LUCKNOW CENTRAL: JAIL AND JUNCTION TO JOIN AND JIVE.
The title ‘Lucknow Central’ may take you to imagery associated with platform of the railway station but film has no such direct or even indirect connection; instead it is about few prison inmates coming closer in camaraderie and building bonds to form a music band and sound waves to cast a spell and to escape, BY Sushil Kumar.
Admittedly, the film is inspired by some true events reportedly emanating from Asia/India’s largest prison complex- Tihar jail- a mini township within megapolis and as if in mirror image, both are bursting at their seams to virtually unmanageable limits.
The film is a continuum of cinematic creative process of current decade falling in genre of cine realism; these films seek to depict believable stories of existential struggles, dreams and aspirations of characters of small town India , in realism not super heroic style of storytelling. These films induce immediate identification and appeal amongst not so insignificant population caught at cross roads of change and conflicts between rural and towns/metros. There is no doubt there is a ready market and masses for these stories shown in cinema . Consider this – within last few months ,count films like Bareilly ki Barfi, Behen Hogi Teri, Daddy, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, Toilet Ek Prem Katha and other hit films like Sultan and Dangal. These films stood in sharp contrast to upper middle class cinematic dream world created and inhabited by characters played by cast of Shah Rukh Khan (when Harry met Sejal, Dear Zindagi), Ranbir Kapoor (Jagga Jasoos, Ae dil-e Mushkil), Ranvir (Befikre).
If one considers the trend of above films, we can safely say that possibly a ‘neo parallel cinema’ is reflecting changing social consciousness showing signs of segmentation within the larger middle class ; and are being made as a counter foil to films made for metros, multiplexes and upper middle classes whose socio-psycho-cultural consciousness reflects aspiration and living much closer to higher elites.
In the past, films of Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalini, Girish Karnad, Sai Paranjape were considered ‘parallel cinema’ as ,at that time, their films posed a counterfoil to escapist entertainment cinema of Manmohan Desai, Subhash Ghai, Prakash Mehra etc. So, it’s time we re-define the contours of parallel cinema as clearly now making films with mass appeal across all India is becoming a tough job, unless one is Raju Hirani whose subjects and themes appeal to social consciousness cutting across all social segments -be it PK,3 Idiots or Munnabhai series. No wonder Hirani Bhai takes time to think and make films that carry connections to pan Indian classes and consciousness.
Since the nineties, the characters and themes of films starring Shah Rukh, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan have appealed more to urban middle classes or yuppies (upward mobile young ) barring films like Lagaan, Sultan and Dangal that bridged the rural urban divide. But as films like Harry Met Sejal, Befikre, Jagga Jasoos, Rangoon etc. have shown , the charm of stories of middle classes’ hopes and aspirations have rubbed thin with the most part of huge 300-350 million Indian middle class of small town India; they are not able to connect at all with what is projected and portrayed. Moreover, even within metros, the life and living maxims portrayed in movies like Ae-dil e Mushkil, Befikre etc. related to high living in high rises matching high hedonistic thinking and expectations of mostly metro middle classes and wealthy Indian diaspora abroad; the other emerging middle classes of small towns India , and migrant ones to metros , failed to find any identification with them and as a reaction , these neo parallel cinema has arisen.
As stated, Lucknow Central is a sincere attempt from the genre of cine realism typified by recent films like Daddy, Raees, Hasina Parker; nearly all such characters are hewn and excellently etched out of real world . They appear believable and made really real by some fine acting by most actors specially by Ravi Kishan, Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Ronit Roy (though repeating Nana Patekar flavour of Kaabil). Farhan Akhtar seems to go through the motion. The girlfriend of Sikh leaves an impression by showing extremes of exhilaration in embrace and ending in tears within few seconds.
Such films are worthy of appreciation for cinematic craft and art but for becoming successful ,they need to tell a new story or an old story retold in totally different flavour and feel , or let’s say , combine cine craft with an engaging dramatic story ; The film may not find favour at box office as it fails to present a combined package- always easy to point out but difficult to delineate otherwise. In other words, pure realism specially of jail and believable characters with identifiable dreams would not appeal much , unless complemented by corresponding dosage of entertainment and it’s in latter that Lucknow Central falters. One must say that film’s intention is indeed laudable as it seeks to depict a story inspired by the true events but where is fails is ability to entertain with catchy lyrics or foot tapping numbers that stay on in memory. Though the film’s focus is on music band, yet the musical scores falls short of creating a buzz in amongst cine goers or in music charts.
