Bollywood Review: No One Killed Jessica

In the intermission of No One Killed Jessica, I read on my phone that Rani Mukherji’s character, Meera Gaity, didn’t actually exist. Having watched the first half of the film, I thought surely this wasn’t right, and so afterwards, I Google-d furiously to find out that it was indeed true. Raj Kumar Gupta has written and directed a whole film, based on true events but told through a fictional character, a character that plays a big part in the film. Is that not a bit odd?

I’m a little glad I found out that afterwards, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it wondering what else was made up. I didn’t go in expecting a documentary on the case, but I would have thought they would try to stay as true to the facts as cinematically possible, given how high profile the case was.

The film floats between being good and being Bollywood-good. In its best moments (rare as they are) it’s hard-hitting realistic drama, in an almost foreign art house way (okay, not quite). Occasionally it drops into being good, but in a Bollywood way, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what they were going for here. There are movies, lots of them, many of which I love, that are full-on Bollywood melodramas, and it works brilliantly with the right subject. What this film really needed was the lack of that, and more like something a Vishal Bhardwaj protégé would do, or as Kiran Rao has done in Dhobi Ghat (which comes out in two weeks).

Vidya Balan is excellent, which everyone already knew. I do wonder what the actual Sabrina Lall will think, given that she’s portrayed as terribly dull and nerdy, and walks into five star hotels in a baggy striped t-shirt. One of my favorite moments of her, and the film, which I hope actually happened, was a little outburst of laughter in the courtroom. A little moment of perfection. 

Rani Mukherji was also good, and its great to see her on the big screen again, and especially not in a Yash Raj Film, and something that is different. But after a year and a half, I expected a little more. The role was kind of like Madhuri Dixit in Aaja Nachle, in that she was good, and everyone will love her, but she’s not exactly crucial to the story, her character just floats around what’s going on. That might be the me-knowing-her-character-is-fiction talking. I also felt that the role was too clichéd. If they were going to create a role for her in the movie, why go for a loud mouthed, swearing, smoking journalist? Why not something that might seem a little less like a stereotype?

Amit Trivedi’s music is awesome, and truly makes some scenes in the movie. ‘Yeh Pal’ over the candle was rather touching. I didn’t think the background score was always appropriate to the mood of the scene, but it was good nonetheless. I’d also like to mention that it’s great to see Indian movies trying something different with title credits. I quite liked the whole newspaper thing they had here, even though it didn’t look like it was too hard.

Despite my reservations over Gupta’s story-telling methods, No One Killed Jessica is a very good and brave effort in terms for an Indian film, but it also shows that Bollywood still has a way to go in certain genres. Hopefully whatever Gupta makes next he will learn from his mistakes.