Ranjit Tiwari’s Lucknow Central is about Kishan, a small-town musician who is serving jail sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. He has a burning dream to start a music band, and when the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh embarks on an ingenious prison reformation plan — of organising a music band competition in Lucknow Central Prison — Kishan finds an opportunity. He volunteers to make the band, and alongside, hatches a plan to escape from the prison.
The initial moments of the film is cut like a film trailer, hastily providing you with a brief account of Kishan’s life in Moradabad. He is ambitious and optimistic. He has a clout of friends and well-wishers who love his music, and his father, a librarian, affectionately supports him financially and emotionally. Out of the blue, this man is dragged out of his house by the police, and presented before the court in a murder trial. Before you realise what is going on, Kishan has spent 18 months in prison as a murder convict.
Lucknow Central is like a bad Bollywood spoof of Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufresne is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and decides to immerse himself in his job as a librarian and log-keeper in the prison. Kishan’s music band activities move the criminals in the prison like how poetry affects the dull life of students in Dead Poets Society. Akhtar’s film is overtly sentimental, and is stuffed with tasteless dramatic scenes. Consider the scene where Kishan arrives in Lucknow Central Prison the first time. The jail warden, played by a grumpy Ronit Roy, walks Kishan to the gallows room, puts the noose around his neck and pushes him down. You wonder what is going on. A nightmare sequence or something of more gravity? Then you see Roy bending down, looking at Kishan with an evil smirk, and chewing the words, “Welcome to Lucknow Central!” It is an unintentionally funny scene.
Diana Penty plays a firebrand social worker who bears all the characteristics that a mainstream Bollywood film stuffs into a female firebrand social worker. She is pretty, spunky, idealistic and can be cute if she wants to. Even the most brutal police officials panic when she is around because she argues with them, shouts at them, and threatens to expose them using the pictures which show them making a couple of prisoners do murgha punishment. Roy’s jail warden advises her to get married. Kishan and his friends are grateful to her for believing in them. Penty plays the role earnestly, but ends up being one-note.
Akhtar doesn’t look like Kishan. He never lets go of that urbane sophistication that made him a star over the years. He tries to hide it, but it is quite visible in his every movement on-screen. On his first day in the prison, a group of prisoners take him to their leader who tries to threaten him. Kishan stands his ground, and walks away from them. Akhtar does an ‘in-your-face’ performance in the scene, absolutely sans any empathy for Kishan’s vulnerable situation.
Lucknow Central isn’t poignant, although there are talks about dream and destiny throughout the film. The technical departments and the music aren’t particularly interesting. The film, nevertheless, has a strong supporting cast. Ravi Kishan’s performance as the chief minister, for one, is impressive. The evil edge that he adds to the character works out fantastically. There is a scene where the prison band has to do an impromptu performance in front of the prison IG. It’s actors like Deepak Dobriyal and Rajesh Sharma who shoulder that comical scene which is perhaps the best part of the film. It is genuinely funny — A bunch of grown-ups trying their hand at playing musical instruments they haven’t touched before. They are completely oblivious to the fact that they are goofing it up. The film, in entirety, isn’t half as enjoyable as that scene.
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