Jaani Dushman: India’s Only Superhero Film You Should Care About

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Jaani Dushman: India’s Only Superhero Film You Should Care About

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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he year was 2002 and director Rajkumar Kohli was planning his last film, Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahaani. He wished for two things: The first was to turn his son Armaan Kohli into a Bollywood superstar after relaunching him for the third time. The second was a little less ambitious than the first. The elder Kohli wanted to make a landmark film that would traverse and transcend all genres, right from romance, comedy, horror to fantasy, drama and action.

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To say that he failed miserably on both counts would be completely fallacious. For Kohli’s film is a neglected gem. Its legacy will far outlive the narrow confines of Bollywood.   

Jaani Dushman was the dawn of Bollywood’s “Kapilman”, its first indigenous green-eyed superhero who was half-ichhadhari naag, half-assassin, full-time lover and slayer of perverts. Kapilman came a few years after Mr India and Shaktimaan that had succeeded in indianising the superhero genre. He appeared a few years before Krrish, and Drona would eventually go on to destroy the sanctity of that very genre. Kapilman checked all the boxes in the superhero’s identikit: a tragic backstory, a secret identity, magical superpowers, a trademark superhero trench-coat, and a relentless urge to deliver justice.

Kapilman’s Anokhi Kahaani, however, turned out to be a story that became the ultimate jaani dushmaan for logic. And the man who was destined to rule Bollywood turned out to be the Jackky Bhagnani of early 2000 with an almost exclusive claim over back-to-back flops.  

Vasundhara is reborn as Divya, and Kapil wastes no time in trying to make contact with her by hypnotising her with his mating song.

Image credit / Shankar Movies

In the three-hour-long film, Kapilman shifts two generations and countless aliases to reunite with his ichhadhari naagin-bae, Vasundhara (Manisha Koirala), by dispensing death on the nine men who conspired to rape her. Their fateful parting happened one sunny day in horribly CGI land of snake heaven, when the serpent power couple set about their regular day, communicating their undying love to each other through their personalised mating dance called “Aaja.. Aaja”.

One may wonder why he didn’t just go straight to snake heaven immediately after his bae dropped dead, but in Bollywood, we never make films that basic.

Lost in their hormonally-induced foreplay, the duo came crashing to reality when they disturbed a meditating sage, who in turn punishes them by giving Vasundhara the curse of death. Unable to breathe even a second without his SO, Kapil begs the sadhu to forgive him and let him be reunited with Vasundhara. His wish is granted, except it comes with a catch: Kapil will need to live trapped inside a banyan tree waiting for the 21st century, when Vasundhara will be reborn as a human.

Years later, Vasundhara is reborn as Divya, and once she crosses the magical age of 18 and goes to college, Kapil wastes no time in trying to make contact with her by hypnotising her with his mating song and reminding her of their life as the serpent power couple. But before Divya gets to make up her mind about going back to being Kapil’s taani partner, she dies. Again. And from then onward begins the transformation of an ichhadhari naag into Kapilman, the superhero assassin. Yes, even I thought Rajkumar Kohli was dropping some seriously good acid.

Say what you will about Kapilman but you certainly can’t accuse him of writing boring deaths.

Image credit / Shankar Movies

Kapilman starts his murderous frenzy by immediately changing into a black trench-coat borrowed from Hrithik Roshan, emitting fire from his mouth, and metamorphosing into a snake who French-kisses one of the perpetrators to death at that very instant. (Anyone else think the film’s OST should have included “Zeher Hai Ke Pyaar Hai Tera Chumma”?)

Kapilman also has another magical superpower: He can just will his mind to magically get on any mode of transportation ( Uber and Ola got nothing on this bro) which he calls upon to make the second kill. From there, victims drop like flies. One is electrocuted in a swimming pool; the next dies when Kapilman takes the shape of a girl, a bat, and lets out bursts of smelly gas from his mouth. He also ends up on a reality TV show called “Wonders of Wonder Show” where he transforms into various avatars (one of them being a talking parrot) before coming out of the TV set itself, to finish the deed. Who needs Christopher Nolan when you have Kapilception?

Say what you will about Kapilman but you certainly can’t accuse him of writing boring deaths. His next victims are killed after he survives an attempt to blow him up by disintegrating and re-assembling himself in a Terminator-esque way (he’s also made of liquid metal, duh!). Immediately after, he also moonlights as an Usain Bolt-version of Jesus by running on water, and drowning his next set of victims who are escaping on a speedboat.

But sadly, luck rarely favours the madly inventive assassin and Kapilman gets his comeuppance by none other than the righteous Sunny Deol. But he no care because he goes straight to snake heaven, where he is at last reunited with his naagin bae. One may wonder why he didn’t just go straight to snake heaven immediately after his bae dropped dead, but in Bollywood, we never make films that basic.

It’s now been 15 years since Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahaani came into our lives and changed them forever. The under-appreciation of Kapilman, the OG Krrish, has left the world so much poorer. I mean which other film has managed to give us a superhero who flies, runs on water, rides his bike into the sky, shape-shifts into any person, animal or bird, and avoids bullets in super slow-mo while disregarding any law of physics that ever exists?

So the next time someone asks you about your favourite Bollywood superhero, forget SRK’s embarrassing outing as G.One and spare a thought for the green-eyed naag, who just wanted love. Get your friends, enemies, and countrymen to lend their ears, and tell them: Once they go Kapilman, they can’t not be a fan.

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