Thursday, March 23, 2023

Reel Vakils

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Come, walk down memory lane with these court scenes, complete with drama, histrionics and suspense.

By Jui Mukherjee


Order, order! Welcome to the courtroom of Bollywood, where drama and mystery are interspersed with humor. A place where the unthinkable can happen and last minute plot twists bring the story to a stunning climax. Constantly on the lookout for fresh stories to translate on to celluloid, Hindi films have always found inspiration in a court and its tear-jerking, rage-inducing and eyebrow-raising human interest stories.

Long before Boston Legal or Suits glamorized the world of lawyers, Bollywood had already done that. Right from black and white films like Awara (1951) and Kanoon (1960), Hindi cinema has, time and again, made its protagonists don the black robe. While it is heartening to see cinema acknowledge the important role played by law-yers, sometimes these legal eagles would so adroitly pull off extreme feats that the robe might as well have been replaced by the Batman’s cape.

Their histrionics would include long-winding monologues that would leave the whole crowd, including the judge, in a reflective mode. Their dramatic arguments could bring about a sudden change of heart, and were complete with arm flailing, sharp dialogues, emotional scenes and such well-crafted questions that the culprit would be trapped, willy-nilly. These vakils of Bollywood would put even the best interrogators of CIA to shame.

These filmy adalats provided not just boundless entertainment, but were educative. It is because of these scenes that even school kids learnt phrases like “mere qabil dost” (my learned friend), “ba-izzat riha” (acquittal), “tamam sabooton ko madde-nazar rakhte hue” (Keeping all the evidence in view) and “chashmadeed gawah” (eyewitness), even before they knew how to multiply. Not to forget other popular phrases like “Mi Lord”, “Your honour”, “The court is adjourned” and “Objection!”
Bollywood offers a plethora of courtroom scenes and India Legal has picked up some of the most memorable ones. While some made viewers applaud, others made them squint in disbelief.

Awara (1951)

Directed and produced by Raj Kapoor, this film was much ahead of its time, portraying Nargis in the role of a lawyer, Rita, who defends her childhood friend and lover in the court of law in a murder case. Rita dons the black robe with pride in this flick, matching every step of her male counterpart, setting the tone for several Hindi films to come.

Waqt (1965)

Directed by Yash Chopra, with an ensemble cast of Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Shashi Kapoor, Sadhana, Sharmila Tagore and Balraj Sahni, this classic explores a tricky murder trial. Although very effective in its time, today, the scene seems implausible, bordering on mockery with its overdramatic dialogues and actions. Sunil Dutt plays the defense advocate and acts his heart out, complete with long emotional gazes and melting puppy eyes in a bid to engage the conscience of witnesses. During one cross-questioning, he engages in an entire spectrum of emotions. From screaming at a witness, he moves close and almost whispers to him, urging him to place his hand on the Bhagwad Gita and reverse his earlier statement. Further, in order to prove a point about footprints at the crime scene, he actually drags a sack dripping with red liquid into the courtroom and asks the prosecutor to enact it himself.



Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980)

This BR Chopra film too has a woman in the role of a lawyer. Simi Garewal plays Simi, a lawyer fighting for justice when her client, beauty queen Bharti Saxena’s (Zeenat Aman) rape case against the antagonist is challenged in court. The courtroom scenes in this film too come across as melodramatic. But the message is conveyed powerfully enough.

Dostana (1980)

One of the highest grossing films of the 1980, Raj Khosla’s Dostana pitted Amitabh Bach-chan against Shatrughan Sinha in the roles of a police officer and a lawyer respectively. Vijay Varma (Bachchan) and Ravi Kapoor (Sinha) are two best friends who decide to enter conflicting professions, where one catches criminals and the other, defends them in court. Differences arise when they both fall for the same woman. What follows is intense drama not only in the courtroom but also spilling over outside the court. Both lead actors deliver power-packed performances making this film a must watch.

Andha Kanoon (1983)

When it comes to unbelievable courtroom occurrences, this one could very well top the list. Directed by T Rama Rao and starring Rajnikanth, Hema Malini, Amrish Puri and Amitabh Bachchan, the film tracks the story of two siblings (Hema and Rajnikanth), who attempt to seek revenge on three men for murdering their family. The scene that takes the cake is one where Khan (Bachchan) chases Gupta (Puri) around the courtroom and murders him in full view of the public and the judge. He then goes on to give a lengthy monologue justifying his actions. One has to watch it to believe such a scene was conceived, executed and also accepted!

Meri Jung (1985)

Anil Kapoor and Amrish Puri match each other in a court in this Subhash Ghai film. The courtroom scenes in this movie are a classic example of why Bollywood lawyers seem capable of moonlighting as caped vigilantes. In one scene, Kapoor’s character Arun Verma goes the extra mile to prove his client’s innocence by drinking “poison” from a bottle. The whole situation seems as implausible as alien abductions, but provides unparalleled entertainment. Kapoor picks up the bottle—presented as evidence along with a chemical report of its contents in the court—with his bare hands. He then proceeds to gulp down the contents and stands to tell the tale, resulting in his client’s acquittal. Imagine lawyers doing this in real life.
In another melodramatic scene, Verma, while arguing in a murder trial, mentions to the judge that the soul of the victim is present in court and is awaiting justice. He demands that the judge heed his supernatural claims.

Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986)

Presenting a very different take on courtroom dramas, this Basu Chatterjee film follows the argument between 12 members of a jury who have to infer whether an accused in a murder case is guilty or not based on circumstantial evidence. Annu Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur and Deepak Kejriwal, among other actors star in the film, which is based on the Hollywood film, 12 Angry Men. Questioning the efficiency of a judicial system that can be easily manipulated unless upstanding citizens and professionals take notice, this film still continues to be a cult movie.

Damini (1993)

Who can forget Sunny Deol screaming “tare-ekh pe tareekh” in this popular Rajkumar Santoshi film? The dialogue has come to epitomize what ails our judicial system today, with one adjournment after another. Figh-ting a high-profile gang rape case against a top-notch lawyer, Deol, in his role as Govind, has all the machismo of a quintessential Bollywood hero, but with a black robe around him. His character starts off as a disgruntled man, but eventually gives out a
full-throated scream, pointing fingers at the judge as if rebuking him. At one point, he even suggests that the court’s structure be demolished and the books inside, burnt. This evokes an surprising reaction from the judge, who looks down as if hanging his head in shame, like a school boy being scolded by his teacher.






Kyonki Main Jhooth Nahi Bolta (2001)

Inspired by the Jim Carrey starrer hit Liar Liar, David Dhawan presented this comedy centered around a lawyer who usually depe-nds on lies to win his cases but is forced to speak only the truth after his son makes a wish that his father should only speak the truth. Govinda plays the lead role, lawyer Raj Malhotra. Hilarity ensues after Raj is physically unable to say anything but the truth. The cat gets his tongue right in front of the judge and he alienates several people in the process. However, the film attempts to give a message on the importance of credibility and ethics, especially in the legal profession.

Aitraaz (2004)

This Abbas Mustan film, starring Kareena Kapoor, Akshay Kumar and Priyanka Chopra, is a milestone, as it tackles the controversial issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. It has the female lead playing a lawyer, which only a handful of Hindi films have done. The court scenes in the film were a hit with the audience, because of the thrill of watching a woman boldly fighting for her husband. The courtroom sequences and arguments may not be very realistic, what with last-minute witnesses and audio recording over a mobile set causing a complete shift in the verdict. However, it made for great viewing material.

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Maara (2005)

Applauded by film critics and niche audiences across the country, this Jahnu Barua film, starring Anupam Kher, Urmila Matondkar and Parvin Dabbas, follows the descent of Uttam Chaudhary (Kher) into a mental illness, which leads him to believe that he may have killed Gandhi. The film includes a courtroom sequence to prove that the toy gun that Uttam had used could not have killed anyone. It comprises stellar performances by the cast, especially Kher.

No One Killed Jessica (2011)

Directed by Raj Kumar Gupta, with Vidya Balan and Rani Mukerji in lead roles, this film was based on the controversial Jessica Lal murder case. Balan played Sabrina Lal, the deceased’s sister while Mukerji played a journalist groping for the truth. With witnesses turning hostile in the blink of an eye and outrageous claims by a few of them like “I don’t know Hindi” and “I was not in town”, the courtroom drama in this film kept viewers on the edge of their seats.

Oh My God (2012)

Kanji Lal Mehta (Paresh Rawal) decides to fight a case in court against God himself in this popular film directed by Umesh Shukla. When his shop collapses in an earthquake and the insurance company, with whom his shop is insured, refuses to come to his aid saying the mishap was an act of God, Rawal sues the Almighty. Godmen and lawyers of the insurance company are in for a shock as Mehta comes up with most original arguments on religion, faith and spirituality. Courtroom scenes are especially memorable on account of Rawal’s endearing and effective portrayal of a middle class man, who is disillusioned with the whole idea that a supernatural entity watches over us. The cross-questioning of spiritual figures makes for high-quality comedy.

JOLLY LLB (2013)

Based on the 1999 Delhi BMW hit-and-run case, this Subhash Kapoor film went on to win a National Award for its entertaining yet enlightening retelling of events. Arshad Warsi and Boman Irani play sparring advocates. The same court setting serves as a playground for several laugh-out-loud moments as well as laudable ones. From a local singer breaking into a song inside the witness box, to another witness being asked to sit like a chicken and yodel for lying in court, this film has it all. Saurabh Shukla brings alive the character of a slouch judge, but one who can’t be fooled. Memorable monologues and exciting arguments make for good entertainment.

Shahid (2013)

Directed by Hansal Mehta and based on the life of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi who was assassinated in 2010, this film is a realistic and touching recreation of courtroom drama. Raj Kumar Yadav plays the titular character, bringing earnestness and passion into his portrayal. Azmi zea-lously defends his client who is accused of being a terrorist.


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