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Review: No One Killed Jessica

Rajkumar’s Gupta’s last film, Aamir was deeply disturbing and politically problematic, but was crisply made and technically sound. In the world he created in that film and the characters he etched out, Gupta betrayed his inability to understand that the visuals of a film, its spaces, and its aesthetics are crucial to what the film says, often more so than even actual spoken words. In spite of all these problems, the film was well-shot and had a strong centre. With his latest film, No One Killed Jessica, Gupta has undone whatever little he achieved with Aamir.

The story (“part ‘fact’ part fiction” according to the opening disclaimer) is based on the infamous murder of the Delhi-based model, Jessica Lall. The trailers tell us that the film focuses on Sabrina, Jessica’s sister and her fight to put the accused Manu Sharma (Manish Bhardwaj in this film) behind bars. A parallel crucial character is Meera Gaitey a cussing, smoking, career-oriented reporter who suddenly remembers her duty as a journalist and decides to take up the coverage of the Jessica Lall murder case, starting the Justice  for Jessica campaign that went on to see a number of candlelight vigils.

There is chaos at the centre of No One Killed Jessica. Gupta it seems has not been able to make up his mind about what he wants to do with this film. While the ordeal of Sabrina (Vidya Balan) does seem to be an agenda of this film, the structure is clumsy enough for it to have no impact. Sabrina’s story is strangely episodic, and in ultimate analysis comes across as little more than bits of fiction added to her documented appearances and statements to the media. The second apparent agenda is to document the farce that was the trial, which is oddly placed in the narrative and is perhaps the worst shot bits of the film—full of awkward frames, unnecessary close-ups and terrible handheld camerawork. The first day of the trial seemed to have covered the entire list of people of interest in the case, so it becomes difficult to understand what exactly was happening for eight years that the trial in the lower court lasted. Clichéd images of a bored judge are all that is shown in the montage that covers the trial process. And to complete the mess that is this film, is the character of Meera Gaitey (Rani Mukherjee) who lurks in the first part of the film as a neglected (forgotten?) subplot, and then takes over the story in the second half in the most unconvincing way. Meera’s ponderings on power, on the duty of journalists and the impact of the media then become the also-rans of this film. The question remains, whose story is being told, and more importantly, why, or rather, why like this.

In other words, the naiveté that was visible in Aamir has taken over No One Killed Jessica, except that this time it is not just an inability to understand the complexity of an issue, but also of skill. No One Killed Jessica is among the most poorly written films that I have come across in the recent past. And most of the problems of this film stem from this massive error. The film’s lack of a centre and its confused pace and arbitrary emphases are all a fallout of an inability to put together a screenplay that is in sync even with itself. Gupta seems to be in a terrible hurry in this film, as he refuses to spend any time or thought on even one of his characters. All we get is incomplete, and unsatisfying glimpses of his major characters—be it Sabrina, her parents, Meera, Manav (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub). Instead some characters further the mess of the film because they are little more than caricatures that make tacky attempts at humour. The most embarrassing presence in a film like this is that of Manav Bhardwaj’s mother who appears at regular intervals, hidden behind doors, to repeat the line, “kuch bhi kariye, mere Monu ko kuch nahi hona chahiye” (do anything it takes, nothing should happen to my Monu). Hilarious, but embarrassing. Every actor, including the incredibly talented Vidya Balan, is badly affected by the strained, contrived and ultimately superficial writing of this film.

No One Killed Jessica is a sad testament to the growing numbers of directors who want to make films on topical, political issues, but are clearly unable to do justice to their ideas. From pious homilies that most directors dole out (Karan Johar with My Name is Khan), to offensive and dangerous portrayals (Rajkumar Gupta’s Aamir) to the irritating kitty of films about terrorism (Rensil D’Silva with Kurbaan), there seems to be a lot of bad cinema out there.


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