Caught Between Three Walls – Teen Deewarein

I saw Teen Deewarein recently and was mesmerized by this film. At first I got the feeling that I had seen all of this before and I hate that. A little bit of analysis told me that I had seen all that in Bas Ek Pal which came out 3 years later. Nagesh Kukunoor’s masterpiece inspired a lesser ripoff which still managed to keep me engaged.. but that is another topic. Back to Teen Deewarein..

Three men are on death row. Jaggu (Jackie Shroff) repeatedly stabbed his wife, Naagya (Nagesh Kukunoor) is accused of pushing his wife in front of a speeding car, and Ishaan Mirza (Naseeruddin Shah) is accused of shooting a pregnant bank teller during a botched bank robbery. They are all in the same jail being run as a benevolent dictatorship by the jailer Mohan Kumar (Gulshan Grover). A beautiful documentary film maker Chandrika (Juhi Chawla) walks into the jail and wants to document the lives of these prisoners on death row. She follows them around and tries to get their stories. Naagya repeatedly professes his innocence, claiming that he did not push his wife, Jaggu is waiting to die so he can be justly punished for killing his wife, Ishaan says he tripped over someone and the gun went off accidentally but he cannot find who he tripped over. Jail life is shown simply and effectively – the story treats the magical and sordid moments in a very matter of fact way. Chandrika’s husband is a wife beater and abuser and we get that story without any melodrama. The circle does not seem complete though and you wait for something to happen. It does seem to happen when Chandrika helps Ishaan to escape from jail. The shocking revelations that follow do not complete the circle and also leave one important hole in the story for me. Hence the spoiler warning!!!! Why was it important to show who tripped Ishaan yet not show her having any remorse over the fact that he really did not fire the gun deliberately? Either we did not need to see this and could have been left with an enigma – was Ishaan pulling our leg all along or was he innocent, or we needed to see the circle completed fully which did not happen. This is one thing that prevents me from giving this film a rating of 10. Other than that – I love it, love it!

A bit about the acting.. Juhi chose the best role for her comeback. Shabana and Smita lovers take note. This lady will leave behind a legacy that will be hard to beat. We finally have a woman with the charisma and persona to carry a film on her shoulders. As soon as she arrives on the scene the movie zips and zings with magic. Naseeruddin Shah gives an awesome performance as the charming scoundrel Ishaan. This is one role where you see how mistaken film makers were if they thought he could not do the conventional leading man. He plays a man who can charm birds out of trees! Jackie Shroff is given a role he can bite into and he does a terrific job. Nagesh Kukunoor is amazing and Gulshan Grover CAN act!!

The recent BEP heavily borrows so many elements from Teen Deewarein – the wrongly accused man in jail, the abuse and sordidness in jail, the spousal abuse sideline, the abused spouse in jail trying to do some good etc. etc. After seeing Teen Deewarein I am even less impressed by Mr. Onir and his BEP. Juhi reprising the role she played in Teen Deewarein manages to salvage BEP somewhat.

Back to Teen Deewarein. There are no songs, no hoopla, just an intense movie viewing experience – one well worth the investment of 2 hours. A brilliant gem from Kukunoor!

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