caffba6946a9dd1501c06e3c95e30f81-13 DEEWAREIN. Director: Nagesh Kukunoor. Players: Naseeruddin Shah, Jackie Shroff, Juhi Chawla, Nagesh Kukunoor, Gulshan Grover. DVD (Spark). 5.1 Dolby, 120 mins. English subtitles.

The perennially fascinating filmmaker Kukunoor (Hyderabad Blues) always has a trick up his sleeve. In 3 Deewarein, he finally and permanently discards the mantle of amateurism that made his earlier works fresh but limiting. The afore-mentioned trick here is a hard-slap-across-the-face jolting account of three death-row prisoners granted a final chance at mortal redemption. The result is a breathtakingly haunting film that guarantees Kukunoor’s entry into the elite fraternity of gifted filmmakers.

An unusual film-within-a-film premise finds a reform-minded jailor (Grover) agreeing to give docu-filmmaker Chandrika (Chawla) unrestricted access to the prison’s celebrated doomed trio. There is Ishaan (Shah), a toughened two-bit bank robber notoriously successful at jail breakouts and accused of killing a bank teller. There is Jaggu (Shroff), a devastatingly unrepentant lawyer with a poetic streak, arrested for his wife’s brutal killing. And then there is Nagya (Kukunoor), a goateed, painfully average Joe locked up for killing his girlfriend.

Pivoted from Kukunoor’s cunning script, each prisoner’s guilt is revealed less from the court transcripts of their cases than from Chandrika’s chances at drawing them out of the self-imposed cocoon they have retreated into. Male bonding, including inherent sexual hypocrisies, in a restricted environment has seldom been outlined so well.

Employing a constantly moving camera and stunning black-and-white flashbacks, 3 Deewarein is a visual feast of plot twists, including one scintillatingly cruel wrinkle of fate that signals the endgame for both the filmmaker and her three subjects. Spark’s fine DVD transfer, if anything, enhances Kukunoor’s powerful punch. Make a mad dash to get your hands on this sparkling gem.

Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.

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