Lucknow Central Movie Review: It Is Outstanding Study Of Imprisonment & Freedom!

Lucknow Central

Starring: Farhan Akhtar, Gippy Grewal, Diana Penty, Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Inamulhaq

Directed by: Ranjit Tiwari

Rating: **** ½ (4 and a half stars)

“You don’t get justice in the world , you only get good luck or bad luck,” a wise old librarian(pronounced ‘lee-bray-nian’ by his Lucknowi singer-son) quotes Orson Welles.

Our good luck, then, that we get  a prison drama as taut and thrilling, relevant and resonant as Lucknow Central  right in the middle of  the year when things are looking bloody bleak in Bollywood.

Yes, there is hope. Lucknow Central is by far  the most engaging thinking-man’s thriller of the year. Ballsy and brave, it penetrates  the politics of prison life without relinquishing the right to engage us in a solid storytelling spree where a clever cat-and-mouse game is played out between a sadistic jailor(Ronit Roy, in top form)  and a  non-guilty prisoner(Farhan Akhtar) who is hellbent on getting his liberty at any cost.

The smartly thoughtfully written  script(by Ranjit Tiwari, Aseem Arora)  delves into the dynamics of freedom and comes up with a super-chic musical with wings  that often allow vivid characters to fly higher than  prison dramas generally do in India.

Undoubtedly Lucknow Central is a prison-break drama  on a par with Franklin  Schaffener’s 1973 classic Papillon and  certainly superior in its intellectual political and spiritual ramifications to the overrated Shawshank Redemption.

Redemption  in  Lucknow Central  is  a scarce  commodity. This, its protagonist Kishen discovers as he journeys  from  a dreamer in the streets   of a small town in  UP,  to a convict within 20 minutes of this gripping film’s playing-time.

Debutant director Ranjit Tiwari is  an astoundingly selfassured storyteller. For a debutant he shows scant regard for commercial trappings.When was the last time we saw a prison drama without an item song? Or a film about injustice where the hero doesn’t get to raise his voice or lower his fists on corrupt jaws? Farhan Akhar’s Kishen is  so soft-hearted and  kind  , we wonder how he will survive in prison for a crime he  never committed.

Early on there is heart-stopping sequence of prison violence where Kishen is offered ‘protection’ by an imposing goon(Manav Vij, wordlessly  sinister).

“I  already have protection,” Kishen says pointing to his packet of  Nirodh(on screen advertisement? There is more of that later for an online shopping brand).

Farhan plays Kishen as a dreamer-musician coping with a crisis beyond his comprehension  or  endurance but determined  to slum  it out even if it means breaking some laws. This is his bravest most soul-baring performance to date. Scenes of his breakdown in solitary confinement will remain with us long after the last episode of  Prison Breakis over.

The steel-willed screenplay provides Farhan with solid support, flinging forth one deftly written  scene after another.Early on in one of the most authentic courtroom scenes  I’ve seen in  an Indian film since Chaitanya Tamhane’sCourt and Vetrimaran’s Visaaranai the smirking Judge’s  verdict on Kishen’s faith will shock you by its sheer casualness.

Let’s not beat  around the bush, an indulgence that this  film is assuredly not guilty of thanks to Charushree Roy’s editing which weaves in and out of the inmates’ lives with the expertise of  a trapeze artiste. What starts off as Farhan’s story soon becomes the story of four other prison  inmates each played by an actor who has rare insight into human nature and  the conditions that  impose themselves on  a man’s free will rendering his actions unacceptable  to  society.

Talent  like Rajesh Sharma, Imaanulhaq and Deepak Dobriyal  never lets a film down. Here  they have so much meat to chew on , it is feast of  fury for them. As Farhan’s band-baja party they are seasoned troupers in a  particularly  inspired environment. And when Gippy Garewal joins them as  a Sardarji pining for his sweetheart singing soul-penetrating songs of separation,  we know we are in this  for keeps.

Then there Ravi Kissen a hoot as  UP’s calm,cynical Chief Minister with a sense  of humour who keeps reminding khaki-clad bureaucrats  that the journey from officer to traffic police is just a signature way. God knows we need jokey politicians to get through presentday politics.

Lucknow Central  sucks is  into its human drama. It   gives a flying hoot about commercial trappings, keeps the frames stark , bare and daunting. No concession is  made  to glamorous props.And  if Diana Penty playing a kind ofselfimportant activist prison-reformist that would otherwise seem satirical, happens  to be naturally glamorous, it’s just too bad.

Cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray looks for  corners and crevices  in the human heart to shoot feelings behind prison walls. When in the second-half the flexible narrative moves effortlessly into a philosophical  mode we are  prepared for the transition  much in the same way that Kishen  prepares himself for  prison life.

An  ongoing sense of inclusiveness runs through the film.We feel so much part of  the goings-on that  we cry, laugh , sing and dance with Kishen and  his four band members . Their Kabootar song in the  prison compound is  arguably the best choreographed dance number seen in a Hindi film in recent times.

It looks so unrehearsed so spontaneous ….just like the film where the characters probably existed long before the writer and director thought about them. We just didn’t know.Or care.

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