'legitimate' remake of a foreign film (the Korean thriller, Seven Days); yup, we're told he actually acquired remake rights for a change. Curiously, Jazbaa also positions itself as an anti-rape, woman-empowerment message movie, even if this angle does come across as an afterthought.

Often the problem with trying to satisfy multiple agendas is that telling an interesting story becomes secondary to everything else. Good thing then that Jazbaa has a solid premise: Defense lawyer Anuradha Verma (Aishwarya) must get a murder suspect off the hook in order to save her own kidnapped daughter, thereby wronging the victim's mother in the process.

Gupta moves through his screenplay swiftly, the breakneck pace glossing over many of the script's holes. In Aishwarya he's cast a famously earnest star who gives the role all she's got - at times, though, you'll wish she gave a little less. It's a "big" performance, if you know what I mean, all bloodshot eyes, flailing arms, and hysterical wailing. It works in the right places, but sticks out when overdone.

Yet nothing hurts the senses more than the sepia-soaked yellow-green lighting that gives the film a post-apocalypse videogame-like effect. Then there's Amar Mohile's relentless background score that further swells during dramatic moments. It's so deafening and intrusive that it's hard to care for the protagonist's distress under all that noise.

Irrfan Khan, playing a dishonorably discharged cop and Anuradha's ally throughout the ordeal, tries to keep a straight face while delivering the sort of corny lines that have become staple in the director's films over the years. Sample this: "Main toh khud langar ki line mein khada hoon, tere liye daawat kaise arrange karoonga." Yet he comes away not entirely embarrassed, having managed to bring some credibility to an otherwise overblown melodrama.

My heart wept for poor Shabana Azmi who tries - and occasionally succeeds - in infusing some genuine emotion into the proceedings. Others like Chandan Roy Sanyal (playing the accused), Atul Kulkarni (as a public prosecutor), and Jackie Shroff (as an influential politician) are largely wasted in a script that's focused single-mindedly on reminding us that Aishwarya Rai looks great when she's running in heels - in slo-mo. Hurrah!

I'm going with two out of five for Jazbaa. Frankly it delivers more than its awful trailer promised. But good luck protecting your eyes and ears from this sensory overload.

Rating: 2 / 5

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