By Hindustan Times
No One Killed Jessica
Director: Rajkumar Gupta
Actors: Vidya Balan, Rani Mukherji
The lone investigating cop in this film could pass off for a deadly butcher himself. He certainly looks like one. He’s still the more honest of the lot of sharks around (mark the superlative, more).
The forensic lab’s mysteriously swapped the bullets fired from a “22 bore Italian Baretta” at the scene of crime. This tampering of evidence makes the cop’s case fairly weak. The policeman’s pissed, frustrated. But he was admittedly the same guy who took home a bribe of Rs 70 lakh, merely to not hurt the murder-accused at the time of interrogation.
“Sab koi khaata hai (Everybody eats),” the cop reasons, “Kisliye, mein fark hai (For what, is the point).” Those words, I suppose, define the traditional Indian tolerance toward corruption at large: its inescapability remains beyond challenge, only its extents can raise eyebrows anymore. This is trap enough. Once you’ve sweetly warmed up to the basic idea (of corruption or nepotism), you may as well deal with its inevitable heat boils everywhere. As a young girl (Vidya Balan, stunningly natural) does here -- almost all alone.
“Someone with a pistol in his hand, power in his head, decided that a life was cheaper than a glass of drink,” she says. That life was the her sister’s, a celeb barmaid for an evening at a club, who’d refused to serve drinks to a son of a gun already drunk on powers of all that money and influence can buy. The sister was shot at. She is no more. That man, a minister’s son, spot-on in the drunk assessment of his clout, could get away with murder. He walks around free. About 300 eyewitnesses pretty much saw this crime play out. No one noticed a thing. Law is in the eyes of its beholder. Conscience is saleable. The setting is New Delhi, political capital, neighbour to three provincial stretches, and a city that’s at once urban in its infrastructure and look, yet feudally rural in its aggressive, arrogant, influence peddling, name-dropping mindset: you-know-who, always takes precedence over who’s who here.
The film relates to the infamous Jessica Lal murder (1999). Facts on this rightly sensationalised case are already known. The supposed characters shown are still among us: Sabrina the sister; socialite ‘Beena Ramani’, the nightclub’s owner; her husband ‘George Mailhot’; her daughter ‘Malini’; model-actor ‘Shayan Munshi’ (key witness to the case, who turned hostile); ‘Ram Jethmalani’ (the defense lawyer)…. The recreation is pretty bold. The account yet remains somewhat sensitive and neutral to the dramatis personae: politicians, police, page 3, and the press. Or that’s my guess.
Can a feature film, in a couple of hours flat, ever detail an entire truth about anything? Possibly not. But it can entertainingly dramatise it. That’s what the fine director-writer and a consummate raconteur here (Rajkumar Gupta) manages to do. The narrative is gripping, the music score (Amit Trivedi) uplifting, the screenplay tight enough to allow for very few slippages (only towards the end).
If you scan carefully, the material isn't quite as strong on paper as it plays out on screen. The murder takes place in the first scene itself. The film follows Sabrina over about 7 years as she helplessly seeks justice in a system where judgments can be fudged. The once “open and shut” case is conveniently shut, and then reopened, only when the television media, or a celebrity reporter (Rani Mukherji, miscast for an Anglicised, suave role) picks it up, makes it her personal cause. The supportive public is out on the streets. SMS, for the first time, shows up as a strong political weapon.
Tabloid stories over individual killings of passion, honour or pure rage, suddenly assume national importance only when their subtexts reveal, at some level, a narrative of the times we live in. This has been true right since the first post-independent supermarket sensation of the late ‘50s, the Nanavati case (moral tale between a patriotic naval commander, the murderer; his victim, a rich South Bombay playboy; and a wife who strayed). The press, almost preachy and missionary like, usually plays the plot up to the core, editorialises its reportage, sensationalises the elements, serially sermonises its message….
As Russi Karanjia’s Blitz successfully did with Nanavati. Tehelka and others followed with Jessica. The effect is therapeutic. Opinions converge. Public is unusually charged. They wish more. Movies for memory would do. Two films were made on the Nanavati case alone (Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, Achanak).
This is the third film on Jessica. The other being Rajkumar Santoshi’s seriously bombastic recreation (Halla Bol). The first one, of course, played out live on national TV to a background score from Rang De Basanti, Aamir Khan’s hit picture of the time.
This one’s equally important. For the way it’s been made, it will be watched. It should be. Go for the kill!