The process that goes into the making of bands is perfect subject material for Hindi cinema. Set in schools, colleges, middle life crisis groups, or prisons, they have music, camaraderie, conflicts of interest and cathartic climactic scenes. This is the second prison band film released in a short period, the previous being Qaidi Band, and such is their popularity that the next band movie may well be set in a lunatic asylum.
Lucknow Central, however, has some stellar performances and holds your attention for much of the duration. The most positive impact of the formula movie being gradually rejected by the audience, in favour of more unusual content, is that it has led to the evolution and development of a large panel of character actors who deliver quality work. There is now a fairly wide range to choose from, and so, apart from stars like Farhan Akhtar, who plays a Moradabad man wrongly incarcerated for murder, and Diana Penty, who is an NGO worker given the task of forming a prisoner’s band, it is an ensemble film.
The ready availability and accommodation of quality actors to fill in for lapses in the plot, or for the inability of the stars to deliver to their optimum potential, has allowed Hindi films to rise a few notches higher in executional competence. So though we can predict in Lucknow Central that the band arranger, Kishan Mohan Girhotra (Akhtar), is using the musical performance as background distraction for an escape attempt for himself and his band members, and though we know that the film will end with the notion of the power of music triumphing over crime and punishment, we are arrested by the convincing jail ambience and by the quality of work of actors like Ronit Roy, who plays the menacing Jail Officer, and Ravi Kissen, who plays the wily Chief Minister whose idea it is to organise a competition for the best prison bands of Uttar Pradesh.
Perhaps the funniest line in the film is when Pawan Singh Chaturvedi (Kissen), delighted by his own gift of exploiting pop culture, says that with the success of musical bands playing in jails, he could ask Donald Trump to send the prisoners of America to the jails of Uttar Pradesh, to learn how prison bands are formed here. Unable to disagree with the CM’s suggestion, the entire Police Department, Inspector General downwards, nods in consent.
Eventually, the slim plot of Lucknow Central takes its toll, and once the entertainment value that goes into band formation exhausts itself, the film begins to sputter and cough. So though this movie is nicely sketched, the overuse of the conventional ‘underdog’ theme for a competitive event, as well as the predictive pattern of the narrative it leads to, lets the film down.