No One Killed Jessica -- Film Review

A hybrid of fact and fiction, this Delhi-based thriller packs a punch no matter the label.

In this well-mounted crime-and-punishment drama based on the true story of the murder of a 23-year-old model in New Delhi in 1999, filmmaker-writer Raj Kumar Gupta depicts the deep divide between the classes in India’s capital city and crafts a compelling story about the power of the public voice to bring a killer to justice.

EMERYVILLE, Calif. -- No One Killed Jessica, which boasts powerful performances from its two lead actresses, is likely to build solid word-of-mouth business in what is generally a slow weekend for Hindi film releases.

Late one night in a hip, crowded nightclub, Jessica (newcomer Myra), a model working as a celebrity bartender, refuses to serve an obnoxious young patron, Manish (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), and two friends. Incensed, Manish pulls out a gun and, intending just to give Jessica a scare, shoots her dead.

Jessica’s younger sister, Sabrina (Vidya Balan, bespectacled and somber in shapeless T-shirts), is devastated but hopeful that justice will be served. She is mistaken. Jessica’s murderer is the son of a high-ranking politician and so takes advantage of all the influence (read: bribes and intimidation) that his father can dish out to the witnesses of the crime.

More than 300 people were at the exclusive nightclub when Jessica was killed, but nobody wants to come forward and tell the truth in court. “What would you do if you were offered the choice of 10 million rupees or a bullet?” says one witness.

In Gupta’s script, the bad guy politicians are a little bit too boorish, and the Delhi socialites a tad too effete. But in one beautifully realized silent montage, he takes viewers through four long years of Sabrina’s pain and frustration, as she slogs from courtroom hearing to police station visit. A feeling of menace pervades the film, punctuated by Sabrina’s grief and rage, and enhanced by an urgent, rock-tinged soundtrack by Amit Trivedi.

Balan turns in a focused performance, but Bollywood siren Rani Mukerjigets the flashiest role as Meera Gaity, a jaded, profane TV newswoman who is moved to take on an activist role when Manish is exonerated.

Gupta’s first film, 2008’s Aamir, established his strength in the contemporary thriller genre. Even though the final verdict of Jessica’s murder case is now public knowledge, he skillfully maintains an air of suspense, making No One Killed Jessica a sharply drawn picture of what’s wrong — and right — in contemporary India.

Opened: Jan. 7 (UTV Spotboy)
Cast: Vidya Balan, Rani Mukerji, Neil Bhoopalam, Rajesh Sharma, Bubbles Sabharwal, Shireesh Sharma, Geeta Sudan, Samara Chopra
Director/screenwriter: Raj Kumar Gupta
Producer: Ronnie Screwvala
Director of photography: Anay Goswamy
Production designer: Sukant Panigrahy
Soundtrack and songs: Amit Trivedi
Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya
Costume designer: Sabyasachi Mukherjee
Editor: Aarti Bajaj
Not rated, 130 minutes