Although Abhay Deol is the leading man of Nanu ki Jaanu (Nanu’s Beloved), the film belongs, in my humble opinion, to Rajesh Sharma. In what appears to be subliminal messaging snuck in by this brilliant character artiste, in a scene towards the end where he is supposed to be weeping, he turns his head gently sideways and gives the impression that he is masking a laugh. Whether or not this was his intention, it feels like an encrypted note aimed at the viewer, with Sharma’s expression seeming to say: I cannot believe I am actually working on this bizarre nonsense AND you dunces are watching it!
The other two actors in this scene, Deol and Patralekhaa, on the other hand, try to look invested in the film till it takes its last gasping, rasping breath. It is tempting to ask why they bothered at all, but the truth is, I can see what they might have spotted in the project’s concept.
Nanu Ki Jaanu is a remake of the 2014 Tamil hit Pisaasu (Devil). Although the original is not named in this one’s credits, its producer Bala and director Mysskin are listed in the acknowledgements, and the story is credited to Mysskin. I have not seen Pisaasu, but from the trailer and reviews it comes across as a somber horror flick that Faraz Haider decided to turn into a horror comedy for Hindi audiences.
The idea is not bad at all – since rationalists brush aside the possibility that ghosts exist, it makes sense to make a film that pokes fun at those who believe in spooks. And frankly, sizeable parts of Nanu ki Jaanu’s middle portion are quite uproarious. When viewed from start to finish though, the kindest thing that can be said about it is that it is uneven.
Haider’s introduction hints at a film that is vastly different from what it turns out to be. The director also fails to make a credible transition from the humorous passages to the grave latter part. And the end is maudlin to the point of being embarrassingly silly.
In the opening moments, Nanu (Deol) and his gang barge into the house of an elderly gentleman, and threaten him into signing a flat’s ownership over to them for a pittance. The scene is trying too hard to be amusing, but is not.
Cue: change in tone: shabby ‘item’ song.
Cue: change in tone: Nanu is driving down a main road when he stops to take a call on his cellphone and sees a crowd running towards a woman (Patralekhaa) lying bleeding on the ground, her scooter beside her. Since no one else does anything but stare, Nanu rushes her to a hospital where she dies on arrival, her hand in his as life ebbs out of her body.
The episode leaves the ruffian shaken and, much to his gang’s dismay, too soft to lead them through the house-grabbing assignments that follow. What comes next is a bunch of laughs interspersed smoothly with scares as we try to figure out with Nanu & Co whether he is genuinely suffering from a psychological problem or the ghost of the dead girl is actually haunting his Noida flat.
Just as it seems like Nanu Ki Jaanu might add up to something after all… Cue: change in tone: love angle.
Cue: change in tone: messages.
Cue: change in tone: lively song with end credits.
The middle bits are fun. The scene involving the redoubtable Manu Rishi Chadha’s character Dabbu trying to scare off the spook is a scream. Chadha brings to that very long segment all the comical depth that made Hindi film-goers sit up and take notice of him in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008) and Phas Gaye Re Obama (2010). (Note: he is also this film’s screenplay and dialogue writer.)
Haider’s direction is too ham-fisted to make optimum use of his talented cast though, making Nanu Ki Jaanu a bumpy ride, until it gets to its it’s-so-bad-that-it-is-good finale.
Deol, who started off with such promise in films like Socha Na Tha (2005) and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! Has featured in very few good projects since then. The beguiling innocence he brought to those early works and the finesse of his performance in the more recent Shanghai (2012), is proof enough that he cannot be written off. His performance in Nanu Ki Jaanu is uninspired though.
Patralekhaa, who shone in Hansal Mehta’s Citylights (2014), has almost nothing to do in this film. Sharma seems to give up part way through it. Only Chadha crackles till the end.
Parts of Nanu Ki Jaanu feel as if the production team stopped bothering with it. If you have spent money on making a film, how much would it cost you to throw some extras into a hospital scene? Or to consult grammar experts before flashing “After Few Days” and “After Few Week” on screen to indicate the passing of time?
And oh ya, Messrs Haider and Chadha, if you want to pack in messaging about beef terrorism, speaking on cell phones while driving and helmets for two-wheeler drivers, please do not make it all sound so contrived. Granted though that the point about domestic violence is well – and subtly – made.
The crux of this entire affair is that Nanu Ki Jaanu is unsure of what it wants to be, the team lacks the ability to make it everything they want it to be, and the film therefore ends up flailing its arms all over the place. It is scary in a few parts and funny in more, which is why it is so sad that in the overall assessment and especially in its finale, it turns out to be such a loosely handled, low-IQ mess.
Cast: Abhay Deol, Patralekhaa, Rajesh Sharma, Manu Rishi Chadha, Himani Shivpuri & Brijendra Kala
Director: Faraz Haider
IndiaPages Rating: ★