Movie-Making & Story-Telling: Jail – Epic Fail!


I saw Jail last night. This is the latest offering from the Madhur Bhandarkar stable and is about (yes of course) life within the confines of prison. One thing to say about Bhandarkar is that he definitely picks his topics well. From the plight of bar dancers to the socialite circles, the corporate battlefield and the glamour industry, each of his ideas are rich for development. My problem is that he stops right there. I’ve seen all the above movies and almost all of them left me wincing.

Chandni Bar had an overdose of pathos and greyness. I wasn’t asking for Karan Johar’s brand of fluff but I at least expect a story, not a list of all the possible evils that could befall a woman.

Page 3 received a lot of critical acclaim and perhaps it was a bold depiction of the filth behind the finery. But as a story, the plots were poorly depicted and the whole film came through as a collage of images badly pasted together by a young child.

Corporate was perhaps a little better in terms of story value and depiction. I believe the characters could have been etched a little better and the plot explained clearer too. For example, it is never quite clear just why KK Menon’s character has gone away (been expelled?) and then come back. Bipasha’s relationship with him is too stark, too simplistic and goes counter to the otherwise strong, rational character that she portrays. Still I guess it was a better effort than the earlier movies.

Fashion was probably the only one of his offerings that I really liked. The three protagonists were very well characterised, the plot was believable (within reason, it is a Bollywood film after all) and the story carried through well.

And finally we come to Jail. Going by the  progression of his earlier movies, I was expecting him to be learning and growing as a film-maker and serving up an ever better film. Sadly enough, Jail falls in the same pit that swallowed up Chandni Bar. Pathos and gloom sit heavy on your shoulders all through the movie. The main character depicted by Neil Nitin Mukesh doesn’t come through convincingly. At the end of three hours I’m still left wondering about what kind of a person he is, despite the camera riding on his shoulders all along. The conflicts, the confusion, the utter bewilderment of a man thrown into a harsh worldwere situations ripe for portrayal but I’m afraid neither the script, nor the dialogues nor Neil Nitin Mukesh’s emoting do any of them any justice. Manoj Bajpai shines in his portrayal of a convict/prisoner-on-duty but the role is too small to push the movie into the realm of palatable. Mugda Godse has very little to do other than look wide-eyed and say, “It’s okay.”

As a viewer I was left fidgeting and annoyed with the way the story dragged on. More than once I found myself asking “Why isn’t anyone pointing out that he didn’t fire the gun?”. Each courtroom scene looked exactly like the previous one with the lawyer reciting the same indifferent speech and Neil Nitin Mukesh’s stammering, “No, please..!”.

I found myself comparing Jail to another movie about prison life – Nagesh Kukunoor’s Teen Deewarein. Certainly the backdrop of Kukunoor’s movie may have been a bit of a rosy picture but as a story it brought out the agony and frustration of the daily bonded life superbly. Bhandarker in contrast dumps a series of gory situations to make up for lack of a storyline.

If this had been Bhandarkar’s first movie, I’d have given Jail full points for the authenticity of the background. But after all these experiences with ‘real cinema’, I really think a lesson should have been learnt on how to tell a story. At the end of it, I’m not willing to like a movie simply because it has a great concept. The concept is only the starting point and the movie is its complete expression. When the last falls flat, I think the director has failed as a story-teller.

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4 thoughts on “Movie-Making & Story-Telling: Jail – Epic Fail!

  1. rambler November 12, 2009 at 22:00 Reply

    i think teen deewarein was one of the better movies made by Nagesh Kukunoor, I actually liked the story in that one.
    I havent watched all of Madhur’s movies, I did agree with you on Page 3, it didnt really do justice to the story and talent.
    I have this about so many things, where you have a good subject and end up making a bad/half cooked movie out of it, for that matter i thought DevD was an excellant subject but ended up as a slightly underdone movie, same with nishabd..
    That reminds me, if you have watched that movie, would love to read your comments on it

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  2. Banno November 13, 2009 at 11:33 Reply

    I don’t even dare to watch Madhur Bhandarkar’s films.

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  3. Nita November 13, 2009 at 17:24 Reply

    I too liked Fashion, and didn’t think very highly of Page 3. I liked the one he made on Mumbai’s slums though, I forget the name, about the beggars. It got bad reviews all across but I thought it was quite alright. About Jail, I have been wondering whether to see it, and now I feel less like seeing it! I agree, it’s one thing to have a great idea, and quite another to execute it well. I think Bhandarkar is going too fast from one film to another. He needs to think them out.

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    • IdeaSmith December 2, 2009 at 14:56 Reply

      @rambler: I thought Dev D was awesome. I never liked the character of Devdas (such a loser, sigh..) but Dev D was less about one man’s story and more of a social commentary on today’s times. I loved the soundtrack, the characterization of Paro and Chanda (so different from the original and yet true to the essence of the story). It was a fantastic exploration of human emotions and choices. I haven’t seen Nishabdh.

      @Banno: Hehe. Well, Fashion was quite a worthy film.

      @Nita: I think that was ‘Traffic Signal’ which I didn’t see. Do you think he’s going the Ram Gopal Varma way now, losing out on quality in his bid to make ‘different’ cinema?

      Like

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