UT69 is real yet uni-dimensional

Raj Kundra stars in the autobiographical UT69. He has also co-written the film. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

It’s rare that bio-pics are made and enacted by the person who is its center. Even a film like Sanju featured Ranbir Kapoor as Sanjay Dutt and Sanjay himself only made a crucial yet gimmicky cameo as himself.

This time, Raj Kundra, husband to Shilpa Shetty Kundra, is both the brain and moneybags behind his own story as an under-trial in jail when he was arrested in 2021 in a pornography case. The film barely gets into the details of the police case against him, or about his defense. This may well be because the case, I believe, is technically still sub-judice. Instead, it gets into the details of how terrible our jails are in terms of basics like amenities and food and of Raj’s harrowing and horrifying 63 days in jail before bail is granted.

If this were the intention, I would say that UT69 (which stands for Under-Trial no. 69) deserves a pat. A celebrity on his own does not get special treatment—he is bundled (that’s the right word) along with about 250 inmates in a cell meant for less than 50! The toilets are stinking, the food inedible and rats abound. Despite this, the inmates (some of whom have been in for years!) are generally a cheerful, if resigned, lot, who are mostly cynical about the law and justice by now.

Gradually, Raj too gets used to everything even as his bail is rejected again and again. He develops friendship with his inmates, and can now look with dry, dark humor at the negatives in the grim life as he recounts his real-life reactions. We see sexual overtures, personal violence and police brutality and Raj finally understands how privileged it is to live a free life where comforts, if not luxuries, are there for the asking.

And yet, there is a look at the poignant side too—how each inmate waits at the cop who comes occasionally and announces that bail has been granted for him, how despite everything they wait for the weekly phone call allowed for three minutes with a family member, and how even seasoned criminals celebrate the religious festivals and perform their daily puja or namaz.

Raj is given preferential treatment in some aspects—he gets to call his wife from inside the jailer’s cabin and his birthday too is celebrated by the inmates with a soanpapdi (a sweet made of gram fluor) shaped like a cake. His inmates also love to watch reality shows and movies featuring his wife and for Raj, it is a form of contact with his beloved wife and the outside world.

UT69 does not have a specific storyline. In that sense, it can be called a self-indulgent exercise that could have perhaps worked on television. Despite having good technical values, including the background score by Prince Mulla, it is barely commercial material. Raj Kundra is surprisingly better than many actors in the last 25 years who have made successful careers and has hardly any rough edges as an actor even as he plays himself.

The supporting actors are an extremely talented lot: most are new faces at least in Hindi cinema. Kumar Saurav as Ashraf, Anand Alkunte as Inspector Sutar and Ganesh Deokar as Amar leave a special impression.

As highlighted in the credits, most of the behind-the-scene team is also made up of debutants. And the key debutant is director Shahnawaz Ali, who, taking everything into consideration, has done a seasoned job of a film that maybe a shade flippant but is also difficult to execute as it has no beginning, middle and end in the classical sense of a narrative. To make such a film smooth is not an easy task.

Rating: ***

SVS Studios & The Bigger Picture Films’ UT69 Directed by: Shahnawaz Ali  Written by: Raj Kundra & Vikram Bhatti  Music: Prince Mulla  Starring: Raj Kundra, Kumar Saurabh, Gaurav Mishra, Anand Alkunte, Errol Rodrigues, Mahesh Ghag, Sadanand Patil, Ganesh Deokar, Vinod Suryavanshi, Mahadev Jadhav & others




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