26 January 2011

Not quite the belly of Delhi: No One Killed Jessica review

THERE’S A MOMENT in No One Killed Jessica when a girl — someone we’ve never seen — watches the candlelight vigil scene in Rang De Basanti, comes out of the cinema and sends out an SMS calling for a similar vigil for ‘Justice for Jessica’. The scene is spot-on. Without saying a word, it shows you how the news media, cinema and mobile phone technology came together to create a new kind of middle-class activist public, the outrage of its thousands of SMSes amplified by the power of television, leading to the eventual reopening of the Jessica Lall murder case.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t often manage such verbal economy. It opens with a scene we know well from newspaper accounts: the late-night party at which the feisty young bartender, Jessica, is shot by a loutish customer who doesn’t like the idea of a do take ki model having the gall to refuse him a drink. But the quiet tension of this sequence — displaying some of the taut pacing of director Rajkumar Gupta’s controversial previous film, Aamir — swiftly disintegrates as Gupta decides to milk the idea of the decadence (and hypocrisy) of Delhi’s Page Three elite for all its worth, teetering dangerously over Madhur Bhandarkar territory and finally falling into a morass of easy lecturebaazi (“Sabrinaji, yeh kaise logon ke saath uthti-baithti hain aap?”).

NOKJ also fails miserably as a Delhi film. Every film set in Delhi doesn’t have to devote itself to the city. But we’re told constantly this is a story about Delhi. Sadly, it never goes beyond the clichés — Mumbai = paisa, Delhi = power; “Everybody is a somebody here” — and even these are lamely served up in a voiceover. There is the intermittent well-done cameo — example Bubbles Sabharwal as the socialite restaurant-owner swinging between self-absorption and hand-wringing helplessness. But Mumbai high society cannot pass off as Delhi’s: clothes, accents and intonations betray most characters. Worse still, none of the three principals — newcomer Myra as pretty Delhi girl Jessica who doesn’t take shit from men, Vidya Balan as her supposedly dowdy, stoic sister Sabrina, or Rani Mukherjee as hard-boiled star reporter Meera — look or sound like Delhi women. Balan puts in an admirable performance (largely wordless, thus easier in the context of this film) while Mukherjee struggles to give her shrieky, sloppily-written character something like a graph. The only thing Delhi about this film is Amit Trivedi’s zippy Dilli anthem.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 3, Dated Jan 22, 2011

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