Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Mar 15, 2013, 01:37 PM IST
Very loosely adapted from Jonathan Lyn’s My CousinVinny (1992), as this film's title suggests, it is a satire on the judicial system – in about the same way that Munnabhai MBBS was a caricature of the medical profession, and Lage Raho Munnabhai was a parody on the Indian real estate mafia. Raising expectations to suggest it is even half as funny as the latter two movies would be unfair to the audience that hasn’t watched it yet. I make the connection mainly because the two lead actors here are from the cast of Munnabhai: Arshad Warshi, Boman Irani.
Boman (feisty and fabulous for the most part) plays a top-shot lawyer whose job is to bend the law to suit the rich. His current case involves the super-rich Nanda family whose kid mowed down a bunch of people sleeping on the footpath, driving drunk at night. Surely you’ve heard of Delhi’s BMW hit-and-run Nanda case. Boman’s character is supposed to be based on lawyer RK Anand. I think he plays it more like the sharp-tongued maverick Ram Jethmalani.
Arshad is Jolly LLB – Jolly, being short or “pet-name” for Jagdish Tyagi. LLB of course is the Latin acronym for Bachelor of Law. It’s a post-grad course that for generations in India has been seen as the large refuge of the college dropout, a degree often reserved for those who would otherwise struggle with any other master’s course. Hence LLB for “Latak Latak ke BA” pass. Elite National Law School kind of colleges are a more recent and urbane phenomena.
