Angry, Not Inspiring
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- Published 8.01.11
No One Killed Jessica is an angry film. There is a cuss word in almost every dialogue. There are household items being pushed and pulverised in almost every scene. Whenever a finger goes up, it is almost always the middle finger. Even the candles at the India Gate vigil look like torches.
That is purely the filmmaker’s perspective because in the opening disclaimer writer-director Raj Kumar Gupta makes it clear that his second film is “a hybrid of fact and fiction”. So while No One Killed Jessica is very much Who Killed Jessica Lal, how he almost got away and how a nationwide media-inspired awakening brought the murderer to book, the tone and pitch of the events is the result of an independent creative decision.
And Gupta’s decision is to make a unidimensional, fully filmi movie that cries “jaago, jaago, jaago” in every scene. Don’t get it wrong... No One Killed Jessica is a very noble attempt and the heart of the maker couldn’t have been in a righter place. But perhaps the subject needed a deeper understanding, a quieter handling and a slightly more objective approach.
On an April night in 1999, at a high-society party in Delhi a model was gunned down by a politician’s son. She was the bartender for the night and refused to serve him a drink because the bar had shut by then. “I won’t give you a sip even if you give me a thousand bucks!” was the line that pulled the trigger.
Jessica (Myra) was dead. Manish (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) was arrested. And then almost all the 300 guests claimed to have left the party by midnight. Out of the seven people who claimed to have seen Manish shoot Jessica, her model friend Vikram (Neil Bhoopalam) became the prime witness and the case was prepared.
Between then and the court hearing, Manish’s cabinet minister father did enough to ensure that one witness would claim he was on the roof, another witness would claim he wasn’t in the city and Vikram would claim he didn’t even know Hindi, the language in which the FIR was filed. Seven years of court hearings later, Manish was acquitted.
But the fight was on. If earlier it was Jessica’s sister Sabrina (Vidya Balan) playing it by the book in what had become a personal battle for justice, celebrity TV journalist Meera (Rani Mukerji) took over once the case was closed. A couple of fake phone calls and an elaborate sting operation later, the channel had enough material to pitch the Justice for Jessica campaign. Thanks to Rang De Basanti, those giant candles popped out and the rest, as they said, became “shine hone waala India ka ek milestone.”
Gupta, who had made the excellent Aamir as his first film, shoves his hand into every jar at the candy store with Jessica. He juxtaposes images from the Kargil war and newsclips of the IC 814 hijack with the murder case to underline the political climate. He also swings into stray incidents of Delhi the Dangerous to highlight the space he is dealing with. Somewhere in this attempt at assigning a macro vision to an anyway major incident, the human stories in the middle get muddled.
Sabrina shouts in the end: “I am 28... the last time I checked, I was 22”. But you never really get a peek into the pain she must have internalised in those six-seven years. The same with Meera, who initially doesn’t report on the case because its profile isn’t high enough for her. Why then would she suddenly start jumping on car bonnets shouting: “Justice has been denied”?
Also, how can you reduce the parents of the guilty boy to one fixed frown of the father and one fixed line from the mother: “Kuch bhi kijiye mere Monu ko kuch nahin hona chahiye.” Take that unforgettable scene from Road to Perdition where Paul Newman the enraged father beats up his evil son Daniel Craig and then cries, “Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.”
No One Killed Jessica is engaging throughout its running time but it’s just way too black-and-white for comfort. A Rajkumar Santoshi could have made this film in the 1990s. A Madhur Bhandarkar could have made this film in the last decade. Raj Kumar Gupta hardly allows his novel voice to emerge out of the cliched Bolly cacophony.
It’s only the character of the inspector, played brilliantly by our very own Rajesh Sharma, whose transition comes through just right. He is the cop who recorded the verbal admission by Manish and, despite taking a couple of bribes along the way, gave his best shot to nail the killer. When the accused goes scot-free, he becomes like Zodiac’s Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), alienating himself from the entire saga but secretly providing all the evidence he had accumulated.
Among the two women, Rani is the Basanti of the piece with the f-word and the g-word and the ch-word spouting from her mouth like Poppins. And while she is terrific in some of the scenes, there are quite a few shots where you feel the actress is just reciting lines, angrily.
Vidya carries on from where she left off in Ishqiya almost a year back. Simply look at the transformation in her eyes. She never looks 22 but that stare does. From that innocent and impressionable state, struck by tragedy, to the worldly wise and ready-for-everything poise, gifted by circumstances, Vidya hardly puts a foot wrong.
There are two other stars of the film — music director Amit Trivedi (Dev D) and cinematographer Anay Goswamy (The Japanese Wife). Trivedi’s soundtrack is kickass with Dilli, Aali re and Aitbaar all pumping up the jam and Goswami is as good outdoors as he is indoors. Don’t miss the innovative use of close-ups in the courtroom.
No One Killed Jessica will surely infect you with its anger. It may even make you sad at times. But will it inspire you to come out on the streets in support of a stranger? Perhaps not. Rang De Basanti could do that. Because life may be costlier than a peg after midnight, but sometimes all it needs is a movie ticket to realise its value. The right movie ticket.
The Jessica Shadow
In the Raj Kumar Santoshi film, Ajay Devgn played a movie star who watches a girl being murdered in a crowded party by a top politician’s son. Initially he denies having seen anything but later his conscienceforces him to reveal the truth.
In Anjan Dutt’s first Hindi film, which is yet to be released, Jimmy Shergill plays a movie actor who watches a girl being shot in a bar. The murderer turns out to be the son of a business tycoon with political connections, played by Naseeruddin Shah.
Cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay’s unfinished, unreleased Hindi film starts with a man being shot in a Delhi bar when a couple of guys are fiddling with a gun. Arjun Mathur and Tannishtha Chatterjee, seen here in a still from Barah Aana, were part of the cast.