Bittersweet take : The Tribune India

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Bittersweet take

Bittersweet take

The narrative concerns itself with Raj Kundra’s day-to-day experience in Arthur Road jail, Mumbai.

Film: UT69

Director: Shahnawaz Ali

Cast: Raj Kundra, Kumar Saurabh, Gaurav Mishra, Anand Alkunte, Errol Rodrigues, Mahesh Ghag, Sadanand Patil, Ganesh Deokar, Namantar Rajendra, Vinod Suryavanshi, Ajit Ranjan, Mahadev Jadhav

Johnson Thomas

This film is a fairly interesting account of Raj Kundra’s stint in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail as an undertrial. ‘UT69’ is a debut-marking effort on all fronts — from its director to lead actor to scriptwriter to actors. The film feels both accomplished and amiable despite its fractured time-frame, sea of debutantes and limiting ambition.

It is well known that the British-Indian businessman Raj Kundra was once ranked as the 198th richest British Asian by success, prior to his divorce and consequent marriage to actress and Big Brother winner Shilpa Shetty. It is also a flashed about fact that he was kept in jail for 63 days, booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act and the Information Technology Act. This film is basically an in-person account (Raj Kundra playing himself) based on his experience in the jail.

The story written by Kundra and developed into screenplay by Vikram Bhatti is neither hard-hitting nor edgy. It’s true to the experience and evolves into a bittersweet telling through a narrative that has dark comedy relieving the harrowing moments. The case against Kundra is only alluded to by inmates poking fun at his fish-out-of-water floundering, or when a potential bail hearing comes up.

‘UT69’ (which represents his Under Trial Number 69) begins with TV ‘breaking’ news flashes of Raj Kundra’s arrest. He is made to strip for an evaluation and then taken to the quarantine section of the jail, where he is the sole occupant. He spends four to five days there with hopes of getting bail, but these are soon dashed. He is transferred to the crowded cell no. 6 (not the VIP cell no. 10), where he has to jostle for food and space on a daily basis. His body undergoes a distinctive change as the hardships of jail life begin to seep in. For Raj, it’s nothing less than a living nightmare at first. It’s only later that he begins to adapt, developing a camaraderie with jail mates and gaining a new perception towards life.

Shilpa Shetty is never seen other than by voice or through TV grabs of her stint as a judge for a popular dance show, and a cable TV sequence of a song from her hit film ‘Dhadkan’, in which she is seen romancing Suniel Shetty. One of the inmates in the 6x4 cell jam-packed with 245 undertrials in a space meant for 45, even dares to ask, ‘Is it Suniel Shetty?’, when someone points to Kundra as Shetty’s husband.

The narrative sidesteps deeper digs into the legalities of Kundra’s case. It focuses on the experiences of a man who with all his money and the best legal eagles at his disposal is helpless in the face of systemic strictures. The prisoners’ plight is brought out tellingly. There’s no melodrama but the feelings of each inmate come through quite refreshingly.

The director and editor, Shahnawaz Ali, and cameraman Kevin Jason Crasto do well to make the takes interesting and pacy enough so that you never get bored. Even Prince Mulla’s background score does well to stave off the monotony. There may not be much of a story here, but Kundra’s first-person account has enough heft to keep you interested.