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Without compromise

Anjum N | August 01, 2003 14:18 IST

Nagesh Kukunoor, Jackie Shroff and Naseerudin Shan in 3 DeewareinI joined the 800-strong audience in giving actor-director Nagesh Kukunoor's 3 Deewarein a standing ovation after a special screening at Mumbai's Sterling Cinema on July 28. That most people in the audience had paid for their tickets, and the filmmaker was not inside to hear the applause, did not deter anyone from displaying their appreciation.

The film met with a similar response at a Delhi theatre on July 23, when it was screened at the CineMaya Film Fest. The festival organisers had to include an additional screening the same evening.

3 Deewarein was also screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, where it was well received. At the Commonwealth Festival at Manchester, it was the gala presentation and nominated as one of top five films the festival's audience loved.

Welcome to mainstream filmmaking, Mr Kukunoor. We know you are here to stay.

Kukunoor's fourth film is based in the Musheerabad prison in Hyderabad where Jaggu (Jackie Shroff) and Nagya (Kukunoor) are imprisoned for the cold-blooded murder of their respective wives.

Jaggu, a lawyer, keeps himself busy by reciting English verses when he is not cooking for the inmates. Having killed his wife (Sujata Mehta), he does not believe he should try for a pardon. Nagya enjoys Jaggu's company though he cannot make sense of his English poetry. A Hindi-speaking middle-class youth from Hyderabad, he is convinced people will believe in his innocence someday and he will walk free.

Enter Ishaan Mehta (Naseeruddin Shah), a rogue from Lucknow accused of murdering a bank employee in the course of a heist gone wrong. Not one to give up without a fight, he is always on the lookout for an escape route.

Nagesh Kukunoor, Jackie Shroff and Naseerudin Shan in 3 DeewareinThe three slowly become friends.

Soon, documentary filmmaker Chandrika (Juhi Chawla) and her team visit the prison to film a feature on the life of the prisoners behind the 'three walls' and how jailor Mohan's (Gulshan Grover) reforms help them lead a happier life within the prison.

Chandrika herself is going through a troubled marriage with an alcoholic, abusive husband (Shri Vallabh Vyas). 

How she picks up the three convicts as her case studies and how their lives seem related forms the crux of the story.

3 Deewarein holds one's attention right from the initial scenes when the three murders are shown. Without unnecessary dialogues or vivid blood 'n' gore, writer-director Kukunoor manages to paint a grim yet touching picture of lives gone wrong.

Cut to the prison, where the harsh lives of the prisoners and jailors are humanely portrayed. The film makes no attempts to show the convicts' backgrounds or create sympathy or hatred for them.

In an attempt to move away from his previous lighthearted comedies like Hyderabad Blues, Rockford and Bollywood Calling, Kukunoor sticks to his storytelling with utmost seriousness. That the film still manages to make you laugh throughout is thanks to his natural characterisations and simple lines. Note Nagya's enthusiasm for Jaggu's poetry though he cannot comprehend the language; Ishaan's friendly overtures to Nagya even though he keeps getting rejected; Ishaan's subtle use of Lucknowi mannerisms and slang without making any in-your-face gestures...

The dark side of prison life -- loneliness, fear of being released without any guarantee of a livelihood outside, sodomy and AIDS -- has been dealt with very subtly.

In one of the best-filmed scenes, Chandrika speaks to the three convicts about their crime for the first time -- whether they did what they have been accused of, whether they repent their actions, whether they would still do what they did... The scene goes on for a few minutes, with the camera moving around Chandrika and a convict, cutting from one to the other, without letting the tempo drop or making one feel it could have been shorter.

The use of black and white footage to show the murders adds a sense of drama without making it too stark. Also, the twist at interval and the slow and suspenseful build-up to the climax, which includes a series of unpredictable turns, makes for interesting viewing.

3 Deewarein does not have any songs -- the trend seems to be catching on after Bhoot and Darna Mana Hai. Salim-Suleiman's background score blends into the film, as does Ajayan Vincent's cinematography.

Jackie, as an English-speaking convict, is convincing. Juhi's scenes with her rude husband are her best, though one must say her dialogues in her outburst scene would have sounded better in Hindi. Kukunoor is as convincing as the rest of his talented cast. But Gulshan and Vyas do not have much scope to perform.Juhi Chawla and Jackie Shroff in 3 Deewarein

The real scene-stealer, however, is Naseeruddin Shah. He shows why he is one of India's best actors. Adding layers of emotion and subtlety to his character, he makes the audience feel for Ishaan right from his very first scene.

But 3 Deewarein ultimately belongs to writer-director Kukunoor, who has the movie firmly under control. Tightly written and well-directed, he shows no nervousness handling a genre different from what he, or other Bollywood filmmakers, have handled before.

Hope he continues experimenting with such themes -- realistically and without compromises. Bollywood could do with more like him.

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Jackie Shroff, Nagesh Kukunoor, Juhi Chawla, Gulshan Grover, Vallabh Vyas
Producer: Elahe Hiptoola, Sanjay Sharma
Direction, Screenplay: Nagesh Kukunoor
Music: Salim-Sulaiman
Cinematographer: Ajayan Vincent
Editor: Sanjib Datta

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