How a superb performance by Samantha made me forget all the issues I had with the film…
I wouldn’t stop myself from admitting that I didn’t go to Jaanu with an open mind. I was among the tiniest section of the audience that didn’t take a great liking to 96. The honesty in the treatment, lovely performances by its lead cast notwithstanding – I couldn’t root for the story that’s all about ‘what-ifs’. Of course, the memory of 96 is what I have from my television viewing, thanks to the curse of not having a Tamil release in Hyderabad. It was Govind Vasantha’s music that compelled me to sit through the film, which I had watched in bits and pieces, taking frequent breaks. I found the film to be realistic yes, but also about two individuals who lacked the courage to take the ‘big step’.
So, 96 has since then been a ‘not-so’ fond memory, for over a year. But I kept returning to its soundtrack time and again – it took me towards the deepest corners of my heart that not many albums had managed to. The soundtrack of the film truly felt like a unit – like a pleasing bunch of tracks that almost seamlessly blended into one another. There was something so innately pure and innocent about it. Since the beginning, I was very sceptical about a Telugu remake capturing the imagination of the public (which sadly proved to be true).
However, I was increasingly curious about the music. The team had retained several original numbers and also came up with a new set of songs, like Life of Ram, Praanam, Inthena, which were equally refreshing if not better than the tracks from the original. For someone whom 96 was a constant musical companion, I had found an appealing regional cousin which I didn’t mind at all. Sirivennela’s lines like ‘Alaa Ventapadi Nuvventha Ontarivanoddu Anoddu Dayonchi’ were strangely personal on some level.
I had somehow managed to insulate myself from the negative buzz surrounding Jaanu after its release. That Sharwanand and Samantha were no match to Sethupathi and Trisha was a prevalent opinion – which I didn’t find surprising given the criticism that every remake, especially something like 96, is bound to face. Nearly 20 days after the release, when the wave of discussions around Jaanu had finally subsided – I decided to catch it in the theatres on the cusp of its digital release (on Amazon Prime). It was an advantage that I had distanced myself from 96 for long now, with the last viewing being a year ago.
The Jaanu universe kept me engaged to begin with – there was an emptiness in the male protagonist K Ramachandra that Sharwanand had so delicately hid beneath his easy-going exterior. The teenage love portions that the narrative intermittently returns to, could have still been more heartfelt (a similar issue I had with the original too, though the performances of the young actors were superb). The Janaki references to the girl too didn’t feel in place, especially in a 2002 setting when Ilaiyaraja was no-longer the force he once was (it was the time of Mani Sharma, S A Rajkumar and A R Rahman frankly).
Most importantly, the director could have brought in a better reason to justify the transition of the friendship between Jaanu and Ram into a romance. It’s with the entry of Samantha that Jaanu comes into its own. There’s something innately magical the actor brings into her performance as Jaanu that all the problems I had with the narrative appeared to take a backseat. There was a longing in her eyes as a woman who was forced to move on, the desperation in her body language to make up for the lost times with Ram, the urge to hear his story, share a part of her soul – Samantha’s performance brought Jaanu’s character alive in a matter of minutes.
Sharwanand’s restraint was effective, but it’s Samantha who truly bared her soul in one of her career-best performances. In sequences where Jaanu regrets about a few incidents in the past, the little-misses that cost her a future with her first love, the actor makes us empathise with her helplessness. With this performance, she has truly understood what it means to bring composure and emotional balance to a portrayal. There’s so much to like in the gestural touches in her act too – the glances, the emotional outbursts, the sense of humour.
What helped my case in appreciating the film more was, of course, the theatrical experience. In a show that only had a handful of an audience and each of the spectators was seated in one corner of the hall – the viewing turned out to be immensely personal. My responses to the film were organic and not driven by the crowd (a rarity these days). I could completely relate to the characters when they see the clock ticking and realise that the rosy hours were only a welcome distraction from their present. Maybe I should revisit 96, but I would certainly treasure what Jaanu made me feel.