Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Ronit Roy, Ravi Kishan, Diana Penty, Deepak Dobriyal, Gippy Grewal, Rajesh Sharma, Inaamulhaq
Director: Ranjit Tiwari
Music director: Tanishk Bagchi, Rochak Kohli, Arjuna Harjai
Producer: Nikkhil Advani
Genre: Thriller film/Crime
Release Date: 15 September 2017
Duration: 2h 15m
Orson Welles famously said ‘Nobody gets justice. People only get good luck or bad luck’. The fate of a young man who is wrongfully implicated in a murder case hinges on this sweeping quotation. It might sound a bit naïve for a prison drama, but then events in director Ranjit Tiwari’s Lucknow Central lean more towards sentimentality than sagacity.
Kishen Mohan Girhotra (Farhan Akhtar) is a small town man with big dreams of becoming a professional singer. Overnight, he becomes the victim of a corrupt and corruptible system when he is wrongfully implicated for a murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. This sudden jail-time derails his desire to become a recording artist and perform in front of large audiences of appreciative fans.
After 18 months in Moradabad jail, he is transferred to Lucknow Central, an intensive prison under the tough watch of a jailer (Ronit Roy). As soon as he enters his new home, Kishen gets pulled into prison politics and powerplay — which allows screenwriter Aseem Arora to introduce a number of prison drama tropes. So besides the heartless, iron-fisted head jailer (Roy has perfected the grimace and menacing stare), there’s a bully operating a fiefdom inside, canteen clashes etc.
However in Lucknow Central, Kishen has a purpose. Under orders from the chief minister (Ravi Kishan), on to a do-gooder who believes in prisoner reformation (Diana Penty), Kishen volunteers to put together an in-house band. This band will compete with others from state jails in a jailhouse rock contest. The dream is to start a band; but the plan is to escape — that’s Kishen’s sales pitch as he carefully recruits band-mates, not for their musical abilities but for skills that will facilitate a jail break.
After a lumbering first hour, it’s with the introduction of fellow inmates, played by solid actors such as Deepak Dobriyal, Gippy Grewal, Rajesh Sharma and Inaamulhaq, that the story hits it strides. Because until then you are trying to find a reason to sympathise with a flip-floppy character like Kishen. He’s a nice guy, but even though he is wrongly accused, he barely puts up a fight, accepting his fate rather benignly. Also the writers use the above mentioned quote by Welles as a kind of sweeping theme under which to brush away the judicial part of a prisoner’s life.
Unlike Qaidi Band, these are not under trial prisoners embarking on a clumsy and poorly thought-out jailbreak. All but one of them is a lifer, guilty of their crime, and together they have meticulously mapped their escape. Tiwari hits his stride in the final hour of the film as the bands ready for the contest. There is redemption and resignation, and a final speech, designed to evoke an emotional surge.
Kishen begins to find his spine only once he becomes a band leader. Akhtar is sincere but does not entirely get into the skin of a small town man. Plus his beefiness subtracts some authenticity as you observe a prisoner who has faced starvation and is burdened by bad luck but remains gym-toned. There’s also very little time spent on showing the band rehearse, which makes their ability to perform as a unit a little arbitrary. Having said that, the choreography and energy in both ‘Kabootar’ and ‘Kaavaan Kaavaan’ make the two songs enjoyable. But the background music and narrative pacing are choppy.
Ravi Kishan’s ministerial khadi couture belies his social media savvy. He’s flanked by number crunchers tracking trending topics. He’s fun to watch as the progressive but caustic politician who taunts the prison officers remarking on how their uniform is the same shade of khaki as the traffic police. Dobriyal, Grewal and Inaamulhaq deliver thoughtful performances, though Penty’s styling and faux earnestness make her seem like she wandered onto the wrong set.
Tiwari’s handling of the jail scenes are commendable even if the climax is a little contrived. And while this jailhouse rock-on see-saws between musical drama and message movie, its origins in a true story (about a real life prison band called Healing Hearts) and it’s notation on the merits of reformation give it soul.