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Jaan e Jahan (Review): A Vapid Fairytale Saved By Its Villains

‘Jaan e Jahan’ has been aggressively promoted as a ‘magical love story’ between Shehram (Hamza Ali Abbasi) and Mahnoor (Ayeza Khan). Eight episodes down, and what we see is not magic but fantasy. The Qasim Ali Mureed (Mere Humsafar, Tich Button) directorial presents the typical rich boy-poor girl romance as a stuff of fairy tales. So the stereotypical characters like the evil step-mother, the seductress other woman, the patriarchal father, all assume a larger than life aura. We have met these people before, in almost every other drama, but these people are special, they are unreal, almost mythological.

Princess To The Rescue

There is a languidness in Shehram which is elevated by unassuming wisdom that Hamza Ali Abbasi brings to the role. There is strength in his fragility. After the death of his golden-hearted father (Asif Raza Mir) Shehram has closed himself off to the world. It is refreshing to see a meek hero, in danger of being snuffed out by grief and wicked plans of his step-family. There is something about watching tall men in distress; They look more physically vulnerable than people of average height. Perhaps it’s the hangover from Hamza’s last outing, Pyarey Afzal, that the instinct of the viewer is to protect the frail Shehram at all cost or else he will perish.

Enter Mahnoor, the sprightly, spunky anecdote to Shehram’s feebleness. By the third episode, she has broken off her wedding, slapped the groom and resolved to teach the poor kids of Shehram’s village purely as a philanthropic project. There is no such thing as a dull Ayeza Khan performance. There is an inherent strength and dignity she lends to all her characters, a backbone of sorts and so Mahnoor’s hashtagged independence isn’t as jarring.The symbolism is in your face. Mahnoor is, quite literally, the only ray of hope in Shehram’s life. And because theirs is a fairytale-esque love story, we are not supposed to look for logic. We don’t ask why an educated Mahnoor would resort to selling diyaas to help her struggling family, or why the benevolent feudal father never built a school in his village up until this point, or why the unnaturally tiny courtyard of Shehram’s haveli serves as the only suitable place for Mahnoor’s classes, or why the motley group of village kids don’t have any logistical issues getting to the haveli. No, we just sit back and let the ‘magic’ unfold.

We are all for the princess-saves-the-prince gender inversion of fairy tales writer Rida Bilal (Khudgarz) is going for in ‘Jaan e Jahan’. Mahnoor and Shehram may make classic leads but they aren’t interesting people. We know that their union is made in heaven, it’s inevitable because everything in the ‘Jaan e Jahan’ universe is symmetrically aligned to force them into a royal romance. Their clothing has more layers than their personalities. Their conversations – so far– advertise their ethicality. We are supposed to invest in their passion which is passively evoked. But the stoic sageness of Mahnoor and Shehram’s love is rescued by the villains of their story.

The Cinematic Villainy

The timeless Sawera Nadeem’s Kishwer is a sight to behold in Jaan e Jahan. As the scheming step-mother of Shehram, she flaunts matriarchal authority over anything that moves in the haveli. Her character could have easily become a done to death trope, but Sawera lends toxic warmth to it. As Kishwer roams, sits, gazes into the mirror or simply stands, she gives a sense of character to each space of the haveli. A silent melodrama plays out in her eyes. Sawera’s grace gives her acting the integrity of living making her an omnipresent villain, an inseparable part of Shehram and Mahnoor’s love story.

But the biggest pull of Jaan e Jahan is Tabraiz (Haris Waheed), Shehram’s younger half-brother. Hot-headed, womanizer, spoilt brat all good terms for Tabraiz but they don’t do justice to Haris Waheed’s measured performance without which Jaan e Jahan wouldn’t be half as engaging. He makes madness look exotic, stalking look breezy and villainy almost…. natural? Tabraiz has a boyish charm that isn’t menacing but inviting. He isn’t manicured; the roughness gives him an edge over one-dimensional nobility of Shehram.

One wants to justify Tabraiz’s anger and envy towards Shehram. His daddy issues turn his toxicity into a comical trait, one he brandishes around town with clinical extravagance. The unhinged Tabraiz unintentionally exposes the blandess of the sanitized Shehram and Mahnoor. It almost feels like Tabraiz is an outlier stuck within the insufferable self-righteousness of the lead pair of Jan e Jahan. As Mahnoor and Shehram move to accomplish their preconceived union, it is Tabraiz that brings the glorious nuttiness and frees us from the lull of the sermon-like love story that Jaan e Jahan preaches.

The Visuals Work

The execution helps. Staging is immaculate. The saturated colors – the greens, the purples, the yellows – make each scene explode. Grandeur of the haveli gets a big canvas treatment through endless tilt shots. Visual texture provides aesthetic properness to the fantastical elements the story hinges on. One thing we are sure of going ahead, is that the villains will continue to make the heroes pop.

Written by Tooba M


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