'JL50' Review: Despite the misses, the series holds a great promise for the future of sci-fi films and series in India

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

JL50, the new Sony LIV series created and directed by Shailender Vyas, was originally meant to be a science fiction movie but now it has been released as a four-part minseries with each episode clocking roughly 30 minutes. The sci-fi thriller series revolves around a CBI investigation of a flight crash in the hill town of Lava situated in West Bengal. The investigation takes a shocking turn when it is discovered that JL50 which crashed a week ago is actually the same airplane that had mysteriously disappeared after taking off from Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) 35 years ago. JL50 stars Abhay Deol, Pankaj Kapur, Piyush Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Amrita Chattopadhyay, and Ritika Anand who is also one of the producers on the series. While Deol plays a CBI officer named Shantanu, Kapur plays a professor of quantum physics who holds the key to the mystery surrounding the crashed airplane.

Now, as evident from the aforementioned storyline, the theme of time travel is central to JL50. According to Wikipedia, the concept of time travel involves “movement between certain points in time”. However, it is widely accepted that even though time travel may be theoretically possible, but it is beyond our current technological capabilities. But that hasn’t stopped the science fiction writers from exploring the different aspect of time travel. If we talk of cinema, film franchises ranging from Star Trek to Back to the Future to X-Men to Avengers have depicted humans arrive in the past or future, almost at will. Each time a new time travel theory is put into effect. Generally, the most popular means of time travel involves a time machine—originally made famous by H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine. But, over the years, we have become more sophisticated when it comes to time travel. Take, for example, the concept of wormhole (aka Einstein–Rosen bridge). A wormhole can be visualized as a tunnel that links disparate points in spacetime. So, basically, if we enter the tunnel which is connected to the present at its opening we can effectively travel into the past or the future connected to its other end. It’s like taking a shortcut in time.  JL50 too relies on the concept of wormhole to explore the possibilities of time travel.     

It is heartening to see serious sci-fi finally working out reasonably well in India. In the past we have seen the concept of time travel used ludicrously in films like Fun2shh and Action Replayy, but JL50 finally brings some dignity to time travel. Credit goes to creator-director Shailender Vyas and actor-producer Ritika Anand for their belief and commitment to their vision. Abhay Deol and Pankaj Kapur also need to be commended for backing a project like JL50.

Now, JL50 has all the right ingredients and yet it falls short of attaining brilliance. And it’s mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, JL50 lacks the deep exploration that the long-form narrative requires. The ending is too quick and slick. While it may have worked for a movie, it leaves a lot to be desired within the construct of a miniseries. Secondly, the makers appear to take the viewers for granted when they choose to go easy on science and the concept of time travel. Gone are those days when the Indian audiences weren’t exposed to international films and series. Viewers of today, especially those on the web, are well accustomed to watching sci-fi films and series. For example, a viewer who has seen Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is bound to feel a bit let down by JL50. Why stick to the elementary stuff when the audiences have an appetite for more?    

Despite the misses, JL50 holds a great promise for the future of sci-fi films and series in India. Pankaj Kapur’s riveting performance is really the strongest point of JL50 followed by Abhay Deol’s long-awaited return to form. Kapur is right up there with the very best actors in the country. In JL50, he plays a Bengali professor specializing in quantum physics with such effortless ease that one can seldom associate with a non-Bengali actor essaying a Bengali part. And he makes the character absolutely delectable to watch. Every time he is on the screen the show attains a different level of brilliance. As for Deol, he finally brings his A game to the fore ever since he lost his mojo during the 2010s. He did essay some truly amazing characters during the 2000s but then the last decade wasn’t so productive for him. One hopes to see his best work yet during the 2020s. And JL50 is certain a good start. Also, the performances of Ritika Anand and Rajesh Sharma are solid. Amrita Chattopadhyay also makes her presence felt during her shot but memorable appearance. The couple of scenes she shares with Deol are quite intense. If you are a sci-fi lover then JL50 will certainly not disappoint you as long as you don’t approach it with very high expectations.

Rating: 6.5/10

A version of this article was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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