JL50 review: A slick sci-fi thriller
A four-part miniseries on time travel that keeps you hooked
By: Shrikanth Venkatesh
Critic's Rating: 3.5/5
Tuesday 15 September 2020
JL50 review: A slick sci-fi thriller
Abhay Deol, Ritika Anand
For some reason science fiction as a genre hasn’t been tested extensively in the Indian entertainment space. Yes, a few films have grappled with this every now and then but you sense there’s still untapped potential here, especially given the advancement in filmmaking technology over the last decade.
'JL50', a web series themed on time travel, comprises of just four episodes in total. I was a little surprised by this initially as I expected a longer set given the intricacies of this subject. But here’s the real reason behind this - 'JL50' was actually made as a full length feature back in 2017 and has been waiting for a release since. It’s a small ode to science that the advent of new formats like OTT has finally enabled this, albeit with some adjustments.
In many ways, I felt the switch from a full length feature to an episodic web-series form worked in 'JL50''s favour. There are varying degrees to which time travel as a subject has been examined over the course of filmmaking history. On one hand are iconic films like 'Back To The Future' or other popular Indian language films like 'Indru Netru Naalai' (Tamil) that dumbed this down to a large extent. On the other, we have films like 'Interstellar' and 'Predestination', or a series like 'Dark' that adopted a more convoluted approach, to varying degrees. 'JL50' falls somewhere in the middle. It’s neither entirely dumbed down nor is it exceedingly complex.
The plot set up is intriguing. There is first news of a plane crash. There is also then news of a plane hijack. These turn out to be different incidents, but are they mutually exclusive? What’s even more baffling is as per records, the plane that crashed ('JL50') had taken off from Kolkata thirty-five years ago!
Investigating these seemingly connected events is Shantanu (Abhay Deol), a CBI officer. His pragmatic, deductive mind tells him this is all a set-up, to hide another hidden agenda. An aged Physics professor, Das (a superb Pankaj Kapur), tries to convince him otherwise. He has a theory that marries mythology with wormholes, and to Shantanu, this all comes across as fictitious, bizarre and concocted.
But various clues do point to Das’ theory being authentic. No cell phones were found at the crash site, it is observed. The only two survivors, the pilot Bihu Ghosh (Ritika Anand) and Biswajit Mitra, a Professor, seem disoriented by time. Even the data from the flight’s black boxes seem to confirm Das’ postulation.
I loved the way the episodes are neatly segued in 'JL50'. As mentioned before, the episodic format actually helps maintain a composed rhythm in the narrative. For example, after the wormhole theory is explained to the audience, it is sensible we are given a chance to delve and take it all in before moving on to the next episode. In a feature film, this could have felt a bit rushed and many might have missed comprehending the essence of the plot.
The writing is pretty sharp throughout, and even cheeky at times. A character having to sell his watch to obtain valid currency notes after travelling back in time cracked me up. More importantly, the writing also keeps us hooked to the plot throughout. We are always guessing and not much is given away before the actual reveal. In that sense, I loved how Shantanu’s character is developed and also played by Abhay Deol. His complete denial of the ‘time travel’ theory keeps the audience also suspicious at all times, till the denouement is complete. We don’t receive any information that Shantanu himself doesn’t, and that way the viewing experience is very immersive.
There are other sub plots that are a little more generic and predictable. There is one around an extremist group and another that grapples with a mother-son relationship. These lack the novelty of the story as a whole. But thankfully, these are also not too intrusive to the core plot or the flow.
'JL50' is ultimately a slick watch. I loved the razor-sharp focus on the theme and the writing has enough smarts to make the end product stand out. Like I mentioned at the beginning, there is a lot of potential in the sci-fi space in India and 'JL50''s success will hopefully give the required impetus for more experiments in this genre in future.
(JL50 is available on SonyLiv)
Shrikanth is a Chartered Accountant, who keenly follows and writes about cinema when he is not crunching numbers or balancing ledgers! You can find more of his work at Non Linear Plot
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