Bollywood seems so stuck with the idea of the heroism that even while creating a biopic, it is forced to add characters who show strength on screen through sheer machismo. And so, we have a journalist who is brash bordering on uncouth, mouths expletives, smokes cigarettes and calls herself a B.I.T.C.H. Being from a news background, one must say that such people only exist on the silver screen!
The movie, which recreates the highly publicized murder of a celeb bartender Jessica Lall during a New Year party in New Delhi, picks up the story after this incident and traces it across the entire trial period when witnesses are bought, evidence tampered with and justice denied. It goes on to capture the media’s role in reviving the case and the eventual closure of the case.
The movie sticks to a taut narrative and a reasonably tight script, though one really cannot understand the reason behind director Rajkumar Gupta’s belief that only fire-spewing television anchors can fight crime and injustice and that heroism equals machismo. One shudders to think what Gupta would have made of the Father of our Nation if he were ever asked to make a film on Mahatma Gandhi!
Five reasons to watch ‘NOKJ’
1. The one obvious reason to watch the movie is the crackling performances of its two lady actors, something that one does not often see in the male-dominated film industry. Of course, the way Vidya Balan (as Sabrina) and Rani (as journalist Meera) complement each other in terms of temperament can be called a bit contrived. However, it works well with the audience who love to see two actors with diametrically opposite traits strutting their stuff on screen.
2. Among the two leading ladies, one must give credit to the intense performance by Vidya, who plays a character completely opposite to her femme fatale role in last year’s hit ‘Ishqiya’. Vidya has taken pains to underplay the role as the situation required and brings across a whole gamut of emotions, from anguish to helplessness to utter hopelessness and an eventual sense of gratitude. We believe, this movie, coming on top of her powerhouse performances in ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘Paa’ should ensconce Vidya as a performer in the world of divas.
3. Coming to the much-touted comeback performance of Rani Mukherjee, the Bengali beauty reverts to her “Bichoo” look after playing several Ms. Goody-two-shoes roles in mindless movies. Her firebrand TV news reporter role is what heroic stuff is made off though one finds hard to believe all that she does on screen for a few ‘whistles’. Of course, somewhere Rani could have piped down a bit as she does overplay the angry scribe once too often with the director doing his bit with some jingoistic slo-mo shots that would do a Rajnikanth proud.
4. The best part of the movie is the attention for detail that director Rajkumar Gupta has displayed to keep up the authenticity. So, you have Delhi roads littered with Toyota Qualis of the 1999-2007 period, the PC runs on Windows 95 and the cell phones are bulky and ugly. Gupta, whose first film ‘Aamir’ attracted critical acclaim, tries to do an encore with some stylized shots like the opening credits and the authentic court room scenes.
5. The surprise package of the movie is Rajesh Sharma who plays the corrupt cop who takes a huge bribe in return for promising not to use the third-degree on the accused and eventually comes across as the one honest link in an entire corrupt system. Sharma was seen as Khurana’s lawyer in ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’.
Five reasons to miss ‘NOKJ’
1. Given that this is the second attempt to revive the gruesome real-life tale of upcoming model Jessica Lall, one went into the cinemas believing that director Rajkumar would refrain from dramatizing what must have been a sordid saga for those involved. It was a sort of ‘JFK’ that one expected, but came out feeling that Gupta wanted to make something of a ‘Chak de’ that feeds on the audiences’ feeling of moral righteousness where one sub-consciously wants to “right the wrong”.
2. While the director has tried to keep the narrative as close to the truth as possible, he once again tries to use cinematic license to tug at our hearts using interludes that take away from the seriousness of it all. A tense courtroom scene where Sabrina smirks is one such scene that was probably scripted in at a later stage. Though enacted well, the scene takes away from the intensity and seems a tad artificial that is aimed only at involving the audience.
3. Somewhere along the line, the script plays second fiddle to the characterization. This despite the fact that one of the two protagonists is inspired from a real life person. The fact that Rani and Vidya hardly have scenes together in the movie and probably spent more time promoting it than acting is inexplicable. While Vidya gets to display her wares in the first half, Rani simply lords over the second and is often irksome because of a uni-dimensional approach.
4. Gupta tries very hard to keep the narrative taut as he needs to cover a seven-year span from the time the celebrity barmaid was shot dead to the point where justice is meted out. This is probably where he would have done well to focus on the latter part of the drama than spending close to half the movie on evoking pathos for the family that were done in by the corrupt system. It is almost as if this cook believes in creating hunger and serving up a dish!
5. These days, it has become a fad to mouth expletives in movies whether the situation demands it or not. So, we have Rani Mukherjee using the “G” word during a chat with a co-passenger, leaving the latter shocked. The fact the sequence seems contrived to raise “shock and awe” whereas the same word mouthed by Raghubir Yadav in the opening scenes of ‘Peepli Live’ evoked mirth and surprise.
Verdict: Despite some scripting flaws and over-the-top performances, the movie is watchable, if for nothing, the therapeutic effect that it provides to us. However, just like its weird title, one feels that the movie belongs to no one in particular, though it was probably made with the middle-class multiplex audience in mind.