JL50 (2020)

Abhay Deol, Pankaj Kapur, and Rajesh Sharma in a still from JL50
  • Release Date: 04/09/2020
  • Cast: Abhay Deol, Ritika Anand, Piyush Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Piyush Mishra
  • Director: Shailender Vyas

A proficient attempt at mishmashing sci-fi, fantasy and mythology with strong performances

On a bright sunny morning in Lava, West Bengal, a mammoth passenger airline comes crashing down on a hilltop. On the very same day another flight, AO 26 is hijacked by a terrorist organization that demands the release of their leader in police custody awaiting capital punishment in exchange for the safe return of the plane. The CBI chief sends two of his best officers, Shantanu (Abhay Deol) and Gaurango (Rajesh Sharma) to find out if the crashed airliner in West Bengal was AO 26. The two arrive on the spot and are bewildered to find out that the crashed plane is not AO 26 but is actually JL50 that took off from Kolkata in 1984 and has been missing ever since.

Shantanu believes that the crash scene has been staged and that there is a greater game afoot. Gaurango is of the opinion that the plane might be the one from 1984 as every piece of evidence at the crash site points to it. The two approach the case in their own ways and try to unearth the truth. As they are at it, the clock is ticking for the passengers of AO 26 whose lives depend on the release of the terrorist leader in police custody. The rest of the series is about how Shantanu and Gaurango make their way through a thick veil of secrets and misdirection to arrive at the facts that explain the resurfacing of JL50 and in the process save the lives of the people on AO 26 whose fates seem to be intertwined with JL50.

I enjoyed this show for a plethora of reasons. JL50 has an intriguing plot that is bolstered by some terrific performances and proficient casting. The story starts off with a bang and there isn’t a moment wasted on anything that isn’t essential to the plot. As the proceedings purred through, there were some scenes involving the character development of Shantanu and how his married life was falling apart. These scenes felt oddly misplaced in the midst of a simmering drama and brisk pacing. I felt that they could have done away with these scenes but it is only in the final episode of the series that I realized the importance of these scenes and how integral they were to the overall narrative. I still felt that these scenes could have been done better but they did serve their purpose to a certain extent.

Abhay Deol in a still from JL50

The plot of JL50 involves elements of time travel. These portions are simplified to such an extent that they will be accessible to anyone who has a basic understanding of how time works. Writer-Director Shailender Vyas also makes it a point to tie it all up with our history and some very influential and important historical characters. He doesn’t try to reach for the sky in terms of scientific concepts and their rendering and remains well within his limitations that in-turns help in keeping the series grounded and doesn’t let the proceedings drift away into insanity. The screenplay maintains its seriousness and that helps in keeping the audiences hooked to the narrative. Vyas acknowledges the fact that the explanations pertaining to time travel are well beyond the reach of realistic possibilities and hence has at least one character that constantly questions and disbelieves these explanations. This helps the film’s believability to a certain extent as this character is documented ridiculing the series’ inherent silliness. In addition, Shailender Vyas stays away from using too many VFX shots and exposing his limited budget.

Abhay Deol as the protagonist is perfect. He doesn’t believe in time travel and hence anyone who suggests the idea to him is respectfully shrugged off. He has his eyes set on uncovering the secrets of JL50 and believes it to be a part of a larger conspiracy. As he proceeds and gradually starts believing that it might indeed be time travel, we as the audiences are also forced to believe what we are seeing as Shantanu is in many ways the audience’s representation in the film. Deol does well to carry that mantle and proves himself up to the task of keeping the audience’s attention transfixed on his act and investigation. He plays the character with a stoic mannerism that is in keeping with the morose mood of the character.

Pankaj Kapur is a genius. I could listen to him speak incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo and still be enthralled by him. He uses his charisma to the fullest and quickly turns the attention of the audiences towards his character. The writing of his character is also astute and helps his cause. Shantanu and the rest of the audience are left with no option but to look at him for answers as he is the only person who knows the exact secret behind the disappearance and re-appearance of Flight JL50. He leads our protagonist and us on a whirlwind adventure that only culminates when his character along with that of the protagonist reaches the end of their respective character arcs. Kapur singlehandedly elevates certain scenes with his inspiring act.

Abhay Deol, and Pankaj Kapur, in a still from JL50

Piyush Mishra as the mentally deranged antagonist is whacky. He plays the character with a no holds barred attitude and leaves no room for any subtlety. You will either love his essay (as I did) or hate it. In his defense, I can only say that geniuses are often over the top and his rendition of a genius gave out a similar feel. Ritika Anand in an important role is just about ok. She does well in all the sequences that don’t need her to deliver any dialogues. However, in the sequences where she has to mouth lines, her act suffers. It must be added that for most of the characters, the on and off usage of the “Bengali” language should have been done away with completely. It not only spoils the seriousness of a character but also greatly affects the flow and believability of a scene. It sounds even worse to the people who already know the language.

JL50 is just 4 episodes long and each episode is about 30-35 minutes with the fourth being 40 minutes long. I don’t understand why the makers had to release it as a series when they could have easily clubbed all the episodes together and released it as an original film. That not only would have helped the presentation but would have also opened doors for various award nominations. The presentation of the material in a “series” format did nothing to boost its appeal or execution.

JL50 cannot be called an exact science fiction film as there are elements of mythology and fantasy in the narrative. However, I have to admit that it is a well-made series for the kind of budget and resources that the makers had at their disposal. The series has an interesting story and it tells it with heart and conviction. It tries to maintain a straight face even when the screenplay is violently drifting towards fantasy. The proceedings demand our attention and invariably get it. Abhay Deol and Pankaj Kapur turn in authoritative performances that help immerse the audiences further in the tale. The final payoff is satisfactory enough even though many will complain about the oversimplified sci-fi elements and the utter lack of anything that involved substantial financial involvement (VFX and elaborate set pieces). If you are able to accept JL50 for what it is, you should have a pretty good time with this series.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

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