JANNAT 2.  Director: Kunal Deshmukh. Players: Emraan Hashmi, Esha Gupta, Randeep Hooda, Manish Chaudhary.  Music: Pritam Chakraborty. Hindi w/ Eng sub-titles. Theatrical release (Fox)

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In the four year span since the first Jannat was unleashed by Mahesh Bhatt, very few things have changed. The criminal underworld is still the gift that keeps on giving fodder to screenwriters. The underworld is still a nasty place to get trapped in. Emraan Hashmi is still Mahesh Bhatt’s favorite lead and yes, Hashmi has the rep as the onscreen kissing Romeo and yes, he just as easily gets tangled in a lip locks at a moment’s notice.  Even while regurgitating an oft-told tale, Jannat 2 smartly up-ticks a gritty, modern inner city odyssey that holds some genuine surprises.

In the life of Sonu Dilli (Hashmi), a small-time illicit gun runner in the slums of Delhi, there are only two constants. One is that the only trade Sonu knows for eking out a living is by hawking small arms to anonymous customers is dark alleys. The other is that Sonu is fixated on Jhanvi Tomar (Gupta), the winsome doctor who tends to Sonu at the free clinic where he ends up after every street brawl. Sony’s two divergent horizons— extremes comprised of violent strong-arming on the one hand and domestic bliss on the other—are destined for a clash as soon as Sonu comes under the radar of local vice cop ACP Pratap Raghuvanshi (Hooda).

Even though the plotline from Jannat 2 is not all that different from the first Jannat —with the new installment, Hashmi’s lead character trades down from fixing cricket matches to small time arms dealing—director Deshmush succeeds at creating a criminal maze for Sonu to repeatedly trespass in. The interactions between Sonu and ACP Pratap are charged with an undercurrent of mutual suspicion and insecurities bursting at the seams. Sonu sees in Pratap the authority and discipline that is missing in his own life. Pratap, on the other hand, envisions in Sonu a carefree street hustler through whom he can possibly, just possibly, salvage his dented psyche from the inner demons that haunt his most reserved moments.
Pritam’s score is a refreshing song-pack and a keeper.

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s sumptuous up tempo qawwali “Tera Deedar Hua” is a must have prop for all CD decks and MP3 players for Summer 2012. Of all Bhatt movies, Jannat 2 stylishly most closely resembles Sadak, even though Bhatt’s 1991 entry Sadak thematically borrowed from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. There are striking similarities in the musical staging of “Tera Deedar Hua” filmed on Hashmi here and Sadak’s “Rahene Ko Ghar Nahin,” filmed on Sanjay Dutt.

Hollywood cinematographers swear by the unique natural light offered by the sun drenched vistas of Big Sur coastal area of California. An unusual number of Hollywood entries have filler scenes shot there. In India, this sweet spot could easily be the light mists of a Delhi winter morning. The misty veneer permeating so much of Bobby Singh’s cinematography in Jannat 2 adds a mysteriously inviting aura of subtle suspense and acts as a metaphor for the strange goings on in Sonu’s life. As the camera pulls away from the shores of a wide, ice-covered lake in the Himalayan foothills—a lake into which a body has just been carelessly tossed—the stark contrast between the serene, icy waters of the lake and the violence just witnessed sharply come into focus.

Newcomer Gupta mostly maintains her composure although at some point she will have to rely less on flickering her big hair. Hooda adds yet another fine cop role to his vitae while Chaudhary is excellent as Jhanvi’s father with underworld connections. Hashmi remains the go-to guy for filmmakers who can’t afford Aamir Khan. And that suits Hashmi just fine, thank you. Hashmi has created a franchise of sorts in partnership with Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt. In addition to Murder 2, Gangster, Jannat and Jannat 2, Hashmi will also co-anchor the upcoming Raaz 3, opposite Bipasha Basu, which will also mark Mahesh Bhatt’s highly anticipated return to directing. As long as the Bhatt’s enlist able filmmakers like Deshmukh to make smart movies like Jannat 2, we’ll keep coming back.

EQ: B+

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

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