Jubilee's irresistible celebration of cinema and all its good, bad, ugly ways lives up to its title, applauds Sukanya Verma.
Cinema's indelible quality can make memories made on screen memories of our subconscious. What becomes lore is the behind-the-scenes action and scandals lived vicariously and lastingly through grapevine and gossip.
Vikramaditya Motwane's Jubilee time travels into the golden era of black and white Hindi films and combines the twain to achieve a spectacular feat of storytelling flourish and vintage verve.
Laying bare the guile under the gilded face of glamour, writer Atul Sabharwal's cannily fictionalised slice-of-history ensures the 10-part series (five episodes are out, five drop next Friday, April 14) on Amazon Prime Video, created by Motwane and Soumik Sen goes well beyond a starry-eyed period affair.
Jubilee begins at the brink of India's Independence whose celebrations are cut short by the horrors of Partition and a general feeling of uncertainty and unrest beleaguering those displaced in its aftermath.
Back in Bombay (as it was officially addressed then) though, the city of dreams and birthplace of Hindi cinema, the show goes on and its tight-knit, self-absorbed magicians will do whatever it takes to draw the audience inside the theatres.
Stuck in a bad marriage at a time divorce was considered a dirty word, Srikant Roy (Prosenjit Chatterjee) and Sumitra Kumari (Aditi Rao Hydari) begrudgingly stick together for the sake of their studio, Roy Talkies, modelled on the legendary Bombay Talkies founded by husband-wife duo of actors Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani.
Roy seeks control of lives on screen and off it while Sumitra's need to break out of the toxic cage results in a torrid affair with Jamshed Khan, a theatre actor (Nandish Singh Sandhu) her husband is planning to launch as the next big thing, namely Madan Kumar -- Khan hero nahi bante isliye naam badal diya hai (a nod at Yusuf Khan's Dilip Kumar, a wink at all the Khans that would reign in future) -- in a project titled Sunghursh (interestingly a movie Dilip Kumar worked in 1968).
But India's violent political climate has other ideas in mind, giving Roy's right-hand-man Binod Das (Aparshakti Khurana) a shot at realising his suppressed acting desires and becoming an overnight star called Madan Kumar.
Back in the day, Devika Rani's romantic entanglement with original hero Najm-Ul-Hassan led to his ousting and moving away to Pakistan for good while his replacement, a technician of Bombay Talkies called Kumudlal Ganguly would go on to become a jubilee star the world now knows as Ashok Kumar.
Sabhwarwal's juicy mix of fact and fabrication is the heartbeat of this Mad Men-styled chronicling of Hindi films through the prism of history -- power of radio, nosey government, the Soviet Union's artistic propaganda, German directors and engineering, bans on film songs, American-Russian rivalry for monopolising the overseas market, popularity of Radio Ceylon and musical countdowns, live orchestra on set and birth of playback singing.
Connecting its 'azad desh ke ghulam' sentiment from then to now, like when someone scoffs, filmon ka karobar kuch saalon mein government ke andar aa jayega is as prescient as it is predictable in its propensity for never learning from past mistakes.
Speaking of the past, Motwane's sepia soaked Jubilee originally had a monochrome image in mind but he thought it's practical to limit it to the authentic looking black and white opening credits. It's the grey shades of human behaviour he's most focused on.
Technically, it's a lavishly mounted small screen epic whose research and detailing in all departments -- sets, costumes, background score, cinematography, character building and production values -- is as absorbed as it is meticulous.
Having delivered one of his career-best soundtracks around the jazz-heavy milieu in Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet, Amit Trivedi has no trouble shipping us back in time again in Jubilee.
One of its tracks, pictured on Arun Govil (nice to see the actor take a break from divine duties) -- Chandu Naache Chanda Naachi -- is an infectious take on Shree 420's melodious riddle, Ichak Daana Beechak Daana.
Every single song traces back to melodious nostalgia from the 1950s.
Sometimes it rubs off on the dialogues too.
It's easy to see Baazi's chartbuster Taqdeer Se Bigdi Hui Tadbeer is the inspiration behind a character's line, 'Daav lag gaya na teri taqdeer ban jayegi teri.'
But Jubilee's trump cards are its nuanced, deeply internalised performances, especially by Aparshakti, Prosenjit and Wamiqa Gabbi.
Aparshakti's metamorphosis into Madan Kumar is a complete departure from his clownish imagery. He is a revelation as the complex guy, silently strong-arming his way to success yet bound to pay the price of being his master's blue-eyed boy.
Tormented by a guilt befitting a Shakespearean play sparked by a Shakespearean actor, Jubilee plays on the duality of his dread as well as the two Madan Kumars -- the star and the ghost and fits it lyrically within the context of India's tryst with destiny.
Where his Madan Kumar evokes Ashok Kumar's Babu Moshai roots and Dilip Kumar's intense school of acting, the struggles of his suave, aspiring film-maker friend Jay Khanna (an adequate Sidhant Gupta) highlight the plight of the scattered Punjabi refugee families starting life afresh in a disorderly camp set in Sion.
A blend of Dev Anand's jaunty charms and Raj Kapoor's theatre family roots in Pakistan, Jay's sharing of an umbrella under the rain scenario, a la Shree 420 while peddling a script named Taxi Driver, Jubilee doffs its hat at Bollywood's original trinity.
Guru Dutt's Kaagaz Ke Phool looms large in Prosenjit's pipe-smoking Roy, a ruthless visionary zooming in and out of the art deco architecture of his precious studio he is committed to protect at any cost.
A performance akin to a dagger gently stabbed in the guts, Prosenjit shows his control but never his cards.
As his bitter half, Aditi Rao Hydari's vintage styling often comes in the way of the spite and scorn she is supposed to convey. Playing a domestically damaged studio boss like a spoiled brat of an elite SoBo club, her soulless turn is a feeble challenger for sexist beliefs insisting masses follow male heroes.
Though she's billed lower, Wamiqa Gabbi's Nilofer dances her way to the top in Motwane's golden-age yarn.
A woman of substance with her head firmly on her shoulder, she's ready to flirt and fib for her place in the sun.
A cocktail of Cuckoo, Minoo Mumtaz and Sheila Ramani's adas and seduction, the actress elevates a spunky stereotype into a flesh and blood livewire.
It's a largely supporting character but Shweta Basu Prasad's grace and generosity as Bipin's understanding wife creates an easy dynamic for Jubilee to fall back on.
Every episode, clocking close to an hour, is richly loaded on emotional conflict and dramatic ammunition that fires away gloriously leaving an awe-struck viewer least bothered about running time and realism.
An expletive-filled exchange between Jay's wannabe director and boorish financier (Ram Kapoor, stealing scenes in short appearances as usual), a lip sync song-and-dance demonstration explaining the pros of pre recorded songs by Madan Kumar and Prosenjit for the benefit of a sceptic, a spontaneous audition overshadowing a sinister psyche -- Jubilee's irresistible celebration of cinema and all its good, bad, ugly ways lives up to its title.
Jubilee streams on Amazon Prime Video.