BY ARNAB BANERJEE
Web Series: Jubilee (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video). Episodes: 10
Director: Vikrmaditya Motwane. Cast: Prasenjit Chatterjee, Aparshakti Khurana, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sidhant Gupta, Nandish Sandhu, Wamiqa Gabbi and Ram Kapoor.
Music: Amit Trivedi. Cinematography: Pratik Shah.
The mainstay of the Indian film industry has been its checkered history with a motley mix of religions, castes and regions headlining a wide cross-section of actors — some from a privileged background, others from the periphery — who lived in Bombay and contributed to its glory.
“Jubilee” spans an era that heralded new beginnings in Indian cinema, as the country cast off the shackles of British rule. Focusing on an eventful period that presaged an independent cinema, the web series has many firsts to its credit: the reconstruction of imposing film studios headed by the original honchos; a closer look at the stars and star-wives; the spectacle surrounding the struggling actors and filmmakers; dreamers and aspirants amid the divide between the two central religions; and the intrigues that surround the film business.
The saga unfolds just a little before Partition and spills over into the time when Indian movies started making their presence felt worldwide too. One can therefore see the changes that were in the offing and the old order making way for the next generation.
An absorbing tale comprising many different trajectories of the powerful people involved, it also unspools the intimately juxtaposed history of two nations that resulted in separating talent following the creation of Pakistan.
Interweaving showbiz with incidents that film buffs would recall having read or heard about, the web series transports us back to the time when storytelling was linear with ample scope for appropriately fleshed-out characters and an emotion-filled writing. It is also accompanied by beautifully penned, composed and rendered songs that are bound to become popular.
Roy Studious owner Srikant Roy (Prasenjit Chatterjee), along with his wife Sumitra Kumari (Aditi Rao Hydari), is preparing to release their new film as the date of India’s independence also gets announced. Violence across the country abounds in the chaos that follows. But the two have grand plans of introducing their next big star, Jamshed Khan (Nandish Sandhu), who has been rechristened Madan Kumar, for an actor with the surname ‘Khan’ would never be saleable.
For Srikant, financial success is all that matters in business, so much so that it takes precedence over his wife Sumitra. Jamshed, meanwhile, has an intimate relationship with Sumitra, and he has a legion of fans — one of them being the dreamer Binod (Aparshakti Khurana), who aspires to replace him one day.
A lab technician and an employee of Srikant who is made to run errands, besides doing odd jobs, Binod would not settle for anything less than the star status of a ‘Madan Kumar’, and seems determined to bag the coveted role in his boss’s next film. Binod doesn’t let his desire be known to anyone, but so desperate he is to get Jamshed out and occupy his place, that all his secret moves are executed with great thought, design and plotting that would turn the fortunes of not just Jamshed’s, but also of Srikant’s and Sumitra’s.
When Srikant deputes Binod to sign up Jamshed, and sends him to Lucknow for the job, Jamshed is not keen to give up his love for theatre. Another young man, Jay Khanna (Sidhant Gupta), who is a Karachi-based theatre owner’s son, offers Jamshed a role in his next theatre production. As Jamshed decides to ditch Srikant, he becomes a victim of Srikant’s deceitful schemes, which force him to accept the offer.
Several people suffer a nasty fate post Partition as riots break out. Jay Khanna and his family become refugees and his fate gets entangled with Binod’s story. Jay, who wants to get back to Karachi from Lucknow, walks into a kotha and is enchanted by Niloufer (Wamiqa Gabbi), who performs a mujra. Later, she boards a train for Mumbai, where she is forced into prostitution.
The rest of the intriguing tale has these four as central characters and their intertwined lives keep the story moving forward.
“Jubilee” is immensely watchable for many reasons. It works as a tribute to some of yesteryear’s celebrated film personalities. It makes us look at the Golden Age of cinema when it was not the stars but the studios that ruled the roost. The showreels that are unspooled as the magic unfolds on screen has an unmistakable feel of a roll of tapes as opposed to the somewhat ethereal connect Web-based projection entails.
Even the dialogue delivery style of the actors adheres to the practices of that age. The songs written by Kauser Munir and set to music by Amit Trivedi convey the flavor of the time, as does Alokananda Dasgupta’s background score. Its tone is in accordance with the ambiance and intensity of each scene.
Overall, what we take for granted today in the finesse and sheen associated with mega production qualities, had its origins in the independent creative ideas of stalwarts who paved the way for the technical gloss on screen we are so proud of today. And this web series lets you into that age not so much as an outsider but almost as an insider.
Without resorting to melodrama, it charms as much as it makes you care about the trauma and the mood of all the characters. And these are all based on the real-life giants who ruled the film industry. And so, one can draw parallels between Srikant and Sumitra and Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani of Bombay Talkies. You see an occasional glimpse of Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, and so on, though for copyright and privacy issues, no character is obviously entirely based on any one film personality.
Pratik Shah’s brilliant camerawork is another major strength of the drama series. Be it the enhanced light and shade play of black and white, or the underplayed monochrome, one gets the feeling of having lived through each moment. It’s after a long time that you will be able to put aside what is clearly the flavor of most web series, namely, crime. Here’s romance, intrigue, music, stellar performances, sets, emotions, and a slice of history fascinatingly told.
My word of advice: Instead of being glued to the cacophony of new channels and their uninspiring shows, set aside 10 hours for some delectable viewing that will leave you with lasting memories.