An earlier Amazon Prime show, Cinema Marte Dum Tak, had used the documentary format to reminisce about the the B movie industry of the Eighties and Nineties. It is good to see that the streaming platform is introducing the OTT viewer to cinema history at a time when fame lasts as long as an Insta post, through the new fiction show, Jubilee, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane.
The era just before and after Independence was a tumultous one for India– the devastation of Partition alongside the establishment of the Golden Age of cinema. One of the movers and shakers of the nascent movie business is Shrikant Roy (Prosenjit Chatterjee), who heads Roy Talkies with his wife and business partner, movie star, Sumitra Kumari (Aditi Rai Hydari), quite obviously inspired by Himansu Rai and Devika Rani.
Their last film has flopped, and the search is on for a new hero, because, as a character says, only men matter in the film industry. Just when Roy unearths a “pearl” in Jamshed Khan (Nandish Singh Sandhu), his wife runs off with the actor to Lucknow, and the man himself is being wooed by a theatre company from Karachi and seriously considering the offer, over the promise of fame as a movie star.
A furious Roy sends a loyal dogsbody and lab assistant Binod Das (Aparshakti Khurana) to bring Jamshed and Sumitra back to Bombay; he is more concerned about his film than about his perfidious wife. Then, Partition tragedy happens, the mousy Binod Das, harbouring acting ambitions uses the opportunity to get rid of his main rival. He steps into the persona os Madan Kumar, that Roy has envisioned for Jamshed (“because Khans cannot become heroes”), and much to everybody’s surprise he manages to channel his nervousness (41 humiliating retakes for his first shot) and guilt into the role in the film. It becomes a superhit and saves Roy Talkies from ruin.
Also caught up in the catastrophe of the times are Jay Khanna (Sidhant Gupta), forced into a squalid refugee camp in Bombay, and a Lucknow courtesan Niloufer Qureshi (Wamiqa Gabbi), who reinvents herself as a starlet by seducing brash film financier, Shamsher Walia (Ram Kapoor).
Jay Khanna (a mix of Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor) has the hunger and drive to succeed, which his father (Arun Govil) has given up, and is willing to do whatever it takes to set up his own studio and become a filmmaker.
Part reality, mostly fiction, Jubilee, portrays the ambition and treachery that are the
mixed in the foundation of show business (films about old Hollywood also bottle the same spirit)– it is the same now, only the methods of working may have changed. Back then, there was political pressure of a different kind, with the film industry being wooed as a propaganda tool by the two Cold War powers– the US and the USSR. There are wonderful little nuggests about how playback singing came about and why Hindi film music was banned from All India Radio and had to be played over Radio Ceylon.
The show, however, makes it look as though the indusry was made up of two rival studios, so despite dropping of films, stars and directors of the period, does not give a wider understanding of moviemaking of the time. The production design, period details, costumes, music (Amit Trivedi) and cinematography (Pratik Shah) all come together to create a unique, clutter-breaking series (Five episodes are out, five will drop on April 14, and hopefully Motwane won’t stop at 10.)
Created by Motwane and Soumik Sen, written by Atul Sabherwal, the show also has some fine casting and splendid performances by Aparshakti Khurana, Sidhant Gupta, Wamiqa Gabbi, all of whom have something to prove, while Prosenjit Chatterjee, Aditi Rao Hydari and Ram Kapoor being their seasoned best to the series, which a warm, yet unsentimental tribute to the cutthroat world of cinema, that needs more wheeling-dealing than creativity– but when the latter wins out, screen history is created.
Directed by Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast Prosenjit Chatterjee, Aditi Rao Hydari, Aparshakti Khurana, Wamiqa Gabbi, Sidhant Gupta, Nandish Sandhu, Ram Kapoor and others
On Amazon Prime Video