No One Killed Jessica straightaway takes us into the world of Jessica’s sister Sabrina Lal. The phone rings in the dead of the night to announce that Sabrina’s ebullient sister has hurt himself. “Go get her treated. She’s always hurting himself,” Sabrina mumbles in her sleep.
The hurt, this time, is far deeper than expected. Wounds too deep to be repaired open up in our socio-political and legal system as Sabrina’s case becomes a cause celebre…once again! In re-creating the heinous crime from 1999 and the woeful attempts to suppress evidence to save the life of a bigda raeeszada, director Rajkumar Gupta is dead-on accurate. The mood of justice-smothered prevails from Frame 1.
After this remarkably unprejudiced film’s release this writer spoke to Sabrina Lal(who passed away in 2021) and she was happy with the film. “It was eerie…and very moving. We were all deeply relieved by how true to life the film has turned out,” Sabrina said after watching a special screening for her in Delhi.
“When we agreed to let them make the movie, me and and family had been warned about the ‘Bollywood types’. We were told, ‘You don’t know what you are getting into. Why have you given the NOC? Now they’ll just do anything they like.’ But watching the film I feel vindicated. It will make Jessica a kind of immortal,” she said.
Admiring the director for his re-creation of the harrowing time after Jessica’s murder in 1999 when Sabrina and her family knocked on doors for justice, she said: “Rajkumar Gupta has replicated almost every detail of the events after Jessica’s death. Even the conversations in the film are what I’ve gone through. All my cousins were like, ‘My god how did the director know all this?’.”
Gupta had got the script approved by Sabrina. “Rajkumar had sat with me for almost a week. We discussed everything about the case. And it’s all there now. I’ve moved on, moved away from even the house where Jessica and I lived. I haven’t held on to any of her possessions except the photographs. Ironically, the film will now be there to remind us of her all the time.”
Jessica, a model who also worked as a bartender, was shot dead April 29, 1999, by Manu Sharma, son of former union minister Vinod Sharma, after she refused to serve him a drink at a party in the capital. But, for want of evidence, Manu and eight other accused were acquitted by the trial court in February 2006.In March 2006, Delhi Police filed an appeal in the high court and in December Manu, Vikas Yadav and Amardeep were convicted.
In April 2010, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and life term of Manu.For 11 years Sabrina fought for justice for her sister and she admits it’s a good feeling to see it all.”After the tragedy when we were all devastated by the sheer randomness of it, my mother had said, ‘There has to be a reason for it’. Now I feel Jessica didn’t die for nothing. Her death made people question the whole legal system where an influential and rich politician’s son could walk free after a murder…He (Manu Sharma) thought he had gotten away with it. There was this whole awakening of the country’s conscience after Jessica. We suffered. But I feel it wasn’t in vain. And now there’s the film. It does Jessica justice in an unexpected way.
“Though Sabrina was thrilled by the uncanny likeness of actress Myra Karn, who played Jessica, to her sister, she didn’t think Vidya resembled her in any way.”Vidya is brilliant. But I don’t think she was trying to replicate my personality in any way…we aren’t similar at all. But the girl playing Jessica is so much like Jessica in her vivacity…there’s a sequence of a candle-light vigil where Myra’s picture looks so much like Jessica in that picture we’ve seen of her in all newspapers,” Sabrina said.Speaking of justice denied, Sabrina hopes teenager Aarushi Talwar, who was murdered in May 2008, too gets justice. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) now seeks to close the case citing lack of evidence.”That poor girl. How can they just close her case like this? I hope the girl finds justice, just like Jessica did.”
In 2018 Jessica Lal’s murderer Manu Sharma was “forgiven” by the slain woman’s sister Sabrina Lal. In an interview with this writer Rajkumar Gupta opined, “Forgiveness is such a commodious and subjective emotion. Ithink it takes an exemplary amount of compassion to finally forgive someone who has committed a family-destroying crime.We must respect Sabrina Lal’s sentiments. We cannot be judgmental because no one knows what the family has gone through in the last 19 years since the crime happened.”
Before shooting No One Killed Jessica Gupta spent considerable time with the Lal family to understand their feelings about the tragic death of their daughter.Gupta saw the suffering first-hand. “Am I surprised by Sabrina’s forgiveness? I’d like to keep my own thoughts and opinion out of this. When I made the film I was told by the family that it was a cathartic experience for them. Now so many years later if Sabrina –who we believe has spoken on the family’s behalf—is at peace with the wrong done to the family, then we must all applaud her for her largeheartedness.”
Crime against women has increased manifold since the time Jessica Lal was slain for a glass of wine.It’s a brutal world out there and Rajkumar Gupta is not sure how he would have visualized No One Killed Jessica were he to make it now. “The crimes against women and children are so harsh brutal and barbaric that we need serious detriments. As far as Manu Sharma is concerned , we have to remember he has spent close to fifteen years in jail. Apparently he has done a lot of community service.And like I said , forgiveness is purely subjective. If Sabrina has forgiven him we should also move on and ensure that no Jessica Lal is killed in future.”
Rajkumar feels cinema must play a very large role in making people aware of wrong done in society. “My films will always have a social relevance.Otherwise what is the point of making films? For me speaking about Jessica Lal through cinema was vital at that time when I made the film. That such crimes have only increased with time is a matter that should worry all of us.”