Starring: Vidya Balan and Rani Mukherjee
Directed by: Raj Kumar Gupta
Year of Release: 2011
Based on one of the most interesting and controversial cases in India, No One Killed Jessica isn’t a brilliant movie that you would remember for years to come but it will definitely make you think about the grievances of a common man embroiled in the judicial system and the ways in which one can circumvent the law, especially in India.
The name of the movie was taken from a front page article published in the Times of India dated 22nd February, 2006, where the newspaper comments on the Trial Court verdict stating that ‘No One Killed Jessica’. The movie sets its premise in the year 1999 and takes us to the events till 2006. The gruesome incident had occurred on 29th April, 1999. A brief timeline of the matter is as follows:
• April 1999: Jessica Lall shot at a party in Qutub Colonnade Restaurant in South Delhi.
• May, 1999: Police recovers Tata Safari belonging to Manu Sharma
• May, 1999: Manu surrenders before a court in Chandigarh.
• August, 1999: Charge sheet filed against accused persons.
• May, 2001: Court starts recording of prosecution evidence.
• May, 2001: Complainant and eye witness Shyan Munshi turns hostile
• May, 2001: Another eye witness Shiv Das, an electrician, turns hostile.
• July, 2001: Malini Ramani, another eye witness, identifies Manu Sharma.
• October, 2001: Bina Ramani identifies Manu Sharma.
• October, 2001: George Mailhot, Bina Ramani’s husband also identifies Manu.
• February, 2006: Trial court acquits all nine accused due to lack of evidence against them.
• March, 2006: Delhi Police files appeal in the High Court of Delhi.
• November, 2006: High Court reserves its verdict.
• December, 2006: High Court convicts Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill.
• December, 2006: High Court awards life imprisonment term to main convict Manu Sharma. Judgement is accessible here.
• April, 2010: Supreme Court upholds conviction and life term of Manu.
• May, 2011: High Court reserves judgement on whether to prosecute 19 witnesses including Munshi on the charge of perjury for turning hostile.
• May 22, 2013: High Court orders perjury proceedings of Munshi and ballistic expert P.S. Manocha and absolves 17 other witnesses of the charge.
In the initial first few reels of the movie, Jessica Lall is shot down by Manish Bhardwaj (Manu Sharma’s name changed in the movie) in a party comprising of 300 people and in front of at least 7 eye witnesses. Everybody knows that Jessica Lall has been killed by Manish Bhardwaj and there are enough of witnesses to testify. Everybody believes it is an open and shut case. Surprisingly, everybody is proved wrong after the trial Court verdict.
The accused Manish Bhardwaj gives a statement to the police that he had shot the girl. Seven witnesses also testify before the police that they had seen Manish Bhardwaj shooting the girl down. Police also finds out the two bullets of the gun used by Manish Bhardwaj. They also discover the car in which he fled from the spot.
However, at the time of submission of the ballistic report and the report of the forensic labs, it is found out that one of the bullets has been changed.
Most of the witnesses on which the prosecution relies turn hostile. The movie shows that either the witnesses have been provided with the moolah or have been threatened of dire consequences. At the time of cross-examination main star witness Vikram Jai Singh also turns hostile and denies the contents of his statement on the ground that he cannot understand Hindi.
Unfortunately, the Court of District & Sessions Judge has to acquit the accused persons on the basis of lack of evidence.
Then starts a movement for getting justice to Jessica. Candle marches, protests, sting operations, widespread media coverage and everything possible is pumped into the air of the cold and aloof capital, to put the guilty behind bars and reverse the trial court verdict.
As the movie is based on real life events which had not only gripped the city of Delhi but the entire nation, there is a certain amount of expectation from the movie that it would be intriguing and captivating. However, the movie fails to excite or shake the viewer. The movie is evenly paced and is watchable. There are certain scenes that stand out in the movie. One of the key scenes is the interrogation of the accused, who admits to his crime.
Another scene is when the public prosecutor questions the hostile witnesses and sarcastically comments: “Kab tak chat pe rahega, ab to neeche utar aa, log aaye, goli chali, police aayi, ab to neeche aaja mere bhai”.
Another gem of a scene is when the frustrated cop handles the confession statement of the accused to the media, so that they could bring the accused to guilty as he had miserable failed.
Vidya Balan plays Sabrina Lall, sister of the victim Jessica Lall, and she does a good job of it. Her portrayal of Sabrina Lall shows that Sabrina Lall is a very strong woman who kept fighting for her sister for years and only lost hope after the trial court verdict.
Rani Mukherjee plays Meera Gaity, a leading face of Television News, who becomes baffled after finding out that all the accused in the Jessica Lall murder case have been acquitted. She takes it on herself to nail the accused and bring them to justice. In short, she has not depicted a character in the movie but the entire voice and role of the Indian media at that time.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays Manish Bhardwaj, the prime accused. The producers changed the name of the accused ‘Manu Sharma’. Manu Sharma is the son of the former Indian National Congress minister Venod Sharma. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is captivating, menacing and gives a stellar performance with brilliant expressions.
The Director, Raj Kumar Gupta, who had earlier made an amazingly written, shot and executed film ‘Aamir’ does a good job with the story he has. The movie is engaging but clearly not his best work.
To conclude, the movie depicts a society that is aloof, cold and is not interested in grief of others. The ones we popularly refer to as ‘Page 3 socialites’. The case is one of the leading examples of media creating a furore over a judicial decision. The lawyers for the accused criticized the media for their role in the present case and referred to their actions as ‘media trial’.
In this regard, we would like you to see this video. The movie depicts that the ones in power can really change the course of the justice that is provided in this country. At a little above two hours ‘No one killed Jessica’ is not engaging but it reminds us of the sorry state of affairs in our country. If you don’t have time to read the literature on the case and want your appetite to be satisfied with a visual depiction, I recommend that you watch ‘No one killed Jessica’. The movie asks us, ‘Tu Jaanta Hai, Mera Baap Kaun Hai’. We will end this with another headline from ‘The Times of India’