The enduring power of cinema can etch memories into our subconscious, including those created on screen. However, it is often the behind-the-scenes action and scandals that become the stuff of lore, lived vicariously and remembered through grapevine and gossip.
In Jubilee, Vikramaditya Motwane takes us on a time-traveling journey to the golden era of black and white Hindi films, skillfully blending past and present to create a stunning display of storytelling and vintage verve.
With a skillful blend of fact and fiction, Atul Sabharwal’s latest work reveals the cunning and deceit behind the glitz and glamour of the golden age of Hindi cinema. The 10-part series, available on Amazon Prime Video and created by Vikramaditya Motwane and Soumik Sen, has already released five episodes, with the remaining five scheduled to drop on April 14. This is not just a nostalgic period drama, but a piercing look into the intrigues and machinations of the film industry’s bygone era.
In Jubilee, the story begins during India’s Independence era which is marred by the trauma of Partition, leaving many displaced and uncertain about their future. However, in Bombay, the birthplace of Hindi cinema and a city known for its dreams, the show must go on. The tight-knit film industry is determined to do whatever it takes to keep the audience coming to the theaters, despite the tumultuous times.
Despite the strain in their personal relationship, Srikant and Sumitra continue to work together to keep their studio afloat, as they are both passionate about the world of cinema. Their struggles to keep their business a success in a changing industry and their personal battles with societal norms make for a compelling storyline in the series.
16 Tweets To Read Before Watching Aditi Rao Hydari & Aparshakti Khurana’s Web Series Jubilee
Roy seeks control of lives on screen and off it while Sumitra’s need to break out of the toxic cage results in a torrid affair with Jamshed Khan, a theatre actor (Nandish Singh Sandhu) her husband is planning to launch as the next big thing, namely Madan Kumar — Khan hero nahi bante isliye naam badal diya hai (a nod at Yusuf Khan’s Dilip Kumar, a wink at all the Khans that would reign in future) — in a project titled Sunghursh (interestingly a movie Dilip Kumar worked in 1968).
But India’s violent political climate has other ideas in mind, giving Roy’s right-hand-man Binod Das (Aparshakti Khurana) a shot at realising his suppressed acting desires and becoming an overnight star called Madan Kumar.
Back in the day, Devika Rani’s romantic entanglement with original hero Najm-Ul-Hassan led to his ousting and moving away to Pakistan for good while his replacement, a technician of Bombay Talkies called Kumudlal Ganguly would go on to become a jubilee star the world now knows as Ashok Kumar.
Sabhwarwal’s juicy mix of fact and fabrication is the heartbeat of this Mad Men-styled chronicling of Hindi films through the prism of history — power of radio, nosey government, the Soviet Union’s artistic propaganda, German directors and engineering, bans on film songs, American-Russian rivalry for monopolising the overseas market, popularity of Radio Ceylon and musical countdowns, live orchestra on set and birth of playback singing.
Connecting its ‘azad desh ke ghulam‘ sentiment from then to now, like when someone scoffs, filmon ka karobar kuch saalon mein government ke andar aa jayega is as prescient as it is predictable in its propensity for never learning from past mistakes.
Speaking of the past, Motwane’s sepia soaked Jubilee originally had a monochrome image in mind but he thought it’s practical to limit it to the authentic looking black and white opening credits. It’s the grey shades of human behaviour he’s most focused on.
Technically, it’s a lavishly mounted small screen epic whose research and detailing in all departments — sets, costumes, background score, cinematography, character building and production values — is as absorbed as it is meticulous.
Having delivered one of his career-best soundtracks around the jazz-heavy milieu in Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet, Amit Trivedi has no trouble shipping us back in time again in Jubilee.
One of its tracks, pictured on Arun Govil (nice to see the actor take a break from divine duties) — Chandu Naache Chanda Naachi — is an infectious take on Shree 420‘s melodious riddle, Ichak Daana Beechak Daana.
Every single song traces back to melodious nostalgia from the 1950s.
Sometimes it rubs off on the dialogues too.
It’s easy to see Baazi‘s chartbuster Taqdeer Se Bigdi Hui Tadbeer is the inspiration behind a character’s line, ‘Daav lag gaya na teri taqdeer ban jayegi teri.’
But Jubilee‘s trump cards are its nuanced, deeply internalised performances, especially by Aparshakti, Prosenjit and Wamiqa Gabbi.
Aparshakti’s metamorphosis into Madan Kumar is a complete departure from his clownish imagery. He is a revelation as the complex guy, silently strong-arming his way to success yet bound to pay the price of being his master’s blue-eyed boy.
Tormented by a guilt befitting a Shakespearean play sparked by a Shakespearean actor, Jubilee plays on the duality of his dread as well as the two Madan Kumars — the star and the ghost and fits it lyrically within the context of India’s tryst with destiny.
Where his Madan Kumar evokes Ashok Kumar’s Babu Moshai roots and Dilip Kumar’s intense school of acting, the struggles of his suave, aspiring film-maker friend Jay Khanna (an adequate Sidhant Gupta) highlight the plight of the scattered Punjabi refugee families starting life afresh in a disorderly camp set in Sion.
A blend of Dev Anand’s jaunty charms and Raj Kapoor’s theatre family roots in Pakistan, Jay’s sharing of an umbrella under the rain scenario, a laShree 420 while peddling a script named Taxi Driver, Jubilee doffs its hat at Bollywood’s original trinity.
Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool looms large in Prosenjit’s pipe-smoking Roy, a ruthless visionary zooming in and out of the art deco architecture of his precious studio he is committed to protect at any cost.
A performance akin to a dagger gently stabbed in the guts, Prosenjit shows his control but never his cards.
As his bitter half, Aditi Rao Hydari’s vintage styling often comes in the way of the spite and scorn she is supposed to convey. Playing a domestically damaged studio boss like a spoiled brat of an elite SoBo club, her soulless turn is a feeble challenger for sexist beliefs insisting masses follow male heroes.
Though she’s billed lower, Wamiqa Gabbi’s Nilofer dances her way to the top in Motwane’s golden-age yarn.
A woman of substance with her head firmly on her shoulder, she’s ready to flirt and fib for her place in the sun.
A cocktail of Cuckoo, Minoo Mumtaz and Sheila Ramani’s adas and seduction, the actress elevates a spunky stereotype into a flesh and blood livewire.
It’s a largely supporting character but Shweta Basu Prasad’s grace and generosity as Bipin’s understanding wife creates an easy dynamic for Jubilee to fall back on.
Every episode, clocking close to an hour, is richly loaded on emotional conflict and dramatic ammunition that fires away gloriously leaving an awe-struck viewer least bothered about running time and realism.
An expletive-filled exchange between Jay’s wannabe director and boorish financier (Ram Kapoor, stealing scenes in short appearances as usual), a lip sync song-and-dance demonstration explaining the pros of pre recorded songs by Madan Kumar and Prosenjit for the benefit of a sceptic, a spontaneous audition overshadowing a sinister psyche — Jubilee‘s irresistible celebration of cinema and all its good, bad, ugly ways lives up to its title.