Jubilee is more than just movies

When director Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan, Lootera) pays homage to the vintage Hindi film industry, we are compelled to take notice. Jubilee  (on Amazon Prime) is not just a romanticized portrayal of an era gone by. It is a complex tale of humans and their emotions. It is a story about a meteoric rise and fall from grace. Of fickle fortunes. Of love, lust, greed, power, friendship, loyalty, and betrayal. The series shines a spotlight on how studios held power, how politics shaped the country, and what forces worked behind the scenes to shape the messages that Hindi movies delivered to the public. 

Drama, behind the scenes 

Set during Partition, the story follows Shrikant Roy (Prosenjit Chatterjee), the owner of Roy Talkies (modeled after  Bombay Talkies ), who is looking for a new actor to debut as ‘Madan Kumar’, a screen name for the chosen actor. After auditioning several prospects, Jamshed Khan (Nandish Sandhu) is selected. Jamshed, however,  is reluctant to sign the contract. The co-owner of Roy Talkies and Shrikant Roy’s wife, Sumitra Kumari (Aditi Rao Hydari ), goes to negotiate the terms. However, the two end up having an affair. Roy sends his right-hand man, Binod Das (Aparshakti Khurana ), to bring the two back. On his journey, Binod meets and befriends Jay Khanna (Sidhant Gupta ). An unexpected twist of fate leads to Binod becoming Roy Talkies’ Madan Kumar. The rest is a layered, complicated tale of how all their lives get intertwined. Thrown into the chaos are the courtesan Niloufer Qureshi (Wamiqa Gabbi ), and the producer Shamsher Singh Walia (Ram Kapoor ).

An ensemble cast delivers

Every single member of the cast brought their A-game. Prosenjit Chatterjee’s Shrikant Roy is refined, cold, cruel, and precise. There is an air of superiority in everything that he does. 

Aditi Rao Hydari has a haunted look in her eyes. She portrays Sumitra Devi’s melancholy and her thirst for revenge, with finesse. She doesn’t speak much, but her eyes communicate volumes. 

Nandish Sandhu is perfectly cast as Jamshed Khan, as the character is a towering, enigmatic presence. Shweta Basu Prasad plays Ratna Das, Binod’s wife, with a charming sweetness. Viewers are treated to a nostalgic surprise in Arun Govil (a.k.a  Sri Ram of Ramanand Sagar’s television blockbuster, Ramayan) as Narain Khanna, Jay’s father, as he struggles to do his best with what he has left of his life as a refugee after partition. 

The standout performers

A poster with the cast members of Jubilee
Jubilee poster (Courtesy: IMDB)

In his career-best role, Aparshakti Khurana as Binod Das is gentle, soft-spoken, and unassuming. And yet, there is a sinister air about him. He is an ambitious man who will go after what he wants.  Khurana is flawless. He truly displays his range and ability as an actor. 

By contrast, Jay Khanna is vibrant, flamboyant, loud and boisterous. Jay goes from being wide-eyed and happy, to angry and reckless, to a man besotted with a woman, to a person chasing his dreams. There are about ten different stages of life that Jay goes through, and Siddhant plays each of them to perfection. 

Wamiqa Gabbi as Niloufer is the woman Jay loves. She is vivacious, resourceful, determined, and a woman who knows her mind. She knows what she wants and is willing to go to extreme lengths to get it.  Wamiqa doesn’t skip a beat. 

My favorite of the lot, though, is Ram Kapoor’s take on Walia, the producer. Walia is a loud, brash, foul-mouthed, shrewd businessman. He is also a man with a heart of gold. 

Moments make Jubilee magical

The writing credits of the series are shared by Vikramaditya Motwane, Atul Sabharwal, and Soumik Sen. The story deftly handles the multiple storylines, and the characters are well-etched.  Some characters are an amalgamation of several real people, but they blend seamlessly. 

What aids the viewer in this period-drama experience are costumes by Shruti Kapoor, production design by Mukund Gupta and Aparna Sud, Pratik Shah’s cinematography, and music by Alokananda Dasgupta. Picture this – it’s raining. A woman dressed in a saree and a man wearing a pair of high-waisted trousers standing under a black umbrella, while a car’s headlight shines from behind them. Does it ring a bell? The scene is so reminiscent of the timeless Raj Kapoor-Nargis number, Pyaar hua, ikrar hua, yet not once does it feel hackneyed or tropey. 

There is a dialogue that four different actors repeat over the course of the show. Every single time, the dialogue is said differently. The pauses, the intonation, the intensity –the rendition is unique each time. 

It is moments like these that elevate Jubilee to something truly special. 

The slow pace could be a turn-off

While it is an enjoyable watch, the story takes a while to get going. While I personally enjoyed the unhurried pace, some audiences I’ve spoken with found it too slow. Also, the many subplots can get a little tedious for some viewers.  In an era where OTT platforms are inundated with binge-worthy shows, this slow narrative may work against Jubilee

Aindrila Roy is a stay-at-home mom with her fingers in many pies. She writes, reads, makes jewelry, sings, dances and is a huge Paleontology nerd. Her book, I See You, was self-published on Amazon. She...