Shirish Kunder's lavish, genre-bending, cheekily self-referential spectacle Jaan-E-Mann is over the top even by Bollywood's overwrought standards, offering a heady mix of sci-fi, broad comedy, tear-jerking melodrama and, of course, elaborate musical numbers.
It opens with a homage to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the credits rolling over shots of a space station sailing through the stars to the lilting strains of "The Blue Danube Waltz." Inside, NASA astronaut Agastya Rao (Akshay Kumar) interrupts his own zero-gravity dance with a curvy cosmic bombshell to ask the date. Realizing it's his friend Suhaan's birthday, he's about to phone with felicitations when his partner points out it's five a.m. in Mumbai, and suggests waiting until a decent hour. And so Agastya spins the tale of how he and Suhaan became such good friends.
Suhaan (Salman Khan) and Agastya attended the same college but moved in different orbits: Suhaan was a long-haired rocker, arrogant, self-centered and too cool for school; Agastya was a frizzy-haired math geek with braces and a tragic fashion sense. Both loved campus queen Piya (Preity Zinta), but she was Suhaan's girlfriend; Agastya lived for occasional crumbs of attention. Seven years later, Suhaan is broke, out of work and divorced from Piya, having ruined their relationship for a shot at movie stardom that didn't pan out. Piya lives in New York City, near her wealthy family, but her lawyers are still demanding alimony that Suhaan can't pay. His lawyer, Bonny Singh (Anupam Kher), a scheming, easily offended dwarf brimming with advice (mostly bad), counsels Suhaan that his only option is to hope Piya remarries soon, cueing Agastya's fortuitous arrival. He and Suhaan have both changed so much that neither recognizes the other, and when Agastya confesses that he has loved Piya from afar for years, Suhaan sees his chance.
Bonny and Suhaan encourage Agastya to go to New York and woo Piya, but he becomes tongue-tied just thinking about her. So Suhaan comes along to talk Agastya through the finer points of romancing a lady, using two-way radio earpieces to feed him lines and hiding behind a series of ridiculous costumes (Zorro, sequined jumpsuit-era Elvis, Marilyn Monroe) lest Piya notice her ex-husband lurking and get suspicious. But after talking Agastya through a number of sticky situations, Suhaan comes to realize that the greatest obstacle to their romance is him: He still loves his ex-wife. Hearts break and mend, lessons are learned, secrets--some happy, some dark--are revealed and songs sung en route to the requisite happy ending. The film's transition from sight gags to three-hankie weeping is disconcertingly abrupt, and most of the musical numbers are nothing special. But the film's self-referential attitude is novel--when we see a flashback detailing Suhaan's woes, Bonny's office wall suddenly flickers with a movie within the movie-and there's one jaw-dropping number for midgets in shiny elf costumes, who emerge from Suhaan's closet (accompanied by their own band) to dance a merry jig around his apartment. You don't see that everyday.