At a time when India’s legal-system is under a lot of flak, Jolly LLB is like another well-deserved kick in its pants. Hats off to Subhash Kapoor for this movie which takes the bull by the horn, exposes much that ails India’s legal system and still holds out hope in the form of that one gutsy lawyer, the one conscientious judge and the one honest policeman.
The movie revolves around a small-time lawyer from Meerut who dreams big. Jagdish Tyagi aka Jolly (Warsi), decides to move from Meerut to Delhi chasing those dreams but discovers that making it big is as tough, if not tougher, in Delhi. His chance of becoming as big a legal star as Rajpal (Irani), his role-model, ironically comes with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case that he files against the botched-up case Irani has just won. In this David and Goliath story this nobody pitches himself against the formidable Irani, whose expertise and manipulation had just managed the release of a rich culprit. Eighty percent of the film is a taut court-room drama where the two lawyers lock horns under the seemingly bored eyes of judge (Shukla).
The credit sequence of two cars racing each-other on empty Delhi streets establishes immediately that the film is taking on the controversial case of a drunk brat driving a BMW mowing down some pavement dwellers under his SUV.
What follows is a brilliant expose on the convoluted way our law and order system works in exonerating the rich and guilty. Though predictable in parts, the corrupt police, the mighty rich, talented but corrupt lawyers and judiciary, the film touches upon some other much-reported cases and lays the Indian legal-system bare.
And that is the real feather in the director’s cap. From the decrepit courtrooms where, forget AC, even the fans barely work and even the judge is served cold tea, to the local dialect, everything is realistic as opposed to the well-appointed courts and stylized dialogues we’ve so far been used to see in Hindi films.
Situational comedy and some of our most talented comic-actors, Warsi and Shukla, save the film from becoming a documentary. One of the many such spontaneously hilarious scenes is when pandemonium breaks out in the court and the judge can’t yell “order, order” as he is frantically looking for his gavel. And another which draws guffaws is the arrival of the skinny, old policeman Haldiram with a perpetual tendency to asthma and fainting fits as Warsi’s bodyguard!
Among the actors, if Warsi is the ambitious lawyer come to life, Irani is at his nasty best with his superior sneer and smooth ways. Shukla, however, takes the cake as the hassled, honest judge who may placate a senior lawyer but is not above shouting him down when he breaks the decorum of “his” court. It’s his summing up at the end which brings home the irony of the long arms of law tied tightly down due to India’s cumbrous system. No matter how clearly the judge sees the case, he’s incapable of doing anything in the absence of “evidence,” which never gets there as the police and lawyers are in cahoots with the goons. What can a common man expect from such a system?
The ensemble cast, many from TV and theatre, have been used judiciously without a single superfluous role, be it Jolly’s practical but affectionate brother-in-law, the haughty, old businessman—Agashe, Kaul (Ramesh Dev) as the righteous canteen-wala, the “missing” eye-witness, Albert Pinto, (Harsh Chaya as magically inscrutable as ever) or Haldiram the bodyguard, who finally does his duty at the one critical point he’s supposed to.
One minor grouse: While we’re moving happily away from formula and finding brave new stories and ways of story-telling, why can’t we move away from the mandatory romantic-angle? Frankly, Amrita Rao would’ve have been more convincing as the “voice of reason” as Warsi’s younger sister, which is what she looks more like rather than his love-interest. The chemistry is practically nil and what’s more, nobody would’ve missed a heroine in this court-room saga.
The music and background score are where the film loses some ground. The music by Krsna is uninspired at best and unnecessary as it tampers with the flow. The background score, for some unknown reason, travels back in time to the 70s when it used to be a loud cacophony and strives too hard to underline scenes, again, unnecessarily.
Subhash Kapoor had told a good story with Phans Gaye Re Obama but here, with a tightened script, he shows a commendable grip and completely deserves all the accolades he’s getting.
Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and a teacher.