India has been famously shy of science fiction, especially when they are home-bred. The fault perhaps lies with the makers who get so busy with the shining lights and fancy gizmos when experimenting with this genre that logic goes missing.
JL50 hopes to subvert that trend. Originally made as a science fiction movie, JL50 has now landed on SonyLiv as a web series and features a stellar cast including Abhay Deol, Piyush Mishra, Ritika Anand and Pankaj Kapur in lead roles. A novel experiment in a way, JL50 explores time travel via Indian mythology. To make sure that the audience isn’t lost in all the heavy words, the filmmaker slap on emotion and an intriguing mystery too.
JL 50 follows a CBI officer, Shantanu Das (Abhay), who is tasked with investigating a plane crash. It turns into a top secret mission as they realize that the plane that crashed somewhere in northern Bengal took off from a Kolkata (then Calcutta) airport 35 years ago. Piyush and Pankaj essay the roles of scientists who are supposed to bring clarity to this complicated puzzle.
Abhay is the investigator with a past that hangs heavy over him. When Pankaj suggests time travel is how a plane crashed three and a half decades after it took off, Abhay refuses to believe him, concluding instead that the entire accident is being staged with an ulterior motive behind it.
One of JL50’s strengths is how it brings a uniquely Indian perspective to the concept of time travel. The show forays into science fiction without trying to kowtow to how Hollywood has always presented it to us. The result is a real India original science fiction feature, unlike what we have mostly had in the name of films made under the genre.
Pankaj Kapur in a still from JL50.
Director Shailendra brings in Emperor Ashoka, his peace treaties and some more Indian history to add the desi touch. One of the best moments of the show comes when Pankaj delivers a speech about the time warp India is caught in, getting in an opinion as well. He says we refuse to accept what India has to offer, focussing instead on the ‘mandir-masjid, Hindu-Muslim, andhvishwas’. Emphasising on the need for scientific temperament, he says, “If we spot an object in the sky, we fold our hands and begin worshipping it. We do not ask what, why, how?”
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JL50 may also find takers in those who do not care much about quantum physics and science fiction but love thrillers. In the spirit of Dark, the science comes enveloped in a mystery that keeps you hooked. Written and directed by Shailendra Vyas, JL50 offers an interesting story, innovative fusion of Indian storytelling with science fiction and brilliant performances from the entire cast. However, it is in the execution that the film fails quite often. We spot inconsistencies in the milieu, language and accent of the characters as they oscillate from the 1980s to 2019. The twists are also quite predictable, but well-explained. JL50 may not be flawless,but it certainly is an intriguing, gripping thriller that is also a remarkable step in the sci-fi genre in India.