The story of five prisoners coming together as pals is as old a motif as movies themselves all across countries and continents. Some of finest examples of this genre are films like , The Great Excape, Shawshank Redemption Longest Yard and Escape to Victory (sports). Interestingly, the film uses recurrent Hollywood motif of body tattoo (effectively used on De Niro in Cape Fear) , gangs’ fists fights and muscle flexing ( a la American History X and others). The leitmotif of brutal jailor is constant in prison escape films like Papillion.
The film combines the eternal inextinguishable wish amongst all prisoners to escape with equally powerful wish to connect as a group , though their aims, motivations and actions can vary between extremes of crime or catering to creativity through crafts, education, fine arts.
The film also falls for the usual bait of depicting gangs and groups wars typically shown in all prison films ; but the basis of formation of gangs or aim for domination etc. is conveniently pushed under the carpet as it would have meant showing going on of gambling, drug-sex abuse, differential treatment by custodians (latest example of Sasikala in jail and brought out by Charles Sobhraj decades ago). Though the film shows menacing manners and machinations of the bald convict’s but the reasons , for his domination and volte-face later , in inexplicable joining in jiving and jig at the dance number leaves one wondering. Allusions to divisions on caste and regional lines are taboo topics for prison films are avoided conveniently.
The film adopts time tested tale telling leitmotif of failed legal-judicial system by portraying an innocent’s conviction in a murder case through lone testimony of a friend turned foe. But where film falters is when it shows equally easy acquittal through similar testimony by same person. And that too on the basis of Gnid Blyton type of private investigation done single -handedly in few frames by a love struck soul. This may not appear jarring in usual escapist entertainment fare but here it does – owing to unrealistic superimposition on otherwise realistic portrayal of characters and prison ,specially where depiction of details like dilapidated walls, rusted pipes in shared toilets, ,rotting rotis, rusting iron meshes is really realistic. The class contexts of main prisoner protagonists are portrayed perfectly -as evident during their brief sojourn to meet their families except of Dobriyal (whose father is shown in a well to do institution).
The film highlights high speed intrusion of social media in lives of nearly all social segments and how video clips can easily go viral with consequences on either side of acceptability. This is evident when a clip shot by a jailer to embarrass the band actually turns into its elevation and appreciation far beyond the prison perimeters. Remember how wrong information about people from north east led to panic and attempted exodus to escape. The film indicates how a clip can impact individual and social reactions.
Portrayal of a young CM of UP is quite real despite unreal take on his having plentiful time for pursuing trivialities for police band formation and competition. The costumes and sets are close to reality specially the barracks, rooms, dusty ground, musical instruments, crumbling plasters and walls. The play without the music seems unreal as background musical score still rings in ears. The film humour is unnatural except the classic countryside dialogue of ‘jhand’ and ‘ghamand’ mouthed most appropriately in final scenes.
The prisoners singing is as a group therapy is as old as Do Ankhen Bara Haath and Seema and this film is a modern version of jail/judicial administration pursuing reform and not retributive philosophy for transforming prisoners. It’s been a new thought for India that was tried famously by Kiran Bedi. We have still a long way to go from here , where more than 62% prison population are awaiting trial and are actually serving convict like terms without being convicted. Imagine being reformed without committing the act requiring reform. The comment of justice being judged as good luck back luck outcome is appropriate and sums up most cases.
In real Tihar prison band, one singer is considered as innocent. It’s time that India emulates US where some old cases are always opened after two or three decades to have a fresh look for learning lessons and improvement. This effort has led to some famous acquittals when DNA and fresh investigations were incorporated.
The film is indeed a reality inspired real depiction in reel life -in genre of cine realism that may fail to enthuse and entertain. But then, not all films find fortune and fame.
And if you want to see a film with a similar story line and characters but with a soft focus cinema from the glamour world of K-Jo, please see Qaidi Band that fell flat on the box office this year. If this film also fails, then you have both formula and cine real film falling flat on box office.