I remember seeing the trailer for JL50 as a youtube ad for a music video I was eager to watch. Generally youtube ads annoy me to no end but the trailer with its time travel elements and great visuals captivated me so much that I couldn’t press the skip button.
Fast forward to its release date and I binged the entire series in one go. I cannot say that the series was perfect, far from it actually. But JL50 was a much needed step towards a better exploration of the Indian sci-fi niche. So the JL50 review is here to explore what went wrong and what should be appreciated.
JL50 begins with an intriguing view of a group of boys playing football in North Kolkata when they see a huge overhead shadow of a plane. The unexpected plane route along with its sudden crash stirs up a lot of furor in the little town. This brings CBI officer Shantanu in the mix. Why the CBI?
Because upper authorities think that this incident is directly linked to another plane hijacking incident by the ABA or Azad Bangla Organization.
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The setup of the show is great and it shows much promise especially since it’s found that there are only two survivors of the ill-fated JL50. One of the two survivors is the pilot Bhiu Ghosh and the other is a passenger called Professor Mitra. As Santanu tries to find facts and clues to solve this weird mystery, these are the only two people who he has to turn to again and again.
A very intriguing part of the story is the introduction of Professor Das. He intended to travel in the plane but backed out at the last minute.
As pressure mounts on Shantanu to find evidence and solve the case, he disregards Professor Mitra’s words of time travel and the possibility of the plane being from 1984. Shantanu instead tries to trace Bhiu Ghosh’s family tree to find the ‘main’ Bhiu Ghosh who originally flew the plane back in 1984.
Nothing really pans out for him as more arrows begin to point towards a similar flight taking off in 1984. Shantanu further discovers that Mitra was part of a top-secret initiative called Project A where they tried to decode space-time warps and time travel.
Up until now, the series seems good and solid. The mystery is set and it seems like we are being led towards an amazing buildup, revelation, and conclusion. That doesn’t really happen.
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It is precisely at this juncture that director and writer Shailender Vyas lets loose all the reigns. What follows is a clumsy and weak plot that fails to deliver the right punch. The action sequences seem clumsy and awkward. On top of this, the final confrontation between Shantanu and the aforementioned Professor Das feels weird.
It feels like the actors don’t really believe in the ending given or in the actions of their characters.
Along with the plot, the acting fails too. Abhay Deol who plays the titular character of Shantanu fails to infuse his charm into a lackluster script. Veteran actor Pankaj Kapur who plays Professor Das also can’t seem to slip into the skin of the character.
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But even with all of its pitfalls, JL50 is a revelation. Time travel is a concept that hasn’t really been portrayed with this maturity before in an Indian cinema or series. The theme along with the visuals and music is enough to keep anyone hooked to the short show. At just 4 episodes of around 25 mins each, JL50 is a quick watch. It’s almost too quick actually and as such there are some plot points that don’t get addressed properly or get closure. Overall, JL50 will live on as a flawed, valiant attempt to give the crusty and dusty Indian sci-fi genre something of a stuttering boost.