Most storytellers entertain, a few enlighten. A scattering number of celluloid visionaries entertain as well as enlighten. Rajkumar Gupta fits into that exceptional variety of film-makers that opens up thought-processes about the condition of the homeland without losing the cinematic elements that constitute a film.
To reconstruct on celluloid a true occurrence that is oven fresh in public reminiscence is not a trouble-free mission, but Gupta takes up this colossal challenge of placing together the controversial and litigious story of Jessica Lal's murder case on celluloid. However, having sensitive and explosive material on hand is not enough. The execution of the subject is of paramount importance. Fortunately, the one-film-old director interprets the events of the murder case in remarkable style and form and makes it a cinematic experience that haunts you even after the film has concluded. Gupta does complete justice to the spirit of the story, which had created headlines and still remains well etched in our memory to this day.
A few monsoons ago, Rajkumar Santoshi's Halla Bol commenced with a shootout sequence at a party. Of course, Halla Bol wasn't about this incident alone, it was just a tiny segment in the narrative. No One Killed Jessica focuses on this true-life incident [with no deviations] and its strength lies in the fact that it sucks you into the world of dirty politics and power games as soon as it unfolds.
No One Killed Jessica is not Gupta's first and foremost endeavor at illustrating a real incident that shook the nation. Even in his directorial debut Aamir, Gupta depicted a common man's [Rajeev Khandelwal] hard try at combating terrorism and violence. However, that was a work of fiction. But No One Killed Jessica is a different ballgame altogether because reams of paper and hours of television footage have been devoted to this case. Thankfully, Gupta makes it an engaging thriller rather than relying on the docu-drama format.
No One Killed Jessica belongs to the unique hard-hitting, gut-wrenching genre of cinema. Script-wise, the director has tried to remain faithful to the episode that occurred during that fateful night and also what transpired subsequently, but besides depicting reality on celluloid, he adds the thrill element to the plotline, which makes it very viewer-friendly. The events have been chronologically put forth and the daring story of two women who challenged the system hits you like a ton of bricks. The film truly celebrates the human spirit and also reflects a vital change in the society and in the attitudes of people.
Final word? This gutsy film deserves a standing ovation!
New Delhi, 1999. The guns at Kargil are still blazing when another one goes off, this time in the nation's capital. Jessica [Myra], a young attractive model, trying her hand at bartending, is shot dead at a celebrity party. Her crime - refusing to serve a drink after closing hours. The culprit Manish [Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub], son of a prominent politician, inebriated by a deadly cocktail of alcohol and a sense of entitlement, pulls the trigger in a fit of rage.
With 300 of Delhi's swish set present at the party, many of whom are witnesses to the murder, Manish looks all set to go to the gallows. Except that it doesn't quite turn out that way. But two women, Jessica's sister Sabrina [Vidya Balan] and the feisty TV reporter Meera [Rani Mukherjee], decide to outwit Manish and his politician-father [Shireesh Sharma] at their game. Over the course of seven years, the case goes through several stages of legal complications. Witnesses turn hostile one after another and the few who don't, became inconsistent with their versions.
Manish is acquitted, leading to a fierce public uproar and a relentless campaign by the media, which eventually leads to a life sentence for Manish.
A film like No One Killed Jessica pricks your conscience and makes you think. In fact, it's the kind of film that will lead to debates and discussions. What was more appalling - the model's slaying or the slapdash method in which the suspected assassins were brought to justice? What's even more scandalous is that almost immediately after the killing, the police identified the slaughterer and it seemed like an open-and-shut case. But it wasn't.
Gupta deserves kudos for choosing a thorny and contentious story to interpret on celluloid, but he deserves a few extra brownie points for handling the material with aplomb. His prowess and competence is visible all through the film, but more specifically in the electrifying courtroom sequences and also when Rani decides to take up this issue. The candle light protest at India Gate in particular is simply overwhelming.
Since it is based on a real story that occurred in Delhi, Gupta has shot the entire film in the city. The characters are real and so are the locations and that's what makes the goings-on very identifiable, besides bestowing an authentic feel to the film. Like his earlier film AAMIR, No One Killed Jessica has been shot in guerrilla style and that makes the viewer feel that he's actually watching the drama unfold in front of his eyes, that he's a spectator in the proceedings. Gupta also ensures that the two pivotal parts remain true to their respective characters.
Any shortcoming? Yes, if Gupta would've trimmed the film by at least 10 minutes, the impact would've been much stronger.
A hard-hitting drama, generally, doesn't have scope for music. But Amit Trivedi joins hands with Amitabh Bhattacharya, the wordsmith with whom he delivered the fabulous soundtrack of Dev D, and together they deliver a solid soundtrack. 'Dilli Dilli' has already won hearts of audiences and the remaining songs too leave an impact. Anay Goswami's cinematography is first-rate. Dialogue, also penned by Gupta, are realistic to the core.
Gupta may be young and relatively new to the fray, but that does not deter him from getting the best and most appropriate cast for his second outing and I am sure, it's only thanks to a potent and persuasive script. Vidya has been basking in the glory of films like Paa and Ishqiya lately, which gave her ample opportunity to prove her dexterity. She gets a wonderful opportunity to prove her prowess yet again. Vidya plays the iconic Sabrina Lall brilliantly, reliving some very stressful and arduous chapters of Sabrina's life. Balan is poignant yet controlled and projects an imposing figure of maturity, refinement and veracity. This film completes a hat-trick of her commendable performances.
In the role of a spirited and audacious journo, Rani, who smokes non-stop, flings swear words every now and then and who rebuffs being a voiceless spectator when the culprits go scot-free, is simply exceptional. She sinks her teeth into the character, giving it the much required pragmatism that it necessitates. Her performance is bound to be talked-about in days to come. In fact, it would be unfair if I do not acknowledge the fact that she appears very much at ease mouthing abusive words and lurid language.
Neil Bhoopalam, the key witness, is fantastic. Especially in the sequence when he comes for an audition of a film role and blurts out the truth unsuspectingly. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, the main accused, is very good. Myra, as Jessica, is natural. Rajesh Sharma, the investigating police officer, is excellent. Satyadeep Misra, as Rani's boss, gives a fine account of himself. Shireesh Sharma, the politician-father, is perfect.
On the whole, No One Killed Jessica is a poignant story of two women's resolve for justice. It's a remarkable blend of facts and fiction inspired by a series of real-life episodes, which has thankfully not been presented as a tedious biography or in a mind-numbing docu-drama format. It's more of an engaging thriller which has the right doses of histrionics, tautness, anguish and thrills. The emotional and disturbing journey, the strength of the common man and the relentless endeavor of the media have all been most compellingly put together on moving picture. In times of yore, a lot of films have been attempted on real-life incidents, but haven't struck a chord so effectively. No One Killed Jessica should shatter this jinx. This heroic and daring film truly deserves a prolonged applause.
Director: Rajkumar Gupta
Cast: Rani Mukherjee, Vidya Balan