Jubilee review: A lavish ode to Hindi cinema, an epic tale of ambition and stardom

Jubilee review: A lavish ode to Hindi cinema, an epic tale of ambition and stardom

Vikramaditya Motwane is a storyteller before he is a filmmaker. The writer-director’s previous outings — the suppressed rage of Udaan (2010), the lyricism of Lootera (2013), or even the meta-aggression of AK vs AK (2020) — work in tandem with the longevity of their storytelling. If a standard Motwane narrative feels simultaneously contained and sprawling, it is indeed by the meticulous design of its craft.

The filmmaker seems to have a hold not only over the fickle-minded nature of human emotions but is also adept at pulverising them to build expansive universes. In Jubilee, the lavish 10-episode period drama helmed by Motwane (he previously co-directed the first season of Sacred Games alongside Anurag Kashyap), the storyteller and filmmaker collide to deliver a vivid tapestry of ambition, history, and stardom ensconced within the trauma of Partition.

Subtext and context

The delicate balance of subtext and context, storytelling and filmmaking, rhythm and emotion is on display in a standout scene in the second episode of Jubilee. In it, an accidental actor struggles to nail a take that could potentially turn him into a hero. We see him take his mark, emote his dialogue and yet fall short of the finish line each time. As he keeps repeating his motions, the stakes keep getting higher — the camera runs out of magazine midway, the patience of the studio boss facilitating his debut wears thin, and the crew similarly lose faith in whether the actor might have any star quality in him.

Also read: Qala review: A sensual mood piece, a strange little psychological puzzle

Then when the tide turns and he finally nails the 41st take, we don’t hear him say the dialogue or see the take; the scene unfolds instead in silence. Working with editor Aarti Bajaj, Motwane cuts to the close-up reactions of the people on set, the smiles leaking out of their exasperated faces which are punctuated by the whir of ceiling fans and the sounds of the bells and projector in the background. This sequence in essence, sees Motwane bridging the gap between context and subtext — underlining a success story by pointedly looking at what there is to gain.

Created by Motwane and Soumik Sen, the screenplay (by Atul Sabharwal) similarly blends facts and fabrication to paint a riveting portrait of the Hindi film industry. The story is told through the inner workings of Roy Talkies, a film studio run by the scheming Srikant Roy (Bengali superstar Prosenjit Chatterjee in what can be described as a casting masterclass). Roy is married to Sumitra Devi (Aditi Rao Hydari), a top-billed heroine who co-owns the studio and headlines every home-production.

Blurs lines between fact and fiction

When the show opens, we find Roy in a moment of crisis — he’s eager to launch Jamshed Khan (Nandish Singh Sandhu), a charismatic theatre actor as Madan Kumar, the new face of Roy Talkies, hoping his screen presence might be intoxicating enough to steer the fortunes of his debt-ridden studio.

Also read: Succession review: A cautionary tale on the state of democracy, and rich-poor divide

But wooing Jamshed proves to be harder than Roy anticipates, not only because he finds out that his wife is having an affair with him in Lucknow. But more so because he is unaware that Binod Das (a sensational Aparshakti Khurana), his trusted right-hand man harbours his own intentions of becoming a hero. Contrasting him are two parallel storylines of strivers (Sidhant Gupta, Wamiqa Gabbi) who find themselves climbing up the ladder.

Given that the show is set between 1947 and 1953, much of the complexities of the narrative feel like a stand-in for a newly-independent India wrecked by Partition violence. Take for example, the ascension of Binod from servant to hero, not very dissimilar from the fate of the country that finds its voice after years of colonial rule.

In that sense, Jubilee employs a considerable amount of spot-the-reference filmmaking to its advantage, almost as if egging on the viewer to draw parallels between the fictional Roy Talkies and the real-life Bombay Talkies run by Himashu Rai and Devika Rani, people on whom the show’s lead characters are clearly modelled on. This precise blurring of lines between fact and fiction certainly aids the show’s reading but Motwane and Sen ensure that they don’t overwhelm the plot. That is to say, take away from the factual padding and the emotional conflicts of Jubilee are capable of standing on their own.

Underwhelming narrative

Any period undertaking is a risk as much as it is an ambition. The fact that Sanjay Leela Bhansali is perhaps the only filmmaker who can frequently pull off scale is evidence of the glaring inadequacies of contemporary Hindi cinema in executing expansive universes without losing themselves in it. Motwane’s deft hand proves to be a welcome addition to the canon, the filmmaker mounts the ten episodes with an eye for technical synchronicity.

Also read: Murder Mystery 2 review: A fun-filled fare, with desi flair, Aniston-Sandler synergy

Take for instance, Alokananda Dasgupta’s melancholic soundtrack which finds a suitable dance partner in cinematographer Pratik Shah’s clever imagery, replete with distorted reflections and shadowy spirits. Even the dense structure of the material is treated with an unhurried slow-burn pacing that contrasts the urgency of the imminent power struggles, resulting in luminous episodes that withhold more than they reveal.

In that, the decision to release the show in two parts — the first five episodes drop today and the remaining drop on April 14 — feels in line with the intentions of the makers to back a show that demands to be savoured.

Still, there’s something that misses the mark once you unpeel the layers of the show’s clinical formulation. I’m not sure if it’s a fallout of the Bombay Velvet debacle or perhaps a result of Motwane’s renewed focus but Jubilee’s second half comes across slightly hesitant to reach further into the excesses.

Even when the love and lament for movie making and the dangers engulfing artistic freedom feels apparent, its narrative lacks bite. By that I mean that Jubilee could have been darker than it really is and it would still be as persuasive. That it remains content in outlining its darkness instead of diving deep into it remains perhaps the only unfulfilling mysteries of this story.

Read More
Next Story