The Bollywood envelope gets pushed to pop in "Jism," a smoldering drama of noirish desire and dirty deeds that's two-and-a-quarter hours of pure atmosphere. Pulp story, lying somewhere between "Double Indemnity" and "Body Heat," and cast with two former supermodels, Bipasha Basu and John Abraham, was this year's top Hindi grosser prior to the current brawny run of "The Hero."

The Bollywood envelope gets pushed to pop in “Jism,” a smoldering drama of noirish desire and dirty deeds that’s two-and-a-quarter hours of pure atmosphere. Pulp story, lying somewhere between “Double Indemnity” and “Body Heat,” and cast with two former supermodels, Bipasha Basu and John Abraham, was this year’s top Hindi grosser prior to the current brawny run of “The Hero,” and could have a future offshore presence as a hokey latenight fest item and on ancillary.

Debuting helmer Amit Saxena, along with his d.p. and design team, has come up with an ultra-slick product that relies little on plot twists or standard action sequences and not at all on comic relief or large-scale musical numbers. The five songs are almost all sung offscreen over montages, and the sex quotient is high by Bollywood standards, with even some fleeting kissing and a Zalman King Lite scene with ice cubes and white silk blindfold.

In place of many of the usual Bollywood staples, Saxena has provided a long, lingering dose of moody passion set in the picturesque, neo-colonial town of Pondicherry, on India’s southeast coat. In tune with the pic’s title (which literally means “skin”), this is more about two beautiful people looking great in and out of designer duds; and as a dose of predictable eye-candy, with a tight running time by Bollywood standards, it works just fine.

One night on a pier, handsome alcoholic lawyer Kabir Lal (Abraham) falls out of his car with what looks like a fatal bullet wound. Rest of the movie is a flashback to how he got there.

Turns out that one day, by the beach, Kabir was transfixed by Sonia Khanna (Basu), a statuesque vision of loveliness arising from the sea. After some heavy flirting later on, he forces open her patio doors and they’re soon in the sack. Everything goes fine until — almost an hour into the movie — Sonia’s industrialist husband, Rohit (Gulshan Grover) suddenly returns, and thereon Kabir is left to simmer on the sidelines.

Post-intermission, Sonia makes up with Kabir and inveigles him into murdering Rohit. It’s only then the lovestruck lawyer discovers the true face of the now-wealthy widow.

Basu has already carved a career as a considerable looker in vehicles like horror film “Raaz” and crime drama “Gunaah.” But though she stretches the limits of a modern Bollywood vamp here, with color-coded gowns that shuttle between white and black, she’s actually eclipsed by first-timer Abraham, who evinces a Banderas-like appeal as the hard-living lawyer. Grover over-acts as the husband, but Vinay Pathak is more natural as Kabir’s cop friend, Siddharth.

Songs are pleasant rather than memorable, and M.M. Kreem’s background score keeps the atmosphere ticking over.

Jism

India

Production

A Worldwide Entertainment Group release of a Shreya Creations presentation of a Fish Eye Network production. Produced by Sujit Kumar Singh, Pooja Bhatt. Executive producer, Sheel Kumar. Directed by Amit Saxena. Associate director, Rishi Tyagi. Screenplay, Mahesh Bhatt, Niranjan Iyengar; story, Bhatt.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Fuwad Khan; editor, Saxena; background & song music, M.M. Kreem; lyrics, Sayeed Qadri, Neelesh Misra; production designer, Pooja Bhatt; art director, Thota Tharani; costume designers, Thela & Pooja; sound (Dolby Digital), Uday Inamati; action director, Abbas Ali; choreographer, Raju Khan. Reviewed on videodisc, London, May 2, 2003. (In Cannes market.) Running time: 136 MIN. (I: 73 MIN.; II: 63 MIN.).

With

Bipasha Basu, John Abraham, Gulshan Grover, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Anahita Uberoi, Sheeba Chadha, Harsh Vasishtha, Niveda Mehndi, Bobby Bedi. (Hindi dialogue)
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