Ab Bhi Dilli Dur Hain: On ‘No One Killed Jessica’: Kartik Nair

Guest post by KARTIK NAIR

Why does No One Killed Jessica open with the execution of Jessica Lal but rush so quickly to the windswept altitudes of Kargil? And why, when she first blasts on to the screen as embedded journalist Meera reporting on the war, does Rani Mukerji look more like she’s embedded inside an SNL skit on Barkha Dutt? I let out a little laugh then, but the laughs only got bigger from there. Here is a film that knows nothing about how the media works; worse, it fails to pass off its version of the media as believable. Here are a few lessons I learned watching the film:

1. Aspiring reporters will be glad to note that though journalists generally fight tooth-and-nail at press conferences to get their questions heard, a helpful “Yaar, please, mujhe poochne do!” will elicit total co-operation and rapt attention.

2.Excited about a job in television but not looking forward to the long, boring brainstorming? Worry not. If this film is to be believed, meetings in news television last mere seconds, not the usually tedious minutes. An entire fleet of reporters is assembled to be told “Ok guys, the big story is XYZ, get to work.” Any questions about other stories are squashed with a quick “STFU” by Meera. You’d think that both messages could go on an inter-office memo instead, but you would be wrong.


3. Looking for a place to dump your 80s’ wardrobe? Enter Rani Mukerji. She barks fuck yous with contemporary flair, and covers every major event from the late 90s onwards, but at heart Meera is a throwbacker who wears while newsreading what Olivia Newton John wore when she wanted to get Physical. Fuck you, FabIndia.

Oh, woe. The one thing the film gets right is having computers flash the Windows 98 screensaver. Nicely done. Its a miracle I noticed that one detail, given director Raj Kumar Gupta’s rookie errors. Here’s two you can look out for: he has botched the intermission, which arrives five minutes before it should have, and he has squandered the chance for a Star entry by not pushing Mukerji’s story entirely into the second half. Had he gotten these choices right, we would have at least gotten an uninterrupted first hour in which to admire Vidya Balan’s intriguing (and more difficult) performance as Sabrina Lal, as well as the performances, by turns amusing and wrenching, of a gaggle of actors playing put-upon witnesses, perturbed partygoers, parents, politicians and policemen (my favorite insensitive caricatures are of Bina Ramani, who is played like Bindu in a BMW, chanting “I’m not sure, I’m not sure,” while rubbing her temples, and of Manu Sharma’s mother, who chimes in regularly to plead with her harried husband, “Mujhe kuch nahi pataa, mera Monu mujhe lauta do”).

Indeed, it’s when it sticks close to the case that No One Killed Jessica works best. But the films wants to be more: it wants to be about Power, Class, Justice. It wants to be about the Media and the Masses. It fails. Most disappointing, however, is that unlike Gutpa’s insidious debut,AamirNo One Killed Jessica never gets under the skin, either of the viewer or of what its current radio hit describes felicitously as da-da-da-da-da-Dilli. As an essay on the the city’s invisible regimes of social capital, it falls way, way short. Gupta doesn’t really furnish a ruling vision of Delhi, and the film barely matches the insight of Band Baaja Baarat (also in theaters now, also about Delhi’s complex and intractable power grids, and also a better film).

14 thoughts on “Ab Bhi Dilli Dur Hain: On ‘No One Killed Jessica’: Kartik Nair”

  1. The caricatures, and Meera (herself a caricature almost) were bad, but I was really impressed with Vidya Balan’s execution of her role and the way the film showed the facts of the case. The caricatures refuse to let you take many, many things seriously—the candlelight vigil, for instance, which I was a part of when it actually happened—that scene, which could have had the emotional charge of a similar one in RDB, left me cold. The fact, ultimately, that the civil society of Delhi, that which is materialistic, power-hungry, selfish, aggressive and always sleeping, came together in a tremendous show of strength and the unwillingness to accept the kind of hogwash we have all grown up accepting without blinking an eye was never really communicated—and it certainly had nothing to do with ‘Hindustan’.


