'Lucknow Central' Review: A wasted opportunity

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Lucknow Central, Farhan Akhtar

Lucknow Central is a crime drama film directed by Ranjit Tiwari based on a screenplay co-written by Aseem Arora and Tiwari himself. Produced by Nikhil Advani under the banner of Emmay Entertainment, Lucknow Central stars Farhan Akhtar, Diana Penty, Gippy Grewal, Deepak Dobriyal, Ronit Roy, Inaamulhaq, and Rajesh Sharma in the pivotal roles. The film, distributed by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, presents the story of a young man named Kishen Mohan Girhotra (Farhan Akhtar) whose life is turned upside down when he is wrongly framed for the murder of an IAS officer. 

Lucknow Central is actually inspired by true events. A band called Healing Hearts, formed by the inmates of a prison facility named Adarsh Karagar situated in the outskirts of Lucknow, is the inspiration behind the film. It was set up in the year 2007 by the then superintendent of the jail so that the inmates could participate in the annual event alongside inmates from different central prisons across Uttar Pradesh. The necessary equipments were bought and twelve inmates, sentenced to life imprisonment, were recruited for the purpose to be trained by a prison guard who came from a musical family. The rest is history. The cast of Lucknow Central recently paid a visit to Lucknow where they met the members of Healing Hearts.

Lucknow Central

One of the striking features of Lucknow Central is its use of dietetic sound as a narrative trope with the lyrics / dialogues from old Bollywood movies cleverly conveying the dynamics of a scene. Lucknow Central is made in the vein of the thriller films Bollywood churned out in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The protagonist Kishen, who hails from Moradabad, a city in Uttar Pradesh world famous for its brassware, is an aspiring singer who idolizes the renowned Bhojpuri actor-singer Manoj Tiwari. During one of Tiwari’s public performances, Kishen tries to accost him hoping to get a break but he is cut short by a ruthless IAS officer with whom he has a small altercation. Next day he gets picked up by the police as we learn that the IAS officer has been murdered and that Kishen is the prime suspect. What ensues is Kishen’s battle against dejection and isolation while serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. After spending about year in Moradabad Jail, he gets shifted to Lucknow Central where he must not only deal with a jailor (Ronit Roy) who loves to bully his prisoners, belligerent inmates, prison gang wars, but also with the stark possibility that his life sentence may be changed into a death sentence with the family of the murdered IAS officer challenging the lower court’s verdict in the High Court. If all this wasn’t enough Kishen is also helping a rehabilitation professional (Diana Penty) trying to set up a music band in the prison as per the whims of a powerful politician (Ravi Kishan). Confused? Wait till I tell you that the band is merely a subterfuge to orchestrate a prison escape.  

Lucknow Central

As one can gauge from the above details, Lucknow Central makes everything look too convenient. With implausible premises abound, the film comes across as a parody of sorts. There of course is nothing wrong with trying to make a parody but the problem is when you end up making one inadvertently. Clichés and excesses in the script are the real culprits here. Lucknow Central borrows in different capacities from great prison movies like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Hunger’, ‘The Green Mile’, Cool Hand Luke, Escape from Alcatraz, etc. as well as the popular TV Show ‘Prison Break’. Also, the influences of the 1970s Bombay cinema are quite obvious. A film like Lucknow Central is not a step forward for Hindi cinema but it actually is a step backward. One just can’t help but wonder why is Bollywood so content with doing something what Hollywood did back in the 1990s. The acting performances on show are average at best. An actor of Deepak Dobriyal’s caliber is wasted. Playing Hindi speaking characters is his forte and yet in the film he plays a Bengali engineer. Similarly, Farhan Akhtar, who is best suited to play urbane characters, is clearly miscast in the movie. Despite trying his best he more often than not fails to get the accent right. Clearly, Hindi cinema can benefit a lot more from Farhan Akhtar’s writing / directing skills than his acting skills. The best performances in the movie come from Ravi Kishan and Ronit Roy. While Diana Penty never really looks bad on the big screen, her high glamour quotient make her look a bit incongruous in the prison spaces.          

Lucknow Central, Deepak Dobriyal, Farhan Akhtar

Lucknow Central offers an interesting take on the prison dynamics. But there is hardly anything here that we haven’t seen before. Now, the band that Kishen puts together has two Hindus (including himself), a Muslim, a Christian, and a Sikh. Clearly Tiwari and Arora were thinking of Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony while trying to write their characters. Alas, the subtexts that made the Manmohan Desai film a timeless classic are missing here! The half-cooked screenplay alludes to a confused mindset. Tiwari and Arora want to make a commercial escapist film but at the same time they also want to make the viewers think (while it is something that’s difficult to achieve, it is certainly not impossible). In the end they achieve neither. For, large sections of the film are just plain boring. Also, the film fails to make any strong statement on the criminal justice system or the correctional facilities on offer. What’s heartbreaking is that the ingredients are all there but the problem is that the makers are not thorough with the recipe.

Rating: 4.5/10  

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