One girl, two guys who love her - sounds like a typical Bollywood love triangle. But Jaan-e-mann ("Beloved") takes a very unusual look at that old story, with a surreal, self-referential, and theatrical style that uses the full range of freedom offered by the medium of the movies, rather than the constraints of the literal, to tell its tale.
At the beginning of the film, Suhaan (superstar cutie Salman Khan) is a semi-employed and divorced actor trying to figure out how he is going to pay off his ex-wife Piya's alimony demands. In steps Agastya (Akshay Kumar), a loveable nerd who had harbored a secret crush on Piya when they were schoolmates. Suhaan and his uncle Boney (Anupam Kher) hatch a plan: Get Piya (Preity Zinta) to marry Agastya - once remarried, she will no longer be entitled to alimony. Piya lives in New York now, so Suhaan and Agastya head overseas to pursue their mission. What follows is a tender romantic comedy along the lines of Cyrano de Bergerac - the bumbling Agastya is coached via earpiece by the smooth-talking Suhaan, who remains hidden by a series of ever-more-silly disguises. As the mission approaches fruition, Suhaan must struggle against the love he still feels for Piya. And the mission almost falls apart when Suhaan is thrown a curve ball that I will not give away here.
So much for the plot. From its opening scene - a peculiar sequence that takes place in a space station in orbit about the earth - Jaan-e-mann takes an extraordinary approach to the telling of a fairly ordinary story. Throughout the film, moments of surrealism operate to weave the story elements together. In the early scene in which Suhaan discusses his divorce with his uncle Boney (who, by the way, is a "dwarf" played by Anupam Kher on his knees, a harbinger of the weirdness to come), a giant screen suddenly appears in Boney's living room. "What's this?" he asks. "It's my flashback," Suhaan answers. Later, when Suhaan is weeping to Boney via telephone from New York, the telephone booth is transported to Boney's room, glowing warmly in a beautiful and touching illustration of their connection across the seas. In another example, after a flashback sequence ends with Agastya in tears, the scene fades back to Boney's house where Boney, Suhaan, and the "present" Agastya surround the weeping "flashback" Agastya in sympathetic silence. The film is full of deft visual touches like these, some more subtle than others.
One of the best things about this film is Akshay Kumar, who plays Agastya with a gentle sweetness that is a pleasure to watch. Both he and Salman bring a strong sense of comic timing to the film as well, and so the result is a story with equal parts silliness and poignancy. Preity Zinta is passable in her role, though she is the least challenged of the three, serving mainly as a surface that reflects the emotions of the two guys. This is almost made explicit when the guys, who have rented an apartment across the street from hers, train a telescope on her window, hook it up to a projector, and watch her mundane daily activities in larger-than-life projection. This device, which might seem creepy and stalker-ish in a more literal movie, works here as a symbolic expression of Priya's role.
The music serves the film well, but it is powered by the visuals and would not stand as well on its own. The best song by far is the manic, bizarro-world "Jaane ke jaane na," in which musicians, clowns, and midgets stream out of Boney's cupboards and parade around his living room with a cardboard cutout of Preity Zinta. The film's first song, "Humko maloom hai," recounts Suhaan and Piya's marriage in a delightfully theatrical style, with explicit and implicit Broadway references. It is this kind of free theatrical touch that makes Jaan-e-mann a wonderfully fresh take on the standard Bollywood love triangle theme.