Not a Beautiful Headline

That justice would elude even 'beautiful people' like Jessica was the first time that many of us confronted the ugly face of political corruption, bribery, miscarriage of justice
Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata

The Jessica Lall murder case has been a part of the nation's social conscience and commentary, ever since the news of the model's murder hit the headlines in 1999. The seven long tortuous years that it took to reach its final verdict was a cautionary tale that evil was no longer an ephemeral shadow, confined to the badlands, but could come striding confidently into a weeknight party in a posh Delhi restaurant. It could happen to people like us - "decent, honest, law abiding, middle-class citizens". 

That's the real shocker that brought the citizens of a comatose capital on to its streets. That justice would not be served even for "beautiful people" like Jessica was the first time that many of us confronted the ugly face of political corruption, bribery and miscarriage of justice. The case took place not only in the courts but also in the upper/middle-class conscience as well.

It is this audience that Rajkumar Gupta comes back to retell the story of No One Killed Jessica. The film  follows the interesting experimentation seen last year in Dibakar Banerjee's LSD and Anusha Rizvi's Peepli Live - that of blending fact with fiction. 

To compress a case that took seven years to be resolved, into a three-hour cinema viewing experience, needs a powerful script and Gupta doesn't disappoint on that score. The film is seen through the eyes of his two protagonists, journalist Meera Gaiety (Rani Mukherjee) and Jessica Lall's sister, Sabrina (Vidya Balan). The script alternates between the personal eye - that of Sabrina's as she retraces the murder and the long judicial ordeal; and the detached eye - that of Meera, the brash, ambitious reporter (almost a character sketch of the post-liberalisation middle-class youth), from her initial apathy to the case, to her reluctant and then enthusiastic involvement in the case. 

The two main protagonists are doughty fighters but completely different in temperament. Sabrina is the quiet, mousy, reluctant fighter while Meera is her polar opposite: fiery, cuss-word spouting reporter who can handle firing canons in Kashmir and hostile witnesses with equal ease. It is a good character counterpoint on paper, but fails to translate successfully on the screen. 

Vidya Balan plays Sabrina one-note, making her so quietly monotonous that at times it's hard to empathise with her. And Rani looks uncomfortable in the skin of a character who's not your regular good gal. Having said that, it's not that the performances are bad, they are just not gut-wrenching enough to do justice to the story. 

It is the third protagonist that keeps you interested in the story, and that is the invisible yet powerful presence of the city of Delhi. Shot entirely on location, No One Killed Jessica pulsates with the power and menace of Delhi in vibrant montages and the thrilling soundtrack of Amit Trivedi.  

The supporting cast, aside from Myra (in a goosebump-inducing role of Jessica) and Rajesh Sharma (in a bad-cop-turned-good-cop role), do not impress. This is where the filmmaker should have taken more care as there are unintentional comic moments due to bad dialogue delivery or when a dramatic scene collapses because of the burden of bad acting. 

However, it is still a well-researched and scripted film, with its cinematic heart in the right place. It provokes, it questions, it (dare I say it) even entertains in equal measure. It is an intelligent narrative of the case, but what it lacks is the emotional connect, the grief, the rage, the shock that one felt for the young model whose life was snuffed out so brutally by a power- drunk politician's son. We remain curiously unmoved by courtroom scenes or candlelight vigils, because we do not feel the way we felt when we actually saw the headline that said 'No one killed Jessica'.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2011