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Movie Review - Teen Deewarein

Chitra Parayath

Stray vignettes, stark and poignant when strung together, weave a compelling tale. In Nagesh Kukunoorís (Hyderabad Blues, Rockford, Bollywood Calling) brilliant new offering, Teen Deewarein, 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 crumble and die. Intriguing and shot brilliantly, these vignettes succeed in haunting the viewer long after the film. (NKís repeated revisiting of these scenes is rather pointless, nevertheless)

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 a narrow thread of hope and Ishaan( Naseeruddin Shah), the small time crook and street savvy huckster, a survivor to the core.

The three are death row inmates awaiting sentencing. While Jaggu courts death calmly, Nagya claiming innocence, hopes for redemption in the eyes of the law, and Ishaan, also claiming innocence, plans his escape from the walls that imprison him. 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.

The denouement is outrageously improbable, but in the end the execution of the tale forces us to o suspend our disbelief and root for it all the way.

Nagesh Kukunoorís deft ironic humor carries the film through, Nasseruddin Shah is in his element here, as possessor of the keenest, most expressive eyes, fleeting emotions across his face speak volumes. Juhi, Jackie and Nagesh are decent enough.

The system portrayed here is one of subtle corruption and rot. 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 make the prison and itís inmates financially and socially self sustaining. Corruption of sorts is in the form of the judicial officer, who, to avenge the death of his daughter is not beyond twisting truths to get false confessions out of the accused. Corrupt also, is Chandrikaís impotent husband, who terrorizes her and hacks away at her self-esteem.

The cinematography by Ajay Vincent is arresting, Salim-Suleimanís 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.

This review is sponsored by Raja and Rana of Burlington.

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