Jan-e-Man Movie Review: A much welcome bundle of laughs, emotions, and other surprises
Despite having so many characters and incidents in the film, Jan-e-Man never feels overcrowded or overdone
Have you ever come across a person who is an extrovert, hyperactive, and so occupied with themselves that even when they display affection towards others, you get the sense that they are actually doing this to get something in return — that it's not sincere or selfless? Joymon, Basil Joseph's character in Jan-e-Man, is one such individual. When we first see him, he is a nurse in Canada, grappling with the ice-cold environs and loneliness. The film opens with him looking like Joaquin Phoenix from Her, but with a Malayali accent, talking to Alexa. His friendless existence evokes a dystopian setting.
The posters and promos of Jan-e-Man might give one the impression that it's just another familiar story of a group of friends having a drink and exchanging 'theppu kadhakal'. But having caught the preview screening, I can attest that the film is a whole different beast. Yes, these young men do get drunk, but you see, the film is not just about them.
Cast: Basil Joseph, Lal, Arjun Ashokan, Ganapathi, Balu Varghese
If Jan-e-Man were a Hollywood film, it would probably be titled 'A Birthday and a Funeral' because that's what the film is in a nutshell. It begins with a deceptively simple premise. Joymon is desperate to return to Kerala for his 30th birthday after a fair amount of drama. He is a dramatic person, and things get even more dramatic once he lands. On the day he arrives at car dealer/frenemy Sampath's (Arjun Ashokan) home to celebrate the event, much to the latter's chagrin, someone next door crosses the rainbow bridge. It's a bold idea from debutant Chidambaram (his directorial debut) and his brother (actor Ganapathi), who plays the skin specialist friend of Sampath and Joymon.
Jan-e-Man then becomes a story of two homes and the people in them. The focus is divided equally between everyone. But it's Joymon who becomes the cause of most of the chaos. He often tends to get insensitive, sometimes forgetting that there is a funeral next door. He has the combined troublemaking energy of Jagadish from Godfather and some of the annoying characters that Sreenivasan did in the early Priyadarshan comedies.
And making matters worse is the arrival of his friends — one of whom happens to be an intimidating thug with an unbearably loyal right-hand man. The latter's presence gives birth to some of the film's funniest moments. We also get an amusing 'event manager' trying to take advantage of this double bonanza opportunity. One of the film's outstanding moments is his 'Superman' moment when things get too 'dark' (you'll know what I mean when you see it). Jan-e-Man also takes a moment to find humour when a character who happens to be an actor from a most-followed television serial rings Sampath's doorbell.
Now pit all these 'VIP' friends of Joymon against the people at the funeral (Lal and Balu Varghese giving their best) and what you get is a whirlpool of emotions that run the gamut from comedy to serious and back to square one. To give you an idea of how bold the film is, there is a point where it keeps cross-cutting between a moment of mourning and a romantic scene, and just when you think it's going to get super awkward, the film does something that makes you go, "Wow!"
Once again, the person responsible for this is Joymon. As I said earlier, he will do anything to ensure that all eyes are on him. But the film does something surprising with regard to Joymon when he reveals the troubled soul underneath the layer of insensitivity. When he shares the deep-rooted issue that causes him to behave this way — in a brilliantly staged sombre moment with another lonely character — you feel moved. I like how the film, while showing sympathy for Joymon, also calls attention to the thought that you can't use your problems as an excuse for being insensitive with others because you never know what others might be going through.
Despite having so many characters and incidents in the film, Jan-e-Man never feels overcrowded or overdone. At no point did I feel that any character was unnecessary, thanks to a wonderfully talented cast that doesn't go beyond what's expected of them. The film finds a neat balance between its laughs and intense emotions. It plays with the viewers' feelings like a conductor — high in one moment, low in another, repeat — until it skillfully springs multiple surprises in the finale that I did not see coming. After the giant stormcloud passes, the significance of the film's title slowly comes into view, and you realise it has nothing to do with any of the characters you just saw but someone who remained hidden in the background until now, but pivotal regardless.
Suffice to say, Jan-e-Man is one of the biggest surprises of the year. I left the theatre with an indescribable high, with every character fresh in my mind. If that's not the sign of a terrific film, I don't know what is.