The first ten minutes of Lucknow Central wallop you into attention, showing you how an aspiring singer, Kishan Mohan Girhotra (Farhan Akhtar) is mercilessly and swiftly thrown into the Moradabad jail for the murder of an IAS officer. Matters become more gripping as he’s then transferred to the dreaded Lucknow Central jail, and the manipulated case against him now being considered for the death penalty. This part is equally solid, as you’re taken into prison intrigue and politics. In the meantime, thanks to the efforts of an NGO worker, Gayatri Kashyap (Diana Penty) and his own insistence when he’s at Moradabad, Kishan’s roped in to form and lead a music band at Central to win an upcoming inter-jail competition. All good so far. If this was the state of New York, it’d be a musical Sing Sing, you purr in anticipation.
I’m not sure when exactly during the movie, but director Ranjit Tiwari silently and simply removes all intrigue from most of the goings on in the jail and makes it look like Hum Log redux. The glitter of evil and imminent danger is replaced by sensitive feelings, brotherly love, and all that. Where you thought it’d be taut tension all through, it’s sentimental sniffles. Not that it gets boring, but you’d never expected to traverse from mandolin to maudlin so swiftly.
And therein lies Lucknow Central’s biggest problem – director Tiwari and co-writer Aseem Arora try to straddle too many tracks – combining Prison Break with Happy New Year to make another The Shawshank Redemption. Except for the music competition, every story and subplot traces its genesis back to this all-time cinematic classic that’ll forever continue to warmly generate life’s lessons even as it ponders over human nature and failings via Morgan Freeman’s soothingly powerful voice.
Those aspirations remain just that, as the prison escape plot and the music competition loom and intertwine ahead, and in one fleeting moment of epiphany, as the zippy Teen Kabutar number ends, you know how the prison break’s going to turn out. If you wonder if all this portends soporific times in the cinema hall, it thankfully doesn’t. And that’s in large measure because of the cast, all of who smartly breathe and infiltrate their characters with a depth and intelligence that raises Lucknow Central to a respectable loft of watchability.
Here’s Rajesh Sharma as Purushottam Madan Pandit, who manages a beautiful combination of threat and humaneness; there’s Virendar Saxena as the IG who’s under pressure from the Chief Minister to make the music competition a success and a winner for the jail, and the former calmly transferring the pressure to his jail warden; Inaamulhaq as Liyakat Ansari, bird-whistling away to glory; Gippy Grewal as Parminder Singh Gill who’s superbly menacing in the beginning but is let down by his storyline later; Ravi Kishan as Chief Minister Pawan Singh Chaturvedi shines, exuding humor and power in a delightful cameo; Ronit Roy as the jailer is a highlight of the movie, chewing at his role with as much joy as he chomps at his paan, lending a deliciously delightful authoritarian touch, even as his character finally discovers the sole functional use of Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s screechy ode to the reptilian family, Main Teri Dushman.
Plus, there’s Deepak Dobriyal who is simply superb as Victor Chattopadhyay, his faint Bengali accent marinated so well with his body language, his eyes delivering dialogues even when there’s none. Diana Penty doesn’t have much to do here, and it can’t have been easy to stand up to the overshadowing Roy, but she holds her ground. Also holding its own is the music by Arjunna Harjaie, Rochak Kohli, and Tanishk Bagchi – earthy, folksy, it carries just the punch this project requires, especially in Meer-e-Kaarwan.
And with Farhan Akhtar’s performance you get a pair of good news. The first, that this has to be the actor’s best performance thus far – especially when he’s soaked in music, his aspirations beaming so truthfully; or in the scene where he thanks the jailer for the opportunity to connect to what is his character’s sole purpose in life; or when he’s breaking down, even as he refuses hope to let go his side. Even when he can’t quite zip in his urban coolness, he’s very, very likeable. The second piece of good news? He doesn’t sing his own songs.
Lucknow Central is rated U/A (parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years). There’s violence and some dark jail scenes. But your children would’ve already watched Prison Break, with or without you.
Director Ranjit Tiwari Running Time 2h 13 min
Writers Aseem Arora, Ranjit Tiwari
Stars Farhan Akhtar, Ronit Roy, Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Diana Penty, Inaamulhaq, Gippy Grewal, Virendra Saxena
Genres Action, Crime, Drama
Watch the trailer of Lucknow Central here: