'Jail’ is grim,gritty and stark,and,despite a saggy middle,very watchable.

Cast: Neil Nitin Mukesh,Mughda Godse,Manoj Bajpai

Director: Madhur Bhandarkar


Madhur Bhandarkar switches to low-key from his usual high-pitch,and turns effective. It’s his treatment that glosses over the fact that ‘Jail’ has neither a novel plot,nor denouement.

Parag (Mukesh) is picked by an anti-narcotics team in the worst possible way: there’s a stash of high-quality,high-priced drugs in his car,flung in the backseat by his flatmate, grievously injured in a shoot-out. The crooked dealer goes into the ICU,the straight tie-wearing young corporate goes to jail,and there they both stay,as the film winds itself onto familiar tracks: the innocent man trying to find his way around the claustrophobic confines of prison,his mother and girl-friend (Godse) doing their best to get him out with the help of a lawyer who’s more interested in his fees than oiling the creaky wheels of justice.

It’s a story that has often been told as a sub-strand in many,many films. Bhandarkar makes a whole movie out it,just as Nagesh Kukunoor did with ‘Teen Deewarein’,and Frank Darabont with ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Given Bhandarkar’s propensity to gild every single lily in sight,this could have been a film where hysterical jailbirds are hideously tortured and abused,or deified beyond belief,forcing us to either cringe and close our eyes,or turn voyeuristic.


It’s not as if all this is missing in ‘Jail’. Parag gets his first lesson in prison discipline when the jailboss orders Nawab (Bajpai),an old-time inmate with no hope of getting out,to string him up and beat the soles of his feet with a ‘lathi’—standard pain dished out to new rebels to make them walk soft,and keep them in line. Parag is also thrown into solitary,the black,dank room,emphasizing his isolation.

But Bhandarkar is careful to show these things,and other ills,with a welcome degree of restraint: it’s hard to believe that the fair and lovely Parag does not automatically become the target of testosterone-fuelled bullies,but the director manages,in a smart,unpredictable stroke,to save his leading man from that debasement.

And paints a real picture of how our criminal justice system works,which is neither all black,nor all white: the greedy lawyer is not all evil,nor are the cops whose job it is to keep us safe; the beating by the guards is as routine as the standing in food-lines,and the communal washing up in the yard,and the hearings that come and go,with the elusive freedom just that much farther away.

Good acting by everyone,especially Mukesh who makes a credible transition from a bewildered innocent to a belligerent ‘qaidi’ to a man who lives in hope,and by Godse,the girl who will stand by her man,whatever happens. ‘Jail’ is grim,gritty and stark,and,despite a saggy middle,very watchable.