Byline Raza

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Jaanisaar — Time Travel to a Bygone Era (Movie Review)

Aadab dear reader,

Today, August 7th, 2015, I went to a Lucknow mall to watch Jaanisaar – the movie made by Muzaffar Ali. I think this movie may have been the first time I saw any movie on its first day of release. And credit for this goes to a friend.


I may not have gone to see this movie in a hall/mall. I would have seen it once it had come on TV. I could have waited. But my author-cum-historian friend Mr Anurag Kumar could not wait and bought tickets on the first day itself. Having written two interesting historical novels based on the revolt of 1857 (Recalcitrance + Remembrance), my friend was keen to witness Muzaffar Sahab’s vision of 1857. He invited me along and came with his family.

I had told my friend that I would like to see this film in a single screen theatre only. I told him that a film shot in Lucknow, made by people having strong connection to Lucknow and having quite a few people acting in it from Lucknow — should be watched in single screen theatre to encourage local theatre-wallahs. He checked out the options and there was only one seedy kind of single-screen theatre screening it and a couple of malls screening them. He chose the better option and I went along with it.


The first day-first show of Jaanisaar in the mall was at 10 am! I checked later in the evening and I saw this fact. I went for the 2nd show of 3.20 pm. I have no idea what was the public response at the 1st show of 10 am. Once I entered the auditorium and finally the film started at the designated time, there weren’t many people there. Seats were empty. Maybe this is a disappointing note, but I did see a few families spread out in the auditorium.

Among them, I still remember there was one elderly lady, a buzurg shaqsiyat who managed to walk up the stairs very slowly with the help of a stick. Her family was with her. You will understand, she came, because she really wanted to come. She really wanted to see this film despite all the zehmat she might face. So, really, some films get appreciated by the masses and some are really absorbed by the classes. Jaanisaar is for the classes. Jaanisaar is for the part of society that understands the nuances of language, is interested in an era’s history and interested in fashion and culture of a particular era/any era.


I was taken in by the sound first of all. The opening animation accompanied by its sound of horses running and coming together for Kotwara emblem is pretty good. And then the credits began and I came across the name Resul Pookutty in the sound category. My eyebrows went up. After all, when you have a guy who has won Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Sound Mixing (for the film Slumdog Millionaire) doing sound for a film, then that film has to make a good first impression on the viewer, isn’t it? Indeed and the good impression stayed with me throughout the film. Background sound is impressive and gets to you.

The playback songs sung and composed well, flow along as the characters take their respective emotional journey. While stepping out of the auditorium after the end, I also caught a glimpse of the names of Shreya Ghoshal and Lucknow’s very own Malini Awasthi in the end credits. I told myself, no wonder the songs sound different and good.


Of course, I know the name of Meera Ali and that she is associated with fashion. But I had never seen her creativity anywhere. I haven’t attended any fashion shows. I am not some important guy who gets invited to ‘entry by invitation’ events only. But in Jaanisaar, I finally got a chance to see Meera Ali’s vision of a bygone era.

The lead character Noor was the showstopper for her creations. Pernia Qureshi as Noor elegantly displayed Meera ji’s plethora of colours and style of clothes prevalent in a nawabi era. Many hours later after watching the film, I still remember one bluish/light greenish creation that Pernia wears while dancing in one song. That dress looked so delicate to the touch, as did so many others. My eyes also kept going back to the palazzo-inspired or vice-versa shalwars (pardon my wrong use of clothing terms) that the dancers wore and which were visible as they twirled around in various dance steps.

The folds, the creases, the muslin, the chiffons (am just using my limited fashion vocabulary here) carried so well by all the female characters in Jaanisaar are a testimony to the painstaking research and field implementation done by Meera Ali and her team to get just the right tone and tenor of the culture of 19th century Oudh (Awadh). The costumes will make you want to touch them and feel their exquisiteness. They are applause-worthy. Their picturisation almost makes them tangible. I feel this is Muzaffar Sahab’s very public tribute to Meera ji’s talent and creativity.


When Muzaffar Ali is there, then acting will be taken care of well. Each member of the cast does justice to his role. There is no unnecessary over-the-top acting by anyone. The emotions, the lilt, the intonations, the rhythm in dialogue delivery is understated, careful and measured. I guess, this is because of the influence of Urdu that can never be jarring to the ears.

Talking first about the lead actress Pernia Qureshi’s dialogue delivery that I noticed — it was measured and nuanced. This showed that her off-screen practice in right pronunciation brought forth good result. It sounded well on the ears. There is a delicate balance of beauty and poise in Pernia, which is what I guess Muzaffar Sahab noticed and then decided to cast her for the role of a cultured courtesan.

