Rajeev Masand

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Reality bites


No One Killed Jessica

Rating: 2.5

January 07, 2011

Cast: Rani Mukherjee, Vidya Balan, Myra Karn, Rajesh Sharma, Neil Bhoopalam

Director: Rajkumar Gupta

No One Killed Jessica, directed by Rajkumar Gupta, is a loud, overdramatized account of the Jessica Lall murder in 1999 and the events that followed. Drama is inherent to this story, in which the prime accused was acquitted by the court for lack of evidence, then sentenced to life imprisonment when the case was reopened seven years later following a collective public outcry. Yet Gupta paints in broad strokes, delivering a simplistic, Bollywood-ised version of real events.

So Vidya Balan plays Sabrina, Jessica’s elder sister, as a dowdy figure, robbed of any personality, focused on seeking justice for the death of her sibling. And Rani Mukherjee is the smoking, swearing TV reporter Meera Geti, who leaves a man halfway through an amorous encounter when she receives a call about a big breaking news story. Both are what you’d describe as ‘signpost’ characters; they might as well be wearing their character sketch around their neck.

With the exception of a few powerful scenes that leave you with a genuine lump in your throat, Gupta goes for full-on melodrama that doesn’t always ring true. Courtroom scenes in which lawyers bellow at witnesses, or newsroom scenes in which Meera railroads her boss and barks at junior reporters, are written with the sole purpose of eliciting an applause.

The film opens with the news of Jessica’s death reaching her sister, and quickly flashbacks to the incident where the model bartender was shot at point blank range for refusing a drink to a politician’s son after the bar had been closed. The court case follows, where the accused is allowed to walk free, because witnesses have been intimidated or paid off. The only compelling character in this track is a cop (played by Rajesh Sharma), who in one of the film’s best-directed scenes tells Sabrina he accepted a bribe to not hurt the accused while recording his statement.

The film’s parallel track involves Rani’s character Meera, a star reporter who initially has no interest in the Jessica story, then goes after it when she’s convinced justice has been denied, and spearheads a campaign to undo the damage.

No One Killed Jessica has a disclaimer that describes the film as “a hybrid of fact and fiction”. Indeed, the film may work as a masala entertainer, but for the most part, the director’s treatment is too exaggerated and bombastic for a ‘true story’. Virtually every single supporting character is a cardboard caricature, and watching those courtroom scenes in which witnesses are called to testify, is nothing short of sheer torture because of the amateurish acting that’s up on display.

One character whose representation in the film I found particularly offensive was the mother of the accused, who shows up on three separate occasions and almost in a cutesy sing-song voice tells her husband that no matter what, he must protect their son. It’s almost unbelievable that the director goes for such insensitive humor in a film of this nature.

As far as the central performances go, Vidya Balan plays her character one-note, and seems to forget to invest any personality into Sabrina. Sure one doesn’t expect to see her play Sabrina as a bubbly, lively woman, but she needn’t have been so dull either. Vidya shines in the one unpredictable scene she’s allowed, in which her character breaks into a giggle during a tense moment in court. Rani Mukherjee, despite being saddled with a cliché of a character, is more cinematically engaging, and knows exactly how to command the screen with her presence.

But the star of No One Killed Jessica is Amit Trivedi, the film’s music and background score composer, who gives the film its soul. His pulsating track Dilli is possibly the best opening-titles number in recent memory, and he infuses life and pace into even somber scenes with his rich background compositions.

No One Killed Jessica isn’t a bad film; it’s just a disappointing one from a filmmaker who showed such promise with his debut film Aamir. This one falls short.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Rajkumar Gupta’s No One Killed Jessica. It reminded me of a Madhur Bhandarkar film. If you’re a fan of simplistic storytelling, you won’t complain.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

23 Responses to “Reality bites”

  1. Just back from the film and I agree to most of your point except on Rani’s character. Reminds me of Dustin Hoffman’s character in the All the President’s men where he is ignorant of his surroundings inside the office but is very authentic. Rani isn’t. Vidya is a better actor and Gupta fails to make full use of her talent. It is all in the writing and I think the writing wasn’t up to the mark and falls short of good storytelling. Lot of unwanted scenes and leaving those could have brought down the production cost. Some powerful scenes of Vidya and her dad. Overall a movie to watch and forget.

