Cast: Neil Nitin Mukesh, Mugdha Godse
Direction: Madhur Bhandarkar
Let alone the characters in his movies, it may be safe to suggest that the director of this film is a bit of a character himself. His filmography reads self-explanatory, terse titles like Corporate, Fashion, Traffic Signal etc. Every few weeks in the press, he threatens to expose some industry or the other: Hospital, Award, Courtroom, Cricket, some such.
There is general unease around depiction of urban life in the films. Either the filmmaker doesn’t get it at all, or thinks this is what the masses suppose it to be from afar anyway. CEO’s sound like impish illiterates; their parties resemble former dance bars of Mumbai.
The formula is quite simple. You take the protagonist through hell in a murky setting that is the film itself. Eventually the lead character passes a trial by fire. The wide-eyed, credulous audience sympathises, and believes they’ve learnt something about a world they knew nothing about before. The director moves on to the next subject. The story’s pattern remains the same.
This one, much better than Bhandarkar’s recent few films, is called Jail. It is about, well, a jail. The key difference is that there’s a man getting battered in here, as against a woman (all of the director’s works since Chandni Bar).
This stone-faced gentleman (Neil Nitin Mukesh), a regional manager at a company, gets unfairly embroiled in a drugs and shoot-out case. His flat-mate, with a double-life, was the culprit. The hero, with squeaky clean record, has nothing to do with the case. Most lawyers should be able to get him out of this mess. The only plea the lawyer here makes for the defendant is that he is innocent: a fairly circular argument, you’d think. Bail repeatedly denied — the hero spends over two years in jail.
What we witness through the film then is a suspected Naxal ‘Binayak Sen’ in one corner; a ‘Telgi’ at the other: all hovering around, making merry, among bookies, dons and currency counterfeiters.
Here’s what I’ve learnt from the film: To begin with, certain sections of the Indian Penal Code, 302 (murder), 498 (dowry), 307 (firing at a policeman), 21 of NDPS Act (possession of drugs)… That inmates don’t wear white-striped uniforms and skull caps in prison. That jails are recruitment grounds for the underworld. A bunch of yellow and pink coupons is the currency of bribes for guards on duty. And that an ‘anda cell’ (pitch-dark room) is the worst place to be.
What we may have liked to know, like with any story, is something more about the hero himself — his past, his conflicts, his shattered dreams. It could’ve greatly helped with the sorely missed empathy. But that’s not to be. I guess, only in a film-culture as less evolved as ours, would a movie with merely a setting, pride itself so much on realism alone.