  2. On the contrary, Arpita, it had everything to do with Hindustan. I doubt how many among those with you protesting in the Jessica case were also present during the protests by Irom Sharmila and the Kashmiris. Jessica was a middle-class, city, and a very much, national issue. Those issues which are critical about the nation from a view beyond the nation’s own mirror, are the ones which also ask for a “tremendous show of strength” from those Jessica-case protesters.
    And “Hindustan” is a word used by Hindus and Muslims alike, who aren’t western/English educated into “India”. Nothing “hindu” about Hindustan, if you go by etymology.


    1. Manash, Agreeing totally with you I feel that what these candle light vigils take away is the space that protests like that of Irom Sharmila or many others like her should legitimately have in national media and press. Besides they also create “classes of protests”, the urbane protests that conduct candle light vigils as against ones that play themselves out as stone pelting, occupation of rail tracks and armed conflict with the stage. Not difficult to understand that former is easy to be taken up by media and be portrayed as “tremendous show of strength”.


  3. Just wanted to say that this article got me awestruck. About the movie, what really gave me goosebumps was the scene when one of the lawyer said ” Angrez k banaye hue kanun hum is sadi mein follow kar rahe hai”. I am really sure that this was influenced by the recent Delhi High Court ruling of the Repeal of Sec 377. Off course there were lot of scenes in the movie which refused to let us take things seriously. Like one of those scenes which Arpita has also mentioned, the one in which there’s a candle light vigil march which was taken from the movie RDB. I was taken a setback and I asked myself ,Woah! What the hell is happening.


  4. In my view the biggest lie incorporated in the film is giving undue credit to NDTV for a sting operation done by Tehelka. Tehelka had originally done the sting operation and gave the story to NDTV, if I’m not wrong, however the film was all about NDTV as if the Indian media doesn’t exist outside of the NDTV newsroom. I wonder if NDTV actually sponsored the film. does have anyone idea?


  5. Why is Barkha Dutt made the epitome of indian journalism in every movie related to media ?Plus, the movie failed to invoke any emotions during sensitive scenes which is very unnatural for a movie such a situation and tragedy and to extent it was dissappointing.


  6. it’s interesting that the film has come after the radia tapes. i guess, barkha dutt can expect some damage-recovery to her image! i completely agree with manash. To put it very crudely, NOKJ in a way, symbolises the triumph of “neo-liberal/bourgeois culture” over “feudal/kulak” culture. Perhaps for the first time, we do not see any character assassination of the victim despite the fact that she was a “party going girl”. But thats it. Here the progressiveness stops. Neoliberalism is shown to be vulnerable here, at the hands of “non-cultured’ rural politicians/bureaucrats/ossified bureaucracy. NOKJ is all about a civil society campaign of “India”. “Bharat” has nothing to do it. The film gives a complete illusion about public power, media, civil society and state. i am sure, the urban middle class of india is going to like this film. Because, they love illusions…


  7. The candle light vigil for Jessica Lal at India Gate was actually the first such candle light event for TV news. I think RDB copied it from there. How things come full circle! Btw the inside story is that that protest at India Gate for Jessica Lal was orchestrated by the media itself, and since then the media has orchestrated more such. It’s simple: journalists just circulate sms-es saying there’s a candle light vigil, and gullible janta lands up. What to do, TV is a visual medium, there’s this constant need to produce visuals. The lesson here for those who complain that Jantar Mantar kind of protests are not covered by the media is that the forms of protest have to changed. It’s candle lights now, not ‘haye! haye!’ This is what the media is doing to us!


  8. did anyone notice how the ‘justice for jessica’ was sold as part of the series of national integration moments? kargil, ic-184 hijacking and now this.


  9. Jessica Lal is glorified as a martyr (the kargil scenes juxtapose that). Why? Film makers get too personal just connect with the junta…even though it’s insensitive and untrue.

    I wish Dibakar Banerjee made this film.


  10. The movie ‘No One killed Jessica’ by portraying national moments like kargil war along with a murder case, has shown that we should show the same patriotism to fight our internal enemies too.

    Those who ditched Sabrina, by turning hostile witness, will never forget their mistake.


  11. A comment here by one ‘Fissparious’ has not been approved by me because the anonymous coward who posted it wrote *my* email address in the email line. If you are willing to be more thoughtful with your anonymity, I’ll let the same comment go through.


  12. Very dry and nicely written. Laughed out loud at “Fuck you, Fabindia.” Just the right tone for the review of a movie with its own berserk hysterical tone.


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