Wilder’s satire is as caustic as they come. Human depravity was extenuated with a memorable accent in Wilder’s 1944 classic noir Double Indemnity by the scheming Phyllis Dietrichson. ‘We’re both rotten’ she tells the doomed Walter Neff, only his response is more telling ‘Only you’re a little more rotten’. The corruption of an ideal is aptly demonstrated by such a metaphor – rotten souls, rotten people and rotten dreams are some of the charges levied at the grotesque journalist Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas). It’s not surprising Wilder’s 1951 treatise on the American news media was a critical and commercial failure considering the prescient tone struck by the insidious fabrication and duplicitous manufacturing of news. Tatum like Neff is a victim of hubris but unlike Neff’s death march Tatum’s descent is a venomous trajectory of egotistical excess which offends and polarises all those around him. Wilder paints a picture of American society that is inherently unsympathetic. The parasitic hunger for sensationalising personal tragedy is sustained primarily through an ending in which imagery of rampant exploitation and prostitution is galvanised by Tatum’s dying words ‘You can have me for nothing’ he says pathetically before he drops down dead in a heap. It is a savage denouement and one that cuts deep:
I had been looking forward to this one given director Raj Kumar Gupta seemed to show some promise with his debut Aamir but like most Hindi films of late this falls short of expectations and in many ways descends into a melodramatic sentiment un-keeping with the first half of the film. Based on what is arguably one of the more controversial murder cases in Delhi involving the indiscriminate slaying of model Jessica Lall by the son a powerful politician, this slickly made dramatisation by UTV Motion Pictures is undoubtedly well intended especially given the pedigree involved. Yet it seems to me a case of a film star hijacking what could have potentially been a far greater film had they agreed to maintain a distance and show some restraint. Of course, I am referring to the unconvincing performance by Rani Mukherjee who whilst dominating the second half of the film in an attempt to underline the media backed campaign for Jessica’s injustice smoother’s any sense of social indignation with a sustained bout of overly pretentious liberalism. The makers of the film should have really kept the focus with the character of Sabrina Lall as actress Vidya Balan excels in the role of the benign sister forced to struggle with the bitter realities of power relations running throughout the entire establishment.
Vidya Balan is currently one of the best actresses of her generation but one does feel the commercial demands placed on stars leads to dubious career choices – both Hey Baby! and Kismet Konnection saw her look uncomfortably out of place in the company of medioctry whilst Ishqiya hinted at a distinct edginess absent from many of the mainstream actors. Both Nutan and perhaps more interestingly Madhabi Mukherjee comes to mind when deliberating over Vidya Balan’s abilities as an actress. She is largely wasted in the second half of the film and one can clearly see a contest was played out between the two main leads in terms of screen time – it is of little surprise Rani comes out on top given her box office prowess but I’m not so sure if this was the right decision. Swearing (with most of it bleeped out for dramatic effect), smoking and a chic bitchiness emerge as superficial traits that mark Meera’s crusading journalist as yet another heroic one dimensional cinematic anecdote. Whilst it may be acceptable to argue that Meera is supposed to be unlikable as the unsavoury politicians that we come across, her presence in the second half of the film literally devalues the credibility and sincerity constructed initially with what is a mildly compelling reconstruction of Jessica’s murder.
Had this taken a more Rashomon approach to narrative storytelling it might have made more of an emotional impact but instead it chooses to adhere to a familiar path in terms of the family melodrama. Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of the film sees a twist of cinematic irony ring true when a passive Delhi audience spurred on by the youth activism witnessed in a screening of Rang De Basanti initiate a candlelight vigil to be held as a mark of anger at India Gate. In addition, the media’s role in helping to elevate the injustice of Jessica’s flawed and corrupt trial to a national level poses some serious questions on the relationship between politics and the mass media which on many occasions privileges sensationalism over the much maligned concerns of the oppressed. Another noteworthy ideological proposition is whether or not the media should discard any sense of objectivity and personalise those news stories which are close to certain journalists own ideological agenda. No One Killed Jessica is director Raj Kumar Gupta’s second film and whilst it falls short of his debut, it tries nobly to do justice to the memory of Sabrina Lall – yet another victim of the ruling power elite.