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'Lucknow Central': A Prison Musical That’s Beyond Redemption

Farhan Akhtar is criminally miscast.

20/09/2017 8:59 AM IST | Updated 20/09/2017 12:18 PM IST
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A crime drama directed by Ranjit Tiwari, Lucknow Central stars Farhan Akhtar, Diana Penty, Gippy Grewal, Deepak Dobriyal, Ronit Roy, Inaamulhaq and Rajesh Sharma in the pivotal roles. The film presents the story of a young man named Kishen Mohan Girhotra (Farhan Akhtar) whose life is turned upside down when he is wrongly framed for the murder of an IAS officer. He is tossed into prison, where music and mayhem ensue.

As it happens, Lucknow Central is inspired by true events. A band called Healing Hearts, formed by the inmates of a prison facility named Adarsh Karagar in Lucknow, is the inspiration behind the film. It was set up in the year 2007 by the then superintendent of the jail so that the inmates could participate in the annual event alongside prisoners from different jails across Uttar Pradesh. The necessary instruments were bought and twelve inmates, sentenced to life imprisonment, were recruited to be trained by a prison guard who came from a musical family. The rest is history. Appropriately, one of the striking features of Lucknow Central is its use of diegetic sound as a narrative trope with the lyrics/dialogues from old Bollywood movies cleverly conveying the dynamics of a scene.

With implausible premises aplenty, the film unintentionally comes across as a parody of sorts—especially when you factor in the clichés and excesses of the script.

Now for the plot. The protagonist Kishen, who hails from the small UP town of Moradabad, is an aspiring singer and idolises Bhojpuri actor-singer Manoj Tiwari. During one of Tiwari's public performances, Kishen tries to accost him hoping to get a break but he is cut short by a ruthless IAS officer with whom he has a small altercation. The next day he gets picked up by the police—we learn that the IAS officer has been murdered and that Kishen is the prime suspect. What ensues is Kishen's battle against dejection and isolation while serving a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit. After spending about year in Moradabad Jail, he gets shifted to Lucknow Central where he must not only deal with a bullying jailor (Ronit Roy), belligerent inmates, prison gang wars, but also with the stark possibility that his life sentence may be changed into a death sentence with the family of the murdered IAS officer challenging the lower court's verdict in the High Court. If all this wasn't enough Kishen is also helping a rehabilitation professional (Diana Penty) to set up a music band in the prison as per the whims of a powerful politician (Ravi Kishan). Confused? Wait till I tell you that the band is merely a subterfuge to orchestrate a prison escape.

As one can gauge from the above details, Lucknow Central makes everything look too convenient. With implausible premises aplenty, the film unintentionally comes across as a parody of sorts—especially when you factor in the clichés and excesses of the script. The film is also rather derivative, and borrow in different capacities from great prison movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Hunger, The Green Mile, Cool Hand Luke, Escape from Alcatraz etc, as well as the popular TV show Prison Break. Also, the influences of 1970s Bombay cinema are quite obvious.

'Lucknow Central' occasionally offers an interesting take on prison dynamics, but there is hardly anything here that we haven't seen before.

Unfortunately, a film like Lucknow Central is a step backward for Hindi cinema. One can't help but wonder why Bollywood is so content with doing something what Hollywood did back in the 1990s. The acting performances are average at best. An actor of Deepak Dobriyal's calibre is wasted. Playing Hindi-speaking characters is his forte and yet in the film he plays a Bengali engineer. Similarly, Farhan Akhtar, who is best suited to play urbane characters, is clearly miscast in the movie. Despite trying his best he more often than not fails to get the accent right. Clearly, Hindi cinema can benefit a lot more from Farhan Akhtar's writing /directing acumen than his acting skills. The glamorous Diana Penty looks incongruously glamorous in the prison setting. The best performances in the movie come from Ravi Kishan and Ronit Roy.

Lucknow Central occasionally offers an interesting take on prison dynamics, but there is hardly anything here that we haven't seen before. Now, the band that Kishen puts together has two Hindus (including himself), a Muslim, a Christian, and a Sikh. Clearly Tiwari and Arora were thinking of Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony while trying to write their characters. Unfortunately, the subtexts that made the Manmohan Desai film a timeless classic are missing here! The half-cooked screenplay reflects a confused mindset—the writer and director want to make a commercial escapist film but at the same time they also want to make the viewers think. In the end they achieve neither. The film fails to make any strong statement on the criminal justice system or the correctional facilities on offer—and even worse, Lucknow Central is just plain boring at times. What's heartbreaking is that the ingredients are all there but the makers are not thorough with the recipe.

Rating: C-

A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Lucknow Central offers an interesting take on the prison dynamics. But there is hardly anything here that we haven't seen before. Now, the band that Kishen puts together has two Hindus (including himself), a Muslim, a Christian, and a Sikh. Clearly Tiwari and Arora were thinking of Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony while trying to write their characters. Alas, the subtexts that made the Manmohan Desai film a timeless classic are missing here! The half-cooked screenplay alludes to a confused mindset. Tiwari and Arora want to make a commercial escapist film but at the same time they also want to make the viewers think (while it is something that's difficult to achieve, it is certainly not impossible). In the end they achieve neither. For, large sections of the film are just plain boring. Also, the film fails to make any strong statement on the criminal justice system or the correctional facilities on offer. What's heartbreaking is that the ingredients are all there but the problem is that the makers are not thorough with the recipe.

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