No One Killed Jessica is a dramatisation of the Jessica Lall murder in 1999 and the tumultuous events that followed including the botched up court case, the verdict, which allowed prime accused Manu Sharma to walk free and the ensuing public outcry, which eventually forced a retrial and a sentence of life imprisonment.
The Jessica Lall murder was a watershed event and Gupta uses this rich material to create a film that is in places, powerful and moving. But it’s also loud, simplistic and somewhat schizophrenic in tone. It’s almost as though the director couldn’t decide on the right pitch and decided to marry understated realism with bombastic drama.
The first is personified by Vidya Balan, who plays Sabrina, Jessica’s beleaguered sister who fights in vain, against the might of Manu Sharma, a powerful politician’s son. Unlike her glamorous, party-girl sister, Sabrina is painfully plain and sober. Wearing drab clothes and spectacles, Vidya is a portrait of anguish and strength.
The other stand-out actor is Rajesh Sharma, who plays the cop on Jessica’s case. In one brutal scene, he tells Sabrina about the bribe he has taken. When she looks shocked, he simply says: Sab koi khata hai, kaun si duniya mein reheti hain aap?
With a relentlessly moving camera, Gupta ably captures the layers of power and how ruthlessly and swiftly the powerless are silenced. Unfortunately however, he is unable to bring the same nuanced focus to the media, who played a pivotal role in resurrecting the Jessica Lall case.
For me, the fatal, false note in No One Killed Jessica is Meera, the fictionalised tough-talking reporter played by Rani Mukherjee. Meera is a strong, independent woman who, at least in this version, single-handedly prods the establishment into reviewing the case. So she smokes, swears and has sex.
The character is written superficially and Rani’s portrayal of her is equally banal. It’s all about externals. She argues a lot and proudly labels herself a bitch but her hair stays perfectly in place and in the end, she even gets to do a super-hero-like slow motion walk.
Gupta begins No One Killed Jessica with the disclaimer that it is a hybrid of fact and fiction but in places the fictions rankle.
The film shows that NDTV conducted critical sting operations, including one on an actor who became a hostile witness in court. This was actually done by the newsmagazine Tehelka. This uneasy mix of truth and creative license; subtle notes and heavy-handedness make for an uneven film that in places seems stretched unnecessarily.
That said, No One Killed Jessica is several notches ahead of the tripe we’ve been subjected to in theatres lately.
I’m going with three stars.