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Indulgent and beautiful: ‘Jubilee’ reimagines the nostalgic and progressive past of Hindi cinema

‘Jubilee’ recreates the desperation and sheer gumption of men and women who shaped Hindi cinema in post-independence India through the journey of three characters.

Indulgent and beautiful: ‘Jubilee’ reimagines the nostalgic and progressive past of Hindi cinema

Friday April 07, 2023,

6 min Read

Starring: Prasenjit Chatterjee, Aditi Rao Hydari, Aparshakti Khurana, Wamiqa Gabbi, Ram Kapoor, and Sidhanth Gupta, among others.

Cinema is magical. It is also an insulated and timeless metaverse that has inspired creative minds to make magnificent stories about its past. Jubilee, the 10-episode series from Amazon Prime Video, is a worthy and standout addition to the sub-genre of film lore inspired content.

To be released in two parts, this show captures the evolution of Hindi cinema’s golden era and its role in shaping a young, struggling but ambitious nation’s dreams through the stories of three regular people.

Creators Vikramaditya Motwane and Soumik Sen have built a sepia-tinged, dreamy world where characters deal with complicated situations that can bring unlimited possibilities for them.  

With stunning production design (Mukund Gupta, Aparna Sud) and meticulous art design (Priti Gole, Yogesh Bansode), Jubilee transports the viewers to a conflicted and ambitious time in India’s chequered history. 

Jubilee

Speculations are ripe that the series is based on the life of Devika Rani, a movie icon, and her brief affair with Najm-Ul-Hasan, whose career ended when both of them eloped.

What followed next gave birth to a whole new kind of movie star—when an employee of Bombay Talkies, Ashok Kumar, was made the leading man of its film Jeevan Naiya, replacing Hasan. 

While Jubilee opens its story with an adapted version of this well-documented love story, it expands the narrative to include the experiences of desperate and talented young folks who went on to impact Indian cinema. It also amalgamates acts of daring and defiance from some of our biggest movie stars, which have become part of cinema lore, blending fact and fiction to create gripping characters. 

The story follows the journey of three young people, who are typically called ‘outsiders’ in the current context of Hindi film industry. Binod Das (Aparshakti Khurana) is an assistant to film producer Srikant Roy (Prasenjit Chatterjee). His wife, Sumitra Kumari (Aditi Rao Hydari), is his biggest star, partner in business, and biggest adversary too. Their company Bombay Talkies is a pioneer in cinema.  

Das is loyal and observant of the studio’s long-drawn efforts to launch a new star, Madan Kumar. His loyalty is counted upon by Roy when he sends him to Lucknow to stop his wife from falling in love with a much-hyped debutant of their studio, a celebrated theatre actor. His paths cross with a young theatre director, Jay Khanna (Sidhant Gupta). After striking an immediate bond, both are witnesses to a horrific act of mob violence in pre-Partition Lucknow. 

Meanwhile, the city’s top courtesan, Niloufer Querishi (Wamiqa Gabbi), has to move to Mumbai after the Partition to make a living, as old patronages fade away.

Das, Khanna and Querishi face their own struggles—moral, financial and emotional—and make complicated choices to follow their dream of making movies. 

Living the life of a refugee in an alien city, finding a survival option that keeps a woman in luxury, and Das’s sudden elevation in life all come at a price for them. In the mix is the cold war between superstar Sumitra Kumari and Roy. 

There’s a wily and money-minded financier Wallia (Ram Kapoor) trying to grow his clout; and then there’s the Soviet Union competing with the Americans to win over Indian movie stars and producers for targeted propaganda films. 

This complex plot flows steadily through the series’ languid pace—immersive, intriguing and enhanced by unique sound. 

Packed with mellow songs, composed by Amit Trivedi to the poetic lyrics of Kausar Munir, the sound of Jubilee evokes memories of radio shows and nostalgic movies. Alokananda Dasgupta effectively creates a background score that is moody, soft and reminiscent of a time when wind instruments and percussion dominated film scores. 

Drawing in the viewer with its audio-visual setting of a storied past, the series navigates the secrets, lies and morally dubious choices that Das, Khanna and Querishi make. It also indirectly salutes the spirit of visionary producers who didn’t bend to political masters—in a smart remark of the times that we live in. As the character Roy says at a climactic moment, “Power is wielding this weapon of cinema with all our might.” 

The narrative is not weighed down by their trials. Deft directorial touches and light-hearted writing makes the series easy to watch. Establishing a theatrical tone, each episode opens with a typical black-and-white scene, shot on cinematic scale. 

The repeated dialogue, “Madan Kumar! B*****od”, uses an expletive to capture everything—angst, frustration, sheer bliss, awe, anger—over the birth of a new movie star. 

Utilising the belief that destiny has a crucial role to play in the movie business, the story centres on the choices an individual makes. Even as Partition and post-Independence India bring huge challenges for refugees and the displaced, the magic of movies keeps them going. 

The series has shown the adaptability of aspiring female actors and the moral compromises of men in the cinema industry as essential traits for their survival. It doesn’t judge but it smoothly highlights the ambitions of early success stories in Hindi cinema. The shifts of film technology—a key historical moment in Damien Chazelle’s Babylon (also releasing on OTT this week)—is also woven in to show the swift business moves that Indian film studios made back then. 

Jubilee is a tale of gumption and courage. Each performance is measured. Chatterjee as a refined, calculating producer is delightful. He is wicked, bold and sophisticated throughout. Khurana carries his character with the right mix of ambiguity and empathy, and Gabbi delivers a spirited performance as Querishi. Hydari is subtle, letting her eyes do most of the talking, while Kapoor is flamboyantly entertaining. And it is refreshing to see Arun Govil get a worthwhile part. 

But the find of this show is Sidhanth Gupta, who delivers an energetic, emotional performance as the refugee filmmaker Jay Khanna.

It is worth noting that the makers of this series focused on casting actors rather than chasing recognised stars for this lavish production. The actors become the characters in a credible manner. 

Atul Sabharwal does a fine job of writing an intriguing story that talks about dreams and ambition in a tumultuous time. While the songs slow down the story’s pace, deft cinematic touches and nuanced writing keep one hooked through the dramatic journeys of Khanna and Das.  

Jubilee is an indulgent and patient viewing experience. It revives the glorious past of Hindi cinema at a time when Bollywood is challenged creatively. It will make you spend a fair amount of time before the screen. 

The grandeur and mystique of cinema depicted in the series is worth watching. Jubilee is a definitely a cinematic treat for film lovers. 

Rating: 4.5/5 


Edited by Swetha Kannan