Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Ronit Roy, Ravi Kishan, Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Diana Penty
First a true life story – In 2007, a progressive superintendent at a Lucknow jail started a reform initiative around music. Inmates from different jails were invited to showcase their talent at an annual inter-jail competition. Inside the towering walls of the Lucknow prison, a band called Healing Hearts was born. All the members were inmates serving life sentences.
Healing Hearts became so popular that they started to get hired to perform at weddings and parties. Each time, the men went outside to play the latest Bollywood hits and then returned to their cells. This incredible story inspired two Hindi films – Qaidi Band and Lucknow Central. I didn’t see the first but the second does little justice to the pathos and power inherent in this narrative.
Farhan Akhtar plays Kishen, a chhote shehar ka ladka with bade bade sapne. What are these? To create a band, to sing and to hear people scream his name. Where does this dream finally come true? In jail. Kishen is framed for a murder and given life imprisonment. Behind bars, he finds friends and the music he has been longing for.
But director Ranjit Tiwari isn’t content to just tell this story. He bungs in a prison break, a love angle and a villain who is so formulaic that he ceases to be effective – I honestly wonder who gets scared when they see Ronit Roy glaring, chewing paan and knocking back whiskey.
The rest of Lucknow Central doesn’t have any surprises either. The predictably schmaltzy story takes forever to unfold – before we get to the setting up of the band, Kishen must fight with the powerful don Tilakdhaari who rules over the prison. Diana Penty makes an appearance as an NGO worker who is fighting for prison reforms. This is of course Bollywood’s idea of an NGO worker so the most interesting thing about her character is the styling – each time she appeared, I checked out her tasteful scarves and earrings.
But she’s not the only one thriving in an Indian prison. Farhan’s ripped body doesn’t show any sign of wear and tear either. In fact, he stays unusually cheerful and smiling for someone who life has been suddenly destroyed by a fraudulent murder charge. Logic is not a priority here – especially in the climatic jail-break sequence in which these friends actually find time for an extensive debate while the cops frantically search for them.
Lucknow Central has some fine actors including Deepak Dobriyal, Ravi Kishan and Rajesh Sharma. Farhan also gives it a sincere shot but the soggy screenplay by Aseem Arora and his inconsistent accent hobble him. Much of the film was shot on a massive jail set, which is impressive but there is little sense of the claustrophobia of incarceration.
I enjoyed the refurbished Kaavaan Kaavaan song and Ravi Kishan as the self-serving chief minister. There’s also a crackling scene in which Farhan wearing a gamcha does a Bachchan from Agneepath while a scene from Agneepath plays. But Lucknow Central is too laboured to be loved.