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Polished, Yet Pale

January 2004
Polished, Yet Pale


Director: Nagesh Kukunoor.

Starring: Naseerudin Shah, Jackie Shroff, Juhi Chawla, Nagesh Kukunoor, Gulshan Grover.


"I make films purely with intent to entertain," says Nagesh Kukunoor in an interview with Khabar. "I want the widest range of audience possible to watch my work," he stresses. Well, 3 Deewarein, Kukunoor's latest offering, does manage to entertain, as any polished film would. And there's no reason why the widest possible audience would not receive it ? after all, it does have semblances of both, art house (Sorry, Nagesh!) and commercial cinema.

Yet, perhaps it is because of such a clinical or "outside-in" approach that the movie lacks the heart and punch that his earlier ones such as Hyderabad Blues or Bollywood Calling had. 3 Deewarein is an entertaining and gripping film with many fine nuances and brilliant performances. Its one shortcoming is that the plot seems just a bit engineered.

That said, here's what's good. Stray vignettes weave a compelling, if somewhat less than plausible, tale. Those fragmented moments are often more telling than the main narrative itself.

Take the opening sequence for instance: in stark black and white, a man obliviously distraught, cradles a bleeding woman in his arms; another man watches helplessly as the woman by his side falls down from the sidewalk into rush hour traffic; yet another, a bank robber, shoots and watches his victim, a pregnant bank teller stumble and die. Intriguing as well as brilliantly shot, these vignettes succeed in haunting the viewer long after the film.

The tale takes off in a prison which houses three of the four main protagonists, Jaggu (Jackie Shroff), an introspective lawyer and poet, Nagya (Nagesh Kukunoor), an optimistic, every-man clinging to an unshakeable faith in the system, and Ishaan (Naseerudin Shah), the small time crook and street savvy huckster, a survivor to the core. The three are death row inmates awaiting sentencing. Jaggu courts death calmly; Nagya claims innocence and hopes for redemption in the eyes of the law; and Ishaan, who also claims innocence, is ever planning his escape from the prison walls.

Into their life walks Chandrika (Juhi Chawla), a documentary filmmaker, who, wanting to delve into every aspect of life in prison, befriends the three. Apart from the strange kinship that she develops with the three, she also grows from her association with them. Maturing right before our eyes, she comes to terms with her own inadequacies and that of her unhappy marriage.

The plot flows smoothly enough and stray pieces begin to fit into a grander, more intriguing pattern. Confessions, memories, fleeting references, all seem to make more sense, falling into place, bit by bit.

The denouement is outrageously improbable, but in the end, brilliant directorial touches force us to suspend our disbelief.

Nagesh Kukunoor's subtle ironic humor carries the film through. Nasseruddin Shah is in his element here. Thanks to his keen and expressive eyes, fleeting emotions across his face speak volumes. Juhi too is brilliant, considering her resume is so heavily tilted towards the typical song-and-dance commercial fare. Jackie is very believable as an introvert and a contrite murderer. Nagesh offers an understated and stoic performance, true to his character ? a simpleton who rests on nothing besides his faith in his belief that truth will prevail.

The jailor, played with quiet dignity by Gulshan Grover, is not your garden variety Bollywood type potbellied monster, but a kind and just administrator, committed to making the prison and its inmates financially and socially self sustaining. Chandrika's impotent husband, who terrorizes her and hacks away at her self-esteem, is deftly portrayed.

The cinematography by Ajay Vincent is arresting, Salim-Suleiman's music is pleasing and Nagesh Kukunoor shows signs of sheer directorial brilliance sometimes! The film was shot in the now-demolished Musheerabad jail in Hyderabad in 30 days and is gaining critical praise in India and in the international circuit.

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