Lavishly produced and steeped in the romance of nostalgia, Jubilee is an imagined history of commercial Hindi cinema that draws upon real people and trivia to create its sepia-tinted world. The first five episodes, which are now streaming on Prime Video, introduce us to the people who will take us behind the scenes of a nascent industry full of wide-eyed dreamers, imperious stars, beautiful strugglers and slippery businessmen. In a time when most OTT platforms are hedging their bets and opting to back projects that are fronted by established stars, Jubilee stands out. Not only is it an ensemble project that doesn’t lean on the celebrity status of any one actor, Amazon’s most expensive Indian production also introduces us to new names and faces.
Here are the key players from the world of Jubilee.
Bengali cinema’s Peter Pan plays the godfather of Hindi cinema Srikant Roy. Roy is the co-owner of Roy Talkies, a leading film studio, and one of the pillars of the film industry. He’s a ladies’ man, commands awe and loyalty from all those around him, and his love for cinema is unmatched. “If I have to choose between saving my marriage or the studio, I’ll choose the studio,” he says at one point. Jubilee opens with Roy on the lookout for an actor he can turn into Roy Talkies’ new star, Madan Kumar.
Among the first things we find out about Sumitra Kumari is that she’s one of the biggest stars of Hindi cinema and also the business head of Roy Talkies, which she founded with her husband Srikant. (If you’ve noticed similarities between Sumitra and Srikant, and Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai, pat yourself on the back.) At the start of Jubilee, she’s also having an affair with a young actor who Srikant hopes to introduce as Madan Kumar. After this tantalising introduction, we don’t get enough of Sumitra although she shimmers onto the scene each time events reach a dramatic climax.
From taking reels to the cinema to delivering threats, Binod Das does it all. He’s the worker bee of Roy Talkies who gazes upon Srikant Roy as his hero while nursing ambitions of becoming a star actor himself. One of the many interesting details ofJubilee is the way some of the casting seems to mirror reality. While Khurana may not be the minion that Binod Das is at the start of the series, he has been a working actor who has played many odd-job roles while waiting for the spotlight. By the way, did you know actor Ashok Kumar began his career in films as a lab assistant in Himanshu Rai’s Bombay Talkies?
Although the records show that Gupta’s acting credits include season three of Inside Edge and a project titled “Bang Bang Bangkok”, we’re counting him among the new faces showcased in Jubilee. Fittingly, he plays Jay Khanna, a struggler who dreams of directing a film and is repeatedly sidelined by his circumstances. Partition forces Jay and his family to leave their home in Karachi and make new beginnings as refugees in Bombay. If his hopes of making a film felt far-fetched before, they’re practically impossible now, but the young man determinedly clings on to his aspirations. As Jay Khanna, Gupta channels a number of beloved heroes from the past and brings to the role a charisma that’s distinctively his own.
When riots tear through Lucknow in August 1947, Niloufer leaves her life as a much-courted courtesan and comes to Bombay. This is no city of dreams for a single young woman, but Niloufer is a survivor and in the first five episodes of Jubilee, we see her navigate the vagaries of Bombay with grit and grace. While Gabbi is a familiar face to many, especially after director Vishal Bharadwaj said he was impressed by her after casting her in Fursat, Jubilee entrusts her with a complex lead role. Look out for her cabaret number, which will have you imagining Niloufer hanging out with legends like Nadira, Helen and Mumtaz in their heyday.
Of the supporting roles, the film financier and bootlegger Walia is perhaps the most memorable, thanks in large part to Ram Kapoor who wholeheartedly embraces the rough edges of this character. Walia is foul-mouthed, blunt, sleazy and the opposite of sophisticated. However, as Jubilee unfolds, it turns out there is more to Walia than initially met the eye.
When Srikant Roy casts the net to find the actor who can become Roy Talkies’ new star Madan Kumar, the prize catch is Jamshed Khan. Jamshed is a well-respected theatre actor and he’s not particularly enamoured by the film industry — until he meets Sumitra Kumari. While Nandish Singh Sandhu doesn’t have the ‘booming’ voice that is supposed to be one of Jamshed’s key attributes, he’s certainly handsome enough to be a haunting presence. (Pun intended.)
The first time community-based divisions rear their ugly heads is in the refugee camp, where we learn there’s a Punjabi gang and a Sindhi gang who have vowed enmity against one another. It quickly becomes clear that the real divide is not one based on language or region, but privilege. Among the smooth-talking elites, it’s businessman Nanak Jotwani (played by Aarya Bhatta) who plays one of the oilier operators who slithers around trying to profit from existing rivalries. Counterbalancing him is Raghu Jhalani (Alok Arora) who, despite being a thug, shows unexpected glints of kindness and humanity. Raghu and Jay’s relationship is a very minor thread in Jubilee, but it’s also among the more interesting and heartwarming details in the show.