Every year 1800 films are made in India, yet we have made barely 50 science fiction films, in total. Over the last 100 years, most of them have turned out disappointing. Finally, Shailendra Vyas is here to turn the tide with JL50.
Shantanu (Abhay Deol) is straight thinking, rational CBI office who is assigned to look into the mysterious crash of flight JL 50.
JL50 seems to have been the same flight that went missing 35 years ago, in 1984. All passengers of the flight perish in the crash except the pilot, Bihu (Ritika Anand) and another unidentified passenger.
In some parallelly occurring events, a flight has been hijacked by terrorists who are demanding the release of their leader from the authorities. Two flights, 35 years apart are connected somehow, but how?
JL50 is packed with talented veteran actors, so it is no surprise that the performances are one of its best aspects.
Abhay Deol, as the protagonist Shantanu, manages to keep our attention. The character is not very unique or glamorous but his performance reels us in, and when he is given the opportunity to shine, he does not disappoint.
Pankaj Kapur, as Das, the intriguing physics professor, stands out in this stellar cast. He keeps our interest piqued as we try to figure out what he is up to.
Piyush Mishra is magnetic as the unknown survivor of flight JL50. His character is initially very interesting but unfortunately, remains on the same note throughout the series.
Rajesh Sharma as Shantanu’s colleague, Gaurango, has very limited screen time but manages to give one of the best performances in the series. He is funny but does not become a caricature and acts as a great foil to Abhay Deol’s Shantanu.
Ritika Anand, who is also a producer for JL50 and frequent collaborator with Shailendra Vyas, is adequate as Bihu, the pilot of flight JL50. Unfortunately, adequate is not enough when performing with such experienced actors and she is clearly the weakest performer amongst them all.
Most Indian science fiction films fail because they are over the top and cartoonish. The usual recipe for any such film is a lousy script, a totally irrelevant love interest, an unnecessary item song and embarrassingly bad CGI.
JL50 avoids all these potholes by playing to its strengths. Shailendra Vyas, the writer, director, creator, producer and editor of the series, keeps the film grounded. He chooses the road not taken by approaching JL50 as a mystery instead of an action series, thus eliminating the need for the big budget. Instead of squandering the budget on CGI, he chose a few of the most talented actors in the film industry as his cast and made a game-changing web series.
One of the biggest strengths of JL 50 is its original songs. Ranging from rock to electronic to Indian to western classical, it is one of the best original soundtracks in a web series all year. The addition of songs was an ingenious way of making science fiction feel more familiar to Indian audiences.
Bradley Stuckel, the director of photography, creates mesmerising images by shooting the film in an ultra wide aspect ratio.
Art director, Tanmoy Chaterjee, faced the uphill task of designing the sets of a science fiction production in a low budget. Fortunately, he lived up to the challenge
JL50 shows how far the industry has come, but there is still a long way to go.
The series has only four episodes, yet it seems to drag. By the end of the first episode, we have a fair idea of what is going on but the series takes two more episodes to reach the point it could have reached in the next episode itself. The final episode is the one episode that truly delivers what the series promised.
The story structure and events are familiar to anyone who consumes science fiction content. The twists and turns are fairly predictable once they are set up. But the setups for the twists happen so close to the revelation that it seems like a convenient plot device. Speaking of conveniences, JL50 has plenty. Quite a few liberties are taken throughout the series that do not make much sense.
Vyas, the director makes a few odd choices throughout the film. The most unnatural of those is the fact that all the characters always speak slowly and languidly, so much so that, at several moments the dialogue feels fake and over-rehearsed.
There is this particular scene where a character explains a scientific concept to Shantanu which has been done in the most cliched way possible. This particular cliche is especially disappointing because it has been done to death by almost every single production in this genre for decades now.
Some aspects of the story are just touched upon and never delved into deeper. One, in particular, that doesn’t lead anywhere is the conflict between Shantanu and his wife.
The film in general looks and sounds great, but the action direction for the few action scenes in the film is dreadful. All the action scenes look staged and there is no sense of alarm or danger.
When Das gets to know about the crash landing of flight JL 50 from 1985, he jokes by saying: “India mein sab kuch thoda late hota hai”. This line speaks the truth of the series. Science fiction, though late, is finally here in India.
For passionate science fiction enthusiasts, JL50 does not offer anything out of the box. But its novelty in India and the superb performances definitely make it worth a watch.
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