First, the plot: Jaan-e-mann is about three characters, none of whom -- in what is characteristic of this genre of Hindi film -- appears to work for a living: Suhaan (Salman Khan), recently divorced from Piya (Preity Zinta) and desperate to avoid paying her any alimony, hits upon a legal loophole, namely that under the Hindu Marriage Act no alimony is due to an ex-wife in the event of her re-marriage. Which is where Agastya Rao (Akshay Kumar), irredeemable geek and batty on Piya from their college days, comes into the picture. Suhaan decides to take Agastya under his wing and coach him into Piya's affections (while concealing from him that he is Piya's ex-husband). 'Nuff said, as nothing in the plot will surprise one once the stage is set, and no prizes for guessing who Piya ends up with two hours and forty-five minutes after the film began.
Second, the downside: the film is way too long, and needed to be trimmed by a good twenty minutes. And in Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar one hardly has the, uh, acting talent on display to hold this viewer's interest over the course of that long a film. The moreso as Akshay isn't really playing to his strengths -- cretinous comedy, affable sleaze, and a never-say-die carnal optimism that dreams of every day as a "get lucky" day -- in Jaan-e-mann for the most part. That being said Akshay Kumar does have some funny moments in the film, none more so than a patented nervous cackle that Agastya unleashes at the most inopportune times, and the flashback of Akshay as the college genius-geek is vintage over-the-top chikaarapan of the sort that might make a less brazen actor cringe, but actually marshalls all of Akshay's not inconsiderable enthusiasm and assurance (the latter not always a good thing). Jaan-e-mann is more of a Salman Khan vehicle (which is surprising given that Akshay Kumar has never had it so good in terms of box-office success), and Salman is probably less offensive here than in any film in memory (though I do try hard to blot out most of his (non-) performances in any event). Preity Zinta is in good form here, but seeing New York Zinta for the third time in three years is the very essence of staleness.
So why don't I regret seeing this one in the theater? Shirish Kunder. Specifically, in the first forty minutes of the film Kunder almost overwhelms the viewer with a vision so zany, over-the-top, and just downright laugh-till-you-drop crazy you can't help but feel sad when the film takes a more serious turn. Given Indian cinema's long tradition of songs, it must be difficult indeed to try and mount song-and-dance numbers in a conceptually new manner, but Kunder pulls this off as far as the film's first few songs are concerned. His approach is to stage them in a manner befitting a Broadway musical, and then to "reveal" the staging as staging, as a self-evident derangement of reality even (a la the violinists that accompany ever sashay of Sushmita Sen's in Main Hoon Na, directed by Kunder's wife and Jaan-e-Mann choreographer Farah Khan) to the film's characters, all of which self-conscious fakery doesn't prevent Suhaan, Agastya, and Chachu (Anupam Kher, playing a midget) from enthusiastically participating in the proceedings. This "post-modern" self-awareness does not inhibit anyone, but instead liberates them into even more expansive realms of unabashed craziness. A case in point (and for me the moment of the film) is the "Jaan-e-mann jaane na" song, which is kicked off by dozens of extras (including several costumed midgets, qawwals, belly-dancers, and a cutout of Piya) erupting out of a cupboard in Suhaan's living room; when the bewildered Chachu asks one of the qawwals who on earth he is is and what he is doing in the room, the retort is: "to gaayega bajaayega kaun, tera baap?" The logic is irrefutable, and Chachu and Suhaan decide to join in the madness.
It is indeed a pity that Kunder didn't continue in this somewhat spoofish vein (indeed the first quarter of the movie possesses great repeat value for me), and commits the cardinal error of taking his farcical plot too seriously. In doing this he drains the zaniness out of the film, leaving the audience with a standard emotional melodrama of a love triangle; this might well be a winning strategy at the box office, and certainly the resulting film is no worse than, and might well be better than, many films in this genre, but in going down this route this viewer felt deprived of the sort of madcap fun that was once David Dhawan's forte (most recently in Mujhse Shaadi Karoge), and that Kunder had promised early on in his film. Heck one of the earliest sequences in the film involves B&W Filmfare awards footage from the 1970s: with Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Dilip Kumar, Hema Malini, Raj Kapoor, and Nutan in the audience and on the stage, the award for Best Actor goes to...Salman Khan, who in his acceptance speech proceeds to (all in the space of a minute) refer to "Kaka", "Amit" and "Dharam", answer his cell-phone, and realize that he is dreaming. In its sly wit (Salman knowing better than anyone else that being feted as "Best Actor" is not what he is known for) and pizzazz this scene is a gem, but at some point over the course of the film it seems Kunder lost faith in his own zany vision, and decided to make yet another bourgeois bore of a film. Leading to the question: who makes a serious love saga with Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar?