For a movie that claims to be about “power”, the “middle class” and Delhi, No One Killed Jessica is remarkably dishonest about all three.
Everyone knows the story, and for those of you who want the more specific details, you may want to read this, this, this and this. You can read them without fear of spoilers because this is one of those stories whose endings we already know but the path the story takes is just as interesting. Many movies do this, and do it well, and none better in recent times, I think, than The Social Network. In this regard, NOKJ makes an adequately gripping start.
The first half of NOKJ would be standard fare for any gritty thriller; a woman in a failing fight for justice as she struggles to deal with a profoundly corrupt and morally bankrupt criminal justice system. The corrupt cops, the terrified/slimy/self-absorbed-socialite witnesses, all tick the appropriate boxes and after a few gratuitous swings at the police and lawyers in India, the movie progresses to the trial itself. So far, so good.
The second half of the movie triggered off my gag reflex so many times that I feared I would twist a sphincter somewhere trying not to projectile vomit into the people in the row in front of me. To mention the most cringe-worthy moments:
The Rang De Basanti inspired consequence-and-effort-free candlelight-march activism that this movie is convinced brought “justice” to Jessica.
The little speech on “ethics” that Rani Mukherjee (a thinly disguised Barkha Dutt) delivers which would be screamingly hilarious if it weren’t for the Radia tapes being public knowledge. (I wonder if any modern personality has been so obviously and not so obviously represented in movies as much as Barkha Dutt. Think Lakshya and Peepli Live apart from this monstrosity. If a Barkha Dutt biopic was to be made, of the three actresses who’ve played her, I would only choose Malaika Shenoy of Peepli Live)
The obvious look-alikes of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and APJ Abdul Kalam dishing out pithy homilies about Jessica being murdered; saying just enough to keep the baying middle classes away and trying to get us to believe that they speak for a political class that cares.
I could go on, but my point, as I said earlier, is that this movie is remarkably dishonest about power, the middle class and Delhi and this is why.
Power: As far as the movie is concerned, political power=bad and media power=good, not for a moment reflecting on how both are just tools capable of being used for one’s ends or others. The movie would have you believe that “good” countervailing power of the media can help you overcome the “bad” political power of the Venod Sharmas of the world. Provided of course you are suitably middle class, attractive and female (like Ruchika Girhotra). Never mind that the media’s power itself is used by those in power to lie, betray and cheat the rest of us with the active collusion of the media as we all learned in excruciating detail from the Radia tapes and the paid news scandals.
The Middle Class: The makers of NOKJ want you to believe that the middle class will rise as one to redress injustice, but don’t realize that Jessica’s case itself shows that the middle class will do no such thing when such activism actually involves consequences for the “activists”. It’s all very well to circulate SMSes and turn up with candles and banners, but this is just grandstanding trying to cover up for cowardice. Cowardice that is gloriously on display in not just the character based on the feckless Shayan Munshi (“Vikram Jai Singh”), but also the three hundred people at the party who claimed they saw nothing, and don’t testify at the trial when their testimony could have had Manu Sharma convicted in the first place.
If this was the only way in which NOKJ was being dishonest about the middle class, it would be forgivable since it at least put Shayan Munshi and the 300 “non-witnesses” out there for us to ponder. No, NOJK’s worst sin is to peddle the glorious lie that the middle class cares for such values as justice and equality. It doesn’t and this is where it is most dishonest about Delhi.
The biggest lie that NOKJ peddles is that there is such a thing as a Dilli-wala. There isn’t. There hasn’t been for 153 years since the British de-populated this city. Sure, people live, work and die here, but they generally don’t belong here. No one does really. Its residents have nothing but geography in common. To see the makers of NOKJ try to convince us that some shared values or virtues brought the denizens of Delhi together for Jessica’s death made me gag harder than anything else this movie threw at me.
Delhi’s middle class cares nothing for its urban poor and migrant labour. So many examples illustrate this, but none better than the fact that the treatment of workers in the CWG gets not a hundredth of the coverage that the figures and amounts involved in the CWG gets. So also the way the Aarushi Talwar case has been covered in the media. Never mind that it was a double murder, and never mind that one of the victims was assumed accused until he unfortunately turned up dead. As far as the media and Delhi’s middle class are concerned, Aarushi’s case is terrible because it could be one of them, but people like Hemraj die every day, so it doesn’t bother them.
NOKJ wants us to believe the horseshit that the campaign to get “justice for Jessica” was some sort of transformative moment in the history of India. It wasn’t. And you can, if you live in Delhi, see it around you.
Dozens die every winter in the cold in Delhi for lack of proper shelter and it merits a few inches in the newspaper every winter. A pretty girl gets shot in the face and the nation’s appalled.
I think I’m going to be sick.