Splinters From a Matinee Blow
by Ayush Prasad 

Erotica goes bonkers and the thriller genre takes a hike in Puja Bhatt’s recent adulteration, Jism 2. We plumb through the bad, the ugly and the not snugly in this madsters‘ saga and lay the frosted glass clean.

The best way to spoil any plot is by not developing it. And the best way to not develop any plot is by not developing the characters strongly enough, leaving loose ends in the treatment of the story. Jism 2 manages both of these errors wonderfully well, causing the film’s dramatic appeal to ebb disastrously, sacrificing coherence of plot, character, dialogue and narrative, marginalising the plausible.
Jism 2’s story idea is an admixture of psychological drama, spy games, assassin troubles and a seductress. Supposedly, it is a heartbreaking dystopian story about the state and its violent systems of control making use of the former girlfriend of a Che Guevara-reading, revolutionary ex-police officer to hunt him down. In its implementation though it is simply tardy story-telling, bad camera work, an amorphous plot, missing scenes, pretentious dialogues and lamely underplayed eroticism. The result is a film which causes its audiences to laugh at those times when the drama is supposedly intensifying, a film that produces boredom. 

The plausible in the bin

As an erotica-thriller, Jism 2 subscribes to psychological realism. It therefore needs to meticulously attend to the plausible. What it does with the plausible though isn’t commendable at all.
The film begins with the voice over and shots of the seductress, Isna (played by Sunny Leone): “Mera naam Isna hai. I’m a porn-star. Saari umar apni jism ki numaaish kar ke logon ka dil behlaati rahi hoon main.” She stands in flat angles to reveal her underwear and brassiere, bends down, pulls out a jacket from her bag, smells it, and gets lost in memories of how she had once loved the body of a certain man who tossed coins.
As her return to reality breaks her reverie and nostalgia, she throws the jacket down with disgust. She then walks into the lobby of star hotel, setting the eyes and the minds of men aflutter, enjoying their reactions. Next she does a little lesbian arousal scene with an irresistible dancer and proceeds to gulp a large shot of vodka at the bar, following which, she walks over to a hunk in suits (Arunoday Singh playing Ayaan), bends over him, breathes into his face, invites him with her pout and seduces him as he follows her to a room. When she wakes up after the night of sex and it is morning, her eyes wear an incomprehensible look and her hands clutch a bed-sheet over her half-naked breasts.
A few scenes later we are in Isna’s past and we see her falling for and seducing a hunky police officer (Randeep Hooda playing Kabeer) who’s kind to her even though she has committed the zalaalat (or degrading act) of unwittingly transporting a bagful of drugs for money. We see that this cop is a moralist and a devoted monogamist. We are informed by the chief that even after he leaves her and his job to become a revolutionary, he talks to his Zurich based psychologist only and only about her, refusing to sleep with other women. 
Somehow, all this doesn’t quite fit together believably enough. It doesn’t sound plausible enough. Questions ring up and suggest potholes in the narrative and the plot. Was Isna a porn-star even when she started seeing the cop? If not, then the opening voice over doesn’t fit at all. If yes, then how’s it that her one-woman-man lover doesn’t have an issue with it? Why does Isna, a porn-star who has admittedly sold her body all along, abruptly seduce the hunky Ayaan in the hotel without payment? After all, he doesn’t seem like a client of hers. If he indeed is her client, nothing in the story that suggests that. Well, maybe she couldn’t help herself, couldn’t resist his Hercules’s chest and log-like arms, but nothing in the story suggests that either.
Why does Isna, who we see taking her clothes off with lusty élan in the night, cover her breasts and wear a stricken look in the morning? How can Isna, a triple-X-star, be sexually devoted to a lover? In a scene that brings the retrospect alive, Isna mouths the “janmo-janam tak mera hai” or ‘forever mine’ idea for her lover cop. How did she and her idealist lover manage this complicated relationship? Was that the reason he eventually quit being with her? Was that what destabilised him so much that he became an assassin? It could seem so. And if that isn’t it then it seems that the film has left too many opaque zones.

Very importantly, Isna’s character in the film is inconstant. Isna accepts everything that Ayaan and his superior tell her quite stupidly: that they are unofficial intelligence officials; that they would pay her ten crore rupees; that they are the good guys; that her ex-lover is a dreaded assassin. They never try to convince her, but just tell her and she believes them, agreeing to their plans. She doesn’t check their ids, doesn’t investigate about them. By this logic, Isna is a gullible fool with authoritative men. Show her a powerful man and she melts into a being a yes daddy girl. But when she pursues the domineering assassin Kabeer, sleeps with him, traps him and kills him, she doesn’t appear such a lackey to authority. In fact, she disbelieves him enough to kill him.   