  2. szm says:

    Fantastic movie!!!! Definite shift from the TMK and Dabang rubbish we had been saddled with in 2010. However do not agree entirely with Masand review. Brave attempt by director to relay a story widely publicised but never realy portrayed aptly to give public a behind-the-scenes look at what really transpired. In a time when India is saddled by corruption at very high levels (2G scam; Radia tapes) NOKJ gives hope to those who may have fallen victim to such corruption, but realise that someday, unexpectedly justice will prevail. While the fictious part of movie may lend the “masala” dose to the movie, it provides the much needed zest and fuel to drive the story home. Hats off to Rani Mukerjee for truly portraying a part that no other bollywood actor or actress would portray, that of a fearless and fearsome reporter, cussing and cursing her way to the truth. While many actors and actresses hide behind their six-pack, chocolate boy, glamourous beauty queen image Rani stepped out of her comfort zone to deliver a mindblowing performance that makes her by far the most talented actor/actress to date…cannot imagine srk, hritik or even amir attempting such a role, let alone Kareene, Katrina, Ash or Priyanka. Sadly for Vidya her one-dimensional portrayel of sabrina hardly gives us any real insight into her true thoughts anf feeilengs…i hardly imagine the real sabrina lal was as stoic and completely shelled in her emotions as vidya. Overall myself, and the many others tin the theatre horoughly enjoyed this movie as it once again proves that david can conquer goliath, even in this day and age.

  3. Lee says:

    Your reviews are always biased and you give less rating for hindi movies. No one killed Jessica got rave reviews from all websites except you. Because of you few films are not able to do big.

  4. Sourav says:

    With a brilliant storyline already provided, I thought the subject could have been handled much better. The background score is great, and I agree that “Mujhe mera Monu chahiye” is, simply put,………stupid. When you have such a serious subject you don’t put such “Housefull” type cheeky comedy.
    Rani Mukerji did her part well, but was it necessary to swear at every sentence she managed to put together. The politician’s son puts up a good show too.
    The court cases were kind of stupid too………the only question that the lawyer could ask was “are you sure” and that too a million times for each witness…….seemed boring after a short while.
    The story was too intense in the first half, building the plot, and seems to loose steam in the second half with the director trying to finish it off quick.
    Rani Mukerji’s narration didn’t sound great either. Siddharth did it better in Stiker!
    All in one, a could have been better movie. You can watch it if you did not follow the real case already.

  5. MANISH says:

    What an honest review , Sir take a bow NOKJ is literally Halla Bol loud take on Jessica Lall case earlier it was Rajkumar Santoshi and now it is Raj KumarGupta exactly after three years. Trailer of this film was so good that you wanted to see the movie first day but Rani Mukherjee was all what we saw in trailers and nothing more or new. Film seems to be inspired by Rang De Basanti but fails to connect with the pain of protagonist or fear of politician. Film is targeted to masses by making use of abusive language which looked forced. Expectations were very high from the maker of Aamir who had talent of Rani, Vidya & UTV banner, but Aamir was far superior with debutant Rajiv Khandelwal. Band Baaja Baaraat Delhi is far superior than – Mera Kat kaleja Dilli.

  6. Param says:

    Awww! I really wanted to like this movie. 🙁 I guess I’ll just wait for the DVD.

  7. AMBRISH says:

    i appreciate the work of raj kumar gupta.story was so simple but characterization was strong enough to justify jessica murder.but the major fault which i found is we couldn’t connect with the story like damini.shoot of jessica in the movie that shot is not up to the mark which originally need more dramatic.even when we come out of the theater its not paisa wasool but thumbs up for this.

    i m going with 3out of 5(direction+ music which is perfact match of delhi)

  8. kashish dadwal says:

    Well according to me, the movie is brilliant. I just saw the movie and i strongly recommend it to every one, to those who are familiar with the Jessica Lall case and for those who are not too. Vidya Balan has done a terrific job, and so has Rani Mukherjee, and a special mention to Rajesh Sharma (cop). The music is terrific with a powerful background score. Overall i give the movie 4 stars out of five and a two big thumbs up !!!!

  9. Anupama bharti says:

    This is a nice attempt to tell the real life story…you might increase one more star for that…

  10. Sourobh Das says:

    I completely disagree with you on this, rajeev. I loved the film and would go with four out of five stars. The dramatisation that you talk about was necessary to prevent it from becoming a docu-drama. How else do you think audiences were supposed to enjoy a film of this genre. I believe you would agree with me when i say that snoozefests don’t interest us. And come on, vidya balan was amazing. Award winning performance!

  11. Aky says:

    Saw it tonight and completely agree on almost everything–the amateur acting, overdramatic nature, etc. However, I found Vidya’s performance to be spot-on, while I think Rani was the wrong choice for her role. She just wasn’t quite as natural as I hoped she would be. Having said that, the worst part of the film is the supporting actors (barring a few) who are completely jarring and irritating. I’d take an AAMIR over this any day!