I did tweet to Pernia about something else. I said that I was expecting more action performance from Pernia where handling the cruelty of angrez soldiers was concerned 🙂 Another thing that I kept thinking about was, if Noor (Pernia) could outsmart four drunk angrez soldiers with her martial-arts kind of hand action, why didn’t Noor resist and do the same action-packed thing when soldiers branded her chest with that hot iron in the film. It was easy submission at her end. But I guess, her role arc, role time and total film time didn’t permit it. I hope Pernia chooses her next roles equally well and plays to her strengths. She should go far in Bollywood and land good roles if she can carry on with strong positive attitude.

Imran Abbas Naqvi played his character Ameer well. I have recently started watching his TV serial on Zindagi TV channel. Needless to add, he is a good actor-cum-model. I came to know about him a few years back after having read that he was creating waves in Pakistan as model. I had come across his pics on my email somehow and forwarded the mail to my cousins and friends (girls). They were naturally awe-struck by his looks and gushed praise for him. I was expecting this kind of response from them 🙂 Besides good looks, Imran showed strength and poise in his demeanour and dialogue delivery as required for his character in the film.

Muzaffar Sahab’s sensibility brought the needed gravitas to his character Meer Sahab. But who am I to comment on his acting. I am just a guy who has acted in probably two school plays. All I can say is that all those who have acted in the movie have done their part well. And of course, the old amma at Noor’s kotha is quite a scene-stealer with her fiesty and aggressive dialogue delivery. Beena Kak as Mushtari Bibi is another revelation. She has a strong role and depicts beautifully many layers of emotion in her character, as the guardian of Noor and a confidante of Raja Iqbal played well by Dalip Tahil.

And then we come to Carl Wharton who plays the role of the villain Cavendish, the emissary of Queen Victoria and initial guide of Ameer. Cavendish is cruel and that cruelty has been depicted very well by Carl. With his body language, his facial gestures, his halting Hindi-driven dialogues and the intensity with which he says them — Carl makes a big impact. After coming back, I had to check online who was this guy acting as Cavendish. And then I saw, that here is this guy called Carl Wharton, who has 30 years of theatre, television and film experience behind him. Can I say OMG!

Kahan-Kahan se Muzaffar Sahab ne is tarah ke heere dhoonde aur taraashe is film ke liye 🙂

I also have to mention all the props that I can still recollect seeing in the film. The bamboo chiks, the paandaan, the old horse-driven buggies and so many other things that I saw, but fail to remember now. All of them left an impression as they brought a long-gone era back to life.

Film style

As the film continued, I could see that the film moved at a slower pace than what the modern movie-goer is used to. What with snappy editing and multiple animations and mixing being the film order of the moment (so to say), most films that you see today are running a tried format. But the leisurely pace of Jaanisaar is probably what is required for what the film wants to convey.

However, the end of the movie, I will be frank, is a bit abrupt. Brought on by an action-packed 15-20 minutes in the end, I would say that something more was expected and desired in the end. Something more fulfilling maybe, but what, I don’t know. But again, I am just some viewer, not an experienced filmmaker.

Other thoughts

Being a Shia Muslim, I would naturally resonate with anything that I see related to my beliefs. Moharram is depicted well in Jaanisaar. There are the tazias and the alams in the imambada depicted faithfully. There is even mention of zanani majlis in the evening by Noor. There are the women assembled in the imambada with bayaz in hand and singing/offering nauha / matam. But here is a small thing that I don’t understand. The nauha/elegy being recited by the women in the imambada is sung like a normal song with the same cadence and rhythm. However, whatever little I know of nauhakhwani and whatever I have heard till now by women offering matam/nauha in my household and anywhere else, women ‘sing’/offer nauha in a different way. It has a very different style of presentation.

I won’t comment on the Jaanisaar story as I would like you to go see Jaanisaar for yourself and make your own impression about it. This much I will say that the film held my attention all right. It won’t bore you, as something or the other on the screen will keep your eyes and ears busy.

By the way, this may have been my first movie review that I have written, besides watching my first first-day show of a movie. 🙂


2 comments on “Jaanisaar — Time Travel to a Bygone Era (Movie Review)

  1. Manika khanna
    November 9, 2015

    Raza,this article has vividly,described about every minute aspect of the movie.Though i have not seen this movie,but hot to view it through the eyes of the writer.Congrats. .comendable efforts. ..

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