Jazbaa has the mother—or, more accurately, the mother-daughter—of pre-intermission scenes. Anuradha (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is a prominent defence lawyer whose school-going daughter has been kidnapped. She’s informed that the girl is having trouble breathing. When she arrives at a specified point with the medicines, the kidnapper tells her to place them in a pouch that’s on a very irate dog. The dog bounds over to a car. As the car pulls away, the daughter pops her head out of the window. “Sanaaayaaaa," Anuradha shrieks, eyes bulging, running in super slo-mo towards her. “Mamaaaaa," responds Sanaya. Anuradha falls to her knees. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaa," she gurgles.

This isn’t the first time in the film that Rai Bachchan hits wince-inducing high notes, and it isn’t the last. We get it, really. She loves her daughter. She loves her so much that she will defend a possible rapist-murderer, Miyaaz (Chandan Roy Sanyal), on the condition that the kidnapper will let Sanaya go once she has won the case. Do we really need multiple “ek maa par kya guzarti hai (what a mother has to go through)" speeches? Does Rai Bachchan need to be red-eyed in every scene? Is director Sanjay Gupta so worried we won’t swallow emotional bait that he has to oversell it?

Helping her in her endeavours is Yohaan, an inspector known for his stellar policework and his terrible one-liners. As their investigation into the Miyaaz case progresses, we’re introduced to the victim’s mother (Shabana Azmi), a crooked politician (Jackie Shroff) and his drug addict son (Siddhanth Kapoor), and re-introduced to a mid-level thug (Abhimanyu Singh), whom Anuradha had defended in court at the start of the film. Yet, the more complicated this case becomes, the more slack the film feels, partly because Gupta forgets to keep the phone calls from the kidnapper to Anuradha going after a while (which allows the audience to forget that there’s a real threat there), and partly because the plot twists are so ridiculous that you stop taking them seriously after a while.

Visually, Jazbaa is all Dutch angles and green filters and slo-mo, an excess of stylization that calls attention to the absence of any real style. The dialogue (by Kamlesh Pandey) is almost a parody of the hard-boiled Gupta style: “Aise khoobsoorat thopde case nahi jeet-te (beautiful faces don’t win court cases)"; “Yeh case gutter banta jaa raha hai (this case is becoming murkier and murkier)". In her comeback vehicle, Rai Bachchan tries hard—so hard, in fact, that you can see the glycerine and the effort (Khan, appearing as a cop onscreen for the second time in two weeks, is entertainingly hammy).

The worst thing about Jazbaa, though, is when it ends with statistics about sexual assault convictions in India. This is a film in which the rape and murder of a young woman is re-enacted in lurid detail, thrice. It’s pulp material of the basest sort, but Gupta seems to think he’s making a social film.

Jazbaa released in theatres on Friday

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