  12. Satish says:

    What is so insensitive about the portrayal of the mother of the accused’s constant reminder that no matter what, her son should be brought back to her ? I understand what Gupta is trying to convey – which is that these Delhi politico honchos are so drunk with the possibilities of their powers that a family member getting of with plain sight murder is so matter of fact, almost like reminders to take out the garbage. I just saw the movie, and that scene – in particular – elicited maximum chuckles. I guess I don’t understand to who you’re saying this scene is being insensitive to. Is it the Sharmas (really?!!), or the Lals? Please elaborate.

  13. shreya says:

    i think..its very well put. n
    vidya balan was fabulous. rani was i agree reasonable but a little over done.
    but well..real life cud be this dramatic, sumone got shot for refusing a drink…so don blame him for the drama!

  14. being a student,i have my limitations..but still i managed to purchase an original DVD of AAMIR, film by the same director…by those standards, jessica was a dissapointment but i bet it would be far better than many of upcmg films this year..:-)

  15. Ullas says:

    Come on… two and a half stars for this movie is too harsh.
    It deserves more for an honest attempt.
    Probably if the same movie had come in English it would have got, TWO THUMBS UP FOR THE MOVIE. AND ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR.!!!
    But one thing is for sure this movie is way better than KANK which got 4.

  16. dipu says:

    rajeev sir ur bang on .i am from kerala i saw the movie and i got shocked because every other reviewers wrote this is engaging and classy but i coulndnt get the point engaging and classy in this movie.and vidhyas acting terrible as if she is by hearted the dailogues and said it.the lawyer from the accused side o oh my god clear caricature.now i know when mr rajkumar gupta got a CAVITE the film from which he copied his aamir he was bang on.but here he didnt had anything to copy so he went hay wire and as u said sir only saving grace is amit trivedi. i dont know how can people applaud this flick.horrible and terrible.

  17. janani says:

    I do agree with others on your harsh reviews of such a good movie. If you could give 4 stars for a dumb movie like endhiran, i think you have no taste on reality movies. vidya was definitely sober in the movie but her expressionless face expressed everything, and i could clearly see the original sabrina lal in her. Good movies need to be given their due credits and applause, and this movie does deserve one.

  18. Swaroop Kodur says:

    Certainly agree with you Rajeev!!One might disagree here because they must have got carried away with the boldness in the movie.Probably the first time that the ‘F’ word has been used more than once.Rani’s character is quite the cliche one to be frank and that doesn’t vidya’s character either. One might tend to compare this movie with Rang de Basanti for its locations and the language but the fact being that NOKJ is not even close to being as compelling as RDB is. But the fact that we are making movies which have brains put behind them is certainly a positive thing.

    after all what we need is honesty.Let it be honest movies or honest mistakes in them!!

  19. One thing you have missed Rajeev is how the beginning of the movie takes you to the time period of 1999. Glimpses of news stories like Kargil War and Kthmandu Highjack took me to that period of my life 🙂

    This is something which I observed for the first time in a Bollywood film.

  20. Amirali Mithani says:

    Rajeev.. I always wait to read your reviews.. sometimes I find them honest sometimes not… and this is a fact.. you give less ratings for Hindi Movies and higher to english.. I believe movie review is about reviewing a film on its own merit and not bring personal preference at play… All the film critics have written rave reviews about NOKJ.. even the harsh ones like Khalid Mohammed and Nikhat Kazmi have written good about it. I personally saw the movie this week.. and I felt that you rating is not fair. It certainlt deserves a higher rating than 2.5.

    What i see is.. that you were the last one to review this film.. and after all the higher ratings by other critics.. if you would have given a similar rating.. you would be different from the crowd.. so just to stand out from them and grab attention you have given a lower rating.. It is definetly a better movie..

  21. arjun bachani says:

    the film was definately paisa vasool rani has comeback for sure………….vidya and jessica and the police guy…..and ram jethmalani……and ramani and……………were all worth watching….the music was overall ok…..but some background musical pieces were just too good……….

  22. Param says:

    Rajeev – Watched the movie today and I thought you ruled on this from your head, not your heart. You are right that the move has many tacky and over-the-top parts. Still, I thought the movie was greater than the sum of its rather weak parts. What worked for me – a) a great story – a story that needed to be told, b) a few moving scenes, and c) the mind-blowing soundtrack.

  23. Oliver Louis says:

    Clearly. A critic is a frustrated artiste. Thanks for proving it right again and again.
    The story could not have been a bollywood hit without its share of masala.

    This is poor reviewing.

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