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Kukunoor's tale has a twist

Nagesh Kukunoor's Teen Deewarein traces the last days of three men on death row, and a woman who knows their truth.
PTI | By Suman Tarafdar, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 24, 2003 01:56 PM IST

Director: Nagesh Kukunoor
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Juhi Chawla, Jackie Shroff, Nagesh Kukunoor
Length: 120'

How bad a day can you have? That seems to be question director Nagesh Kukunoor sets himself to answer in latest film, Teen Deewarein.

The social drama is ostensibly about three men on the death row and a woman who is researching on various aspects of such prisoners. That's before it turns into a whodunit with a twist at the end.

Chandrika, a suppressed housewife wants to return to filmmaking, which the narrative suggest might be cathartic to her. She finds her subjects, the three men - Jaggu (Shroff), Nagya (Kukunoor) and Ishaan (Shah) to be three entirely different personalities, each with an attraction of his own.

Jagdish Prasad aka Jaggu is a lawyer with the soul of poet who desperately loves his wife. Unfortunately, his wife loves someone else, and he prefers to kill her rather than see her go away with her lover, something he overhears her planning.

Nagya was a bumbling accountant, whose wife, he claims, came under a car. Not so, claims her father, who wants Nagya to hang for the 'crime', aware of their history of intense bickering.

Charmer Ishaan is the only one of the trio who is a seasoned criminal, albeit a petty thief more used to robbing that murdering. He murder he claims happened by accident.

As Chandrika interacts with them, she discovers facets that make her come closer to each of them - the trust Nagya has upon 'Satyameva jayate', the quietude with which Jaggu accepts his guilt and is waiting to embrace death. And of course the confidence the trickster Ishan has on his ability to escape the prison. But nothing is at it seems as she also discovers the strange truths behind their assertions.

Kukunoor's fourth feature film, made within the commercial parameters, has his typical touches - the quasi-realist mode of storytelling, rather pacy screenplay, elaborately etched characters, a surprise ending. He tries his hand at a genre he has never tried earlier, and comes through fairly credibly. For nitpickers, there are a quite a few loose ends, but they do not detract from the narration or the viewing.

Shah as the charmer Ishaan is outstanding as he continues his recent spree of trying roles unusual in the mainstream Bollywood set up. Jaggu is a subdued character and Shroff does not have any moment of his usual exuberance on display.

But the surprise of the film is perhaps Chawla, for whom it is a rare opportunity to play a role that did not require her to put her legendary 'cuteness' on show even once. Believable as a dominated housewife who is taking her life into her own hands at last, she plays her character without the characteristic 'joie de vivre' that has been her lot in Bollywood.

Shot largely on location in Hyderabad's Musheerabad Jail, torn down since then, the artwork, photography  (Ajayan Vincent) and background score of the film ably support the screenplay.

Coincidences? Many might say there are too many, but the director seems to have taken that artistic license to make an entertaining, engrossing film that will help you thanking your stars that your days are not quite as unlucky as the protagonist's. Who's that? See to find out the key Chandrika has over these three men's lives.

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