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Jail

Rating: 2.5

November 06, 2009

Cast: Neil Nitin Mukesh, Mughda Godse, Manoj Bajpai

Director: Madhur Bhandarkar

Despite its grim setting, director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Jail is his least cynical film in years.

Neil Nitin Mukesh stars as Parag Dixit, an innocent man implicated for a crime he didn’t commit. Much of the film is centered around Parag’s frustration and helplessness as he struggles to stay sane and alive amidst hardened criminals.

Like the director’s earlier films, CorporateTraffic Signal and Fashion, his latest too is a slice-of-life drama about the characters and the way of life within the world he’s chosen to set the film in. This time though, Bhandarkar ditches his trademark exposé approach and settles for an emotionally-manipulative tone instead.

The script of Jail packs in every cliché you expect to see – distraught family struggling to raise money to pay lawyer’s fees, jailor venting about his thankless job and meager salary, even a hit-and-run accused who gets off easily because of his influential connections.

But despite the clunky writing, it’s a relief to see Bhandarkar empathasise with his characters rather than exploit them for cheap titillation like he’s done in earlier films. In a very simplistic and roundabout fashion, Jail is about hope and making the right choice, but the film is too formulaic to make a hard-hitting statement.

Of the cast, Neil Nitin Mukesh plunges sincerely into the central role, but is at best adequate as the anguished victim. Mughda Godse is unselfconscious as Parag’s distressed girlfriend, but has very little to do in a stereotypical part. Arya Babbar plays it broad and is convincing as the top aide of an underworld fixer, but the same sadly can’t be said for poor Manoj Bajpai who glowers and glares as Nawab, Parag’s only ally in prison. Bajpai’s solemn turn adds to the dreariness, making Jail too long and too slow in the end.

Because it’s well-intentioned and settles for a hopeful message, you stay with the film despite the fact that it’s never quite compelling. I’m going with a generous two-and-a-half out of five for director Madhur Bhandarkar’s Jail. It’s got its heart in the right place, but sometimes that’s not enough.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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