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UT 69 Review: Raj Kundra Goes Back To Jail

The sole purpose of UT 69, directed by debut filmmaker Shahnawaz Ali, can be summarised as Kundra wanting to show the world all the 'tribulations' he faced during his 63 days in jail.

UT 69 Review: Raj Kundra Goes Back To Jail
Raj Kundra in a still from UT 69

Last Updated: 12.44 PM, Nov 04, 2023


RAJ KUNDRA’S UT 69, which reads like a flight that will never land but is actually a recreation of the time the entrepreneur was imprisoned in 2021 due to his alleged involvement in an adult content scandal, concludes in a note that makes the intent of the film clear. Before the end credits roll, the screen goes blank and tearful music fills the air. This is the kind of aesthetic that is reserved for war films where after depicting what had happened, the filmmaker reveals who it had happened to, and to how many. This is the time when the stone-cold statistics take over fictional portrayal. In this case a single line appears, informing us of the number of days Kundra was in jail for: 63.

It is a ludicrous moment, so absurdly funny in hindsight and every sight that it was the only moment I laughed out loud. Prior to this, my reactions to the film ranged from looking away every time Kundra held his stomach and ran to the toilet as fart sounds played in the background, and looking away when Kundra walked about with a perpetual scowl on his face. But that particular moment my resolve of not wanting to be broken by the film broke because (please just) put it in the current social context. At the moment there is an increasing list of incarcerated activists and scholars in India whose present reality looks like an inevitable future. Their bail hearings keep getting postponed and the reason for their imprisonment is vague. And here we have a wealthy man who spent two months in jail and has enough money to make a film on it and showcase his current contribution for the inmates. If nothing, this handed me the only lens one can and should view this film from to derive some amusement: as a satire.

UT 69 opens with reporters blasting the news of Kundra’s alleged role in the pornographic scandal. It is the scene after this that sets the tone. He is sitting in a police van with his lawyer when in his rusty British accent, he says: “I have never been to jail. Mujhse nahi hoga (I can’t do this)”. It is an unreal moment, not least because he is playing himself. But also because this throwing-fit tone fits in multiple scenarios: a white man visiting India for the the first time and feeling disoriented looking at the crowd, a man looking at the utensils piling up in the kitchen and realising there is one room in his house which he had not unaccounted for, Raj Kundra on his way to Arthur Road Jail and not wanting to spend time there.


In more ways then, the sole purpose of UT 69, directed by debut filmmaker Shahnawaz Ali, can be summarised as Kundra wanting to show the world all the tribulations he faced during his time in jail. But here are his problems: Kundra had to eat egg in jail even though he is vegan, he had to sleep on the floor in an overcrowded room, he had to use filthy toilets, he was allowed only a three-minute phone call every week to his wife (Shilpa Shetty Kundra’s voice makes an appearance). The tone of UT 69 is so inadvertently sardonic (in one scene Kundra can be seen wearing Calvin Klein underwear and taking bath in jail; every time his bail plea gets rejected, he goes to the washroom and has meltdowns like he fashioned them on Leonardo DiCaprio’s).

At some level I am assuming the film was conceptualised as a PR exercise to undo the damage the incident did to Kundra’s image, but this film is not it. Not as a PR exercise, not as a biopic, and not as an insight into the way convicts stay in jail. In one unforgettable scene all the inmates are watching Shilpa Shetty Kundra on TV. Her husband is excited and then, a Muslim man comments on how lucky Kundra is for being able to at least see his wife as he can only…and at this moment the old man looks at his hand. Sure, one can argue that UT 69 is a tragicomedy but as someone who was the seventh person in a deserted movie theater, I reckon the tragedy was solely reserved for us.

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