When I first heard about No One Killed Jessica (NOKJ), I wondered if then one-film old director (Gupta) would be able to keep his trademark of being raw and gritty all through his second. Plus I had my own reservations, because if I’m not mistaken, this is the fourth film based on Jessica Lall’s murder case, though the only one that ended up making a larger than life impact (by being an important McGuffin to the plot) was Madhur Bhandarkar’s Satta, a raw and gritty film about women empowerment. Other films like Viruddh and Halla Bol did release, though the former showed a totally garbled version of events while the latter tended to be a bit over exaggerated.
Also, films adapted from real life situations haven’t impressed me of late. But once NOKJ’s trailers and promos were out, I had changed my mind plus Amit Trivedi’s riveting score with Amitabh Bhattacharya’s mind-blowing lyrics, and Rani Mukherji’s in-your-face performance made me decide I had to watch the movie at any cost. Cut to January the 6th. I was one of the only two people sitting in the multiplex hall for the earliest show I could get, wondering in the eerie silence of the hall if I had made a good decision to watch the movie or not. And the lights dimmed, stopping my rigmarole of thought-chains in my mind.
It was the year 1999. The incident that had kept the whole of India engaged was The Kargil War – which ended up being the most noticed. Unfortunately, the people wanted something bigger, and Jessica Lall’s case was relegated to barely a few small columns at the time. But the case was a spark. A spark to something that would shake the very foundations of the Indian government, raising many questions at its political system. And today, Lall’s case is still remembered as one of the more important and disturbing incidents of the history of India.
A movie about justice, NOKJ speaks about a normal woman (acted by Vidya Balan) whose life gets trapped for seven years trying to get justice for her sister Jessica Lall’s death – a justice that would later prove to be unrequited. In this time-frame, Meera Gaity (Rani Mukherjee), a bratty but righteous news reporter thinks the case doesn’t have any story, until one fine day she reads the newspaper, finding the guy who shot Jessica dead was free. She feels “cheated” (as her voice-over says in the film), and decides to get justice for Jessica in her own hatke way.
Real-life adaptations always face an important and formidable challenge – to give the film a wider range of audience while also being realistic and hard-hitting enough to be called hatke. Many films try to be realistic but then in the temptation for money and fame they make the realism a mere gimmick. But here, Raj Kumar Gupta not only mixes fact and fiction in a seamlessly beautiful blend; he also ensures grit and intensity in the realism of the matter. The screenplay is highly intelligent and the drama and pain do not come in overdoses – a relief from other movies that try blending fact and fiction and end up putting a whole lot of clichés in the narrative, hence undermining what could have been a better product.
Dialogues are mind blowing. They’re grounded, restrained and some of them even provide the hypothetical slap they need to. Where required, they also disgust, with the help of some of the excellent performances given by the cast of the film. Highly disturbing is one such scene where a lawyer was asking one of the witnesses if she was sure. “What were you wearing?” he gives her that look he’s not supposed to give any girl in public. The amount of incredulity with which she describes the dress and undergarments she wore; apparently a thing the character remembered “all too clearly to forget”; is stunningly portrayed. Bold and disgusting, but not the least vulgar for the screen, though it provides one of those slaps on your face. Equally important is a dialogue that Vidya Balan mouths and emotes with restrained panache, and I quote below:
This dialogue forms a basis for the viewer to think about life and politics in a completely different perspective for that time. What I loved about the screenplay is the strong subtext they’ve used. A particular scene in an example where prime witness Vikram Jai is made to sign the statement. In the scene, he is shown a photo of the culprit Manish Bhardwaj, in which he’s wearing a shirt on which is written on bold letters, “Banned Celebrity,” which made me chuckle, because such is the state of the character in the film as well.
Technically, the movie is impressive. I could see handheld camerawork and steadicam operation for more than seventy percent of the film. And despite such techniques, it wasn’t so shaky or irritating to the eyes. Lighting is another key aspect of the film – brilliant. Use of depth of field in camera accounted for a complete enhancement to intensity and the fervent pace in its storytelling. The use of voice-over narration is something I usually find annoying and to be an escape-route for filmmakers, but here, it’s used in the right does at the right time. Cinematography is also intelligent, contributing highly to the camerawork while also being pleasant to the eyes.
Amit Trivedi’s background score is eclectic and delicately handled – yes, he delivers yet again. Some of the more intense scenes in the court have an apt feel, which is handled well through the montage sequences, enhanced by the powerful “Aitbaar” rendered to perfection by the lead vocalist Vishal Dadlani. Other songs that caught my attention were “Yeh Pal” by Shilpa Rao, which blended well with Vidya Balan’s rage. “Dilli Dilli” ends up being one of the most attention grabbing songs for its snazzy opening title sequence. I was however disappointed in the way “Aali Re” was used, it should have been better exploited. I cannot describe the length to which Amitabh Bhattacharya’s contributed to the film. His lyrics, despite being situational, have given the desired effect. The style of his writing is grungy, today, raw and impactful. And lastly, let me state that the editing by Aarti Bajaj is amazing. Watch out for the snazzy cuts when it’s fervent and the montage cut in “Aitbaar” .
Performances-wise, Vidya Balan rules the first half and Rani the second, and both of them deliver power-packed performances. The nuances that Vidya shows in her restraint and normalcy and the pain that she experiences are well put by her on celluloid. Rani is another stunner, and I can easily call this one of her career-best performances. Her expressions, her use of abusive-lingo and her tongue-in-cheek statements – they all work, and how! I always wondered if they would overdo her characterization, but not only does she look real, she makes us feel that a character like her actually exists. She works – big-time! Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub as Manish Bhardwaj fits the part really well. The lady who plays Ayub’s mother cracked me up whenever she appeared. All the others are super-efficient.
Overall, this is one of those movies where the audience actually stood up to cheer by the end of the film. The last time I’ve seen a standing ovation post a movie was in A Wednesday, and before that Rang De Basanti – both produced by UTV. This is one film that every Indian and movie-lover should watch. It’s a film that deserves all the appreciations and plaudits coming its way. Go watch it and support it!