The film’s closure too is abrupt. It leaves us searching in its rushed incompleteness. The heroine shoots her hunted ex-lover dead. She then turns to her new man who kills his boss who had attempted to kill her. The actual malicious identity of this new man and his organisation is revealed to the heroine then. Overcome by remorse and heavy with the knowledge that she’s killed the hero and is left with the villain, the heroine knowingly takes a false step, displaying an un-erotic, masculine bravado, inviting the bad man to kill her: “If you shoot me, I’ll live for the first time,” she says as she rejects the villain. He cruelly shoots her, then goes up to her. Half-alive, she turns around and shoots him with a pistol he had given her once. He tumbles dead and she lies in wait for death. The camera pulls back. In a widening shot we her dying in a white dress on green grass, wasted, alone, just like fallen yellow leaves which float around aimlessly. We are given no time to absorb this indigestible volte-face as it unfolds in five to six minutes flat. There seems to be space here for drama, irony, melancholy, etc. Flat shots with few dialogues do not do justice to this scene’s severity. Yet, the film provides us with just that, making sure that the dramatic element dies as the characters die, a sure sign of bad plot planning that does not maintain the equilibrium between the beginning, the middle and the end, and therefore produces a contrived, anti-climactic climax.
Moreover, we never see the assassin, Kabeer, on an assignment. The only time he kills is in rushed reaction to being hounded and followed. The feared sniper executing an ambush is absent. Instead we have those who want to eliminate him describing him in their stories, their versions, and that is simply not credible enough. The guy the entire film runs around is not given his due in character development. It’s a miss which spoils Jism 2’s taste of adventure quite definitively.
Jism 2 underestimates the perceptive capacities of its audiences. It stupidly assumes that its unthinking viewers would not pay attention to its missing links and would be consumed by the spectacles of flesh, melodrama, music and male daredevilry. But since it makes everything available to its audiences half-heartedly, in wrong proportions, with the wrong dressing and in the wrong corners of the platter, it fails even in these stunts. The result? Boos and comments such as “Slap her, slap her” and “Saalaa kaise moonh banaa rahaa hai. Chumma le, chumma!

The flickering femme fatale

Supposedly a film about the body, a siren, the dark edges of sex, hidden desires, slippery facets of secret lives, and deceptive insidious institutions that control society, Jism 2 begins with tantalising and suggestive displays of bareness. Its conclusion, therefore, needs to be balanced in form too.
Quite distastefully, Jism 2’s concludes with a sexless death for Isna. It’s a death undeserving of a seductress, a death which makes of her a repentant, purity-seeking sinner clothed in white. The film seems to be pushing the obituary idea of ‘poor porn-star turned killer finally rests in respectable peace after years of abomination and misery.’ Inversely, it also seems to be acting as the good-girls-let’s-not-meet-a-slutty-siren’s-fate guide. Funnily, even though Isna kills both the good and the bad guys (when shot, Kabeer says, “Aakhir maar hi daalaa,” but the visuals don’t emphasize the line; conversely, Ayaan dies without uttering a word), there is no fatal attraction to her. Visually, she’s not the luring devil in the film, but the poor confused killer, a new category of character indeed for what is inarguably a poor confused erotica-thriller.
The best of the erotica-thrillers, such as Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Killing Me Softly, Original Sin, Unfaithful, Savage Grace, and Rape Me have established the trend of complete dramatic interlacing of the deadly and the sexual. Isn’t that what the concept of the femme fatale is meant to do too? Isn’t the femme fatale a stock character who woos people into being led to their death by her? Simply captioning the poster as “To love her is to die” doesn’t work for Jism 2. In fact, that sub-title makes obvious the lack of plot for which it tries to compensate.  

Let’s just mouth them

Rather than showing them in flashbacks, Jism 2 generally has some character narrating the events that form the bedrock of what happens in the film. Such commentaries produce monotony. While in most places the film’s dialogues are soulless and without any depth of thought, sometimes they do perk up, but only to be pulled down.
For instance: “Us se pyaar karnaa meri wo pyaas thi jisse pyaas bujhti thi meri.” I mean, what the…! This tautological line spoils a potentially good porno-erotic piece of speech that represents sex, semen and orgasmic undulations of the female body in metaphors of water: “Mera samundar tha wo, jiski har leher bechain hokar badhti thi meri taraf. Aur ye jism, tapti lehron ke tarah pee jaataa tha un lehron ko.” 
Another instance of rotten dialoguebaazi in the film is: “Humein hamaare khoofiyaa departments agency ke naam se bulaate hain…hum log hamaare…intelligence network ka ek hissaa hain, the secret cell. Mein us cell ka head hoon, you know, mukhiya, without the moustache, of course. Haha.” Is this how a black-ops intelligence head talks? Delivered inexpressively and of a really pedestrian PJ quality, this dialogue slows down the narrative. In fact, this ridiculous chief is the film’s principal generator of bad lines. Two more of his coarse ingots are: “Strange. Jo aadmi apne mulk se wafaadaari nahi kar sakaa, iske jism ke saath wafaadaari kar baithaa,” and “Tumhein wo sab kuch karnaa hoga, sab kuch,” an absurd line to a porn-star that assumes an apologetic tone while asking her to have sex with someone.
After killing the chief, Ayaan bellows: “Isna, main jaanwar hoon. Huh!” Of course, Ayaan’s huffing-puffing muscular body does suggest an insane dog, but that is simply not enough to show the bestiality of his human soul, and that’s what films try to capture when they refer to man as beast. Jism 2uses no visual element to capture the degradation of Ayaan’s soul in full two and a half hours. The body and its desire for other bodies being the clearest mirrors of the soul, Jism 2, a hothouse of plastic emotionless dialogues, needed to give its dialogues lots more flesh, life, viscera and teeth.

Bawdy camera, shoddy camera

The camera in Jism 2 is interested exclusively in capturing Sunny Leone’s body, and not in attending to the story and to Leone’s body as a part of the story. The film begins with a profusion of bad shots that are desperate to show that Isna is, isand is wearing underwear. Now that’s not erotica. It’s trying too hard to be erotica, it’s wannabe erotica, because erotica either titillates suggestively or goes all out and smashes the erotic in your face. It never lolls around in between these two because then it runs the risk of relaxing sexual tension that’s so vital to it.

Sometimes, the camera does indeed do brilliant work, e.g. the close-up shot of Isna gulping a shot of vodka with everyone staring at her stunning demeanour, the deep-focus shot of Isna climbing up the stairs of the hotel followed by an enchanted Ayaan, the first few close-up shots of Kabeer melancholically playing the cello in his den. Otherwise, it keeps busy with abrupt shots, flat shots, unnecessary overuse of wide-angles and close-ups, and bad and indiscriminate use of deep-focus.

Generally, all the impressive shots and scenes in the film are limited to those which have only one or two subjects in front of the camera. With more than two subjects, the camera seems to go bonkers. The cold blue colour cast of the film holds it, but also further depresses its style and mood.
The video of the song “Ye Kusoor,” starts suggestively, seductively and beautifully, but then after a minute and a half or so turns completely into an advertisement of massaging services, massaging oils and masseurs, losing all its erotic tension. The video of the lamenting track “Maula” also starts well with close-up shots of Kabeer playing the cello in his den. Initially, it seems to be revealing some dark aspect, but later it too takes the flat-shots-from-the-front route. The last shot of the film with Isna and Ayaan dead and leaves scurrying over a grassy lawn is vague too and leaves much to be desired.             

What if Atlas shrugs?

Jism 2’s music is palatable. Its lyrics are doable. Sometimes the music does get exciting, but generally one wishes that there were more stylistic connections between the various tracks so that it all looked like part of a single album. As is the case, the extremely friable plot steals that chance away from the film’s music. It doesn’t play the role of highlighting ideas, ideologies, characters and desires, but dedicates itself simply to salvaging it by propping the plot as much as possible.
The heavy bass of the cello, the melody of the violin, some smooth keyboarding, and some neat and heavy guitar riffs at the beginning of the film make the music stand out as the best performer in this otherwise whitewashed film. The singing is fine. The Hindi-Punjabi mix, “Dartaa Hoon,” is quite appealing with its powerful male metal exterior in Hindi and a soft melodious Punjabi inside, an ideal track for a suspense centred story that plays with the binary of revealed surfaces and hidden insides. Alas! The story never builds up suspense or thrill and wastes it.

A fatal crude oil slide

Jism 2 is an ugly pastiche of violent virulent masculinities, misplaced womanhood, unstudied notions of the revolutionary and ideas of rabid nationalism steeped in vagueness. As far as the characters are concerned, Isna is rubbery, and Ayaan, a confused blob of muscles bursting with melodrama in all the wrong places. The only one who induces some confidence into the story with his responsive eyes, lips and facial muscles is Kabeer, but unfortunately, he is given a weak treatment. The chief and the rest are just forgettable. The less said about the plot and the story, the better. We wonder where deft use of techniques such as multiple shifts between the past and the present, short flashbacks, repeating frames and blur went from the scheme of a film that is supposed to oscillate between the past, the present perfect and the present. It would only be fair to say that Jism 2 gets buried alive in layers of cinematic time because of some really bad direction that lacks the will for any plausible imaginative lift-off.