Neha Dhupia plays a character very similar to Jessica Lall's in Kumar Sanu's Utthan. Director Ujwal Chatterjee says the recent public outrage on the verdict in the case was not what prompted him to make this film.
"I wouldn't say that it is a biopic, but I have taken many elements from Jessica Lall's life," Ujwal said. "I was always intrigued by the Jessica Lall case and thought it was a fertile subject to make a film on."
Wasn't the film supposed to be on the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case originally?
"Not at all. It's just that the film begins with a news clip on victims like Jessica Lall, Shivani Bhatnagar Nandini Singh and Madhumita Shukla. Surely, I can't have all four girls in one film."
So, who plays Manu Sharma? "In my film, Jessica gets justice and how that happens is the rest of the story. She does not get shot at and die.
I do have a character similar to Manu Sharma in Priyanshu Chatterjee, but Priyanshu does not shoot Neha, but is gunned down by her."
Chatterjee says a lot of research went into the film. "I could not have made it without a detailed study on Jessica, which wasn't difficult, because so much has been written about her."
The research has been done by Ujwal's wife, Sagarika, who is a college professor. "I did my research for this via newspapers. But of course, we have told the story in cinema, keeping the commerce factor in mind," says Sagarika.
"Utthan has no character like Shayan Munshi— the man who witnessed Jessica's murder and later turned hostile," say sources. Did Neha know she was playing Jessica Lall? "Aaj kal ki ladkiyon ko sab pata hota hai," says the director, whose first Hindi film, Escape from Taliban (starring Manisha Koirala) was controversial, too.
Neha Dhupia (who is called Kiran Talreja in the film) refused to comment on her role in Utthan, which also stars Akhilendra Mishra and Isha Puri.