Lucknow Central is an engaging thriller, which makes a brave attempt to penetrate the politics of prison life without relinquishing the right to engage us in a solid storytelling spree. The cat-and-mouse game is played out between a sadistic jailer (Ronit Roy, in top form) and a non-guilty prisoner (Farhan Akhtar) who is bent on getting his liberty at any cost.
The thoughtfully written script (by Ranjit Tiwari, Aseem Arora) delves into the dynamics of freedom and comes up with a super-chic musical with wings that often allow vivid characters to fly higher than prison dramas generally do in India.
Akhtar plays Kishen as a dreamer-musician coping with a crisis beyond his comprehension but determined to slum it out even if it means breaking some laws. This is his bravest, most soul-baring performance to date. Scenes of his breakdown in solitary confinement will remain with us long after the last episode of Prison Break is over.
The steel-willed screenplay provides Akhtar solid support. Early on in a seemingly authentic courtroom scene, the smirking judge’s verdict on Kishen’s faith will shock you by its sheer casualness.
Let’s not beat around the bush, an indulgence that this film is assuredly not guilty of thanks to Charushree Roy’s editing, which weaves in and out of the inmates’ lives with the expertise of a trapeze artiste. What starts off as Akhtar’s story soon becomes the story of four other prison inmates, each played by an actor who has rare insight into human nature.
Lucknow Central draws viewers into its human drama. It gives a flying hoot about commercial trappings, keeps the frames stark, bare and daunting. No concession is made to glamorous props.
And if Diana Penty playing a kind of self-important activist that would otherwise seem satirical, happens to be naturally glamorous, it’s just too bad.
An ongoing sense of inclusiveness runs through the film. We feel so much part of the goings-on that we cry, laugh, sing and dance with Kishen and his four band members. Their Kabootar song in the prison compound is arguably the best-choreographed dance number seen in a Hindi film in recent times.
It looks so unrehearsed, so spontaneous…. just like the film where the characters probably existed long before the writer and director thought about them. We just didn’t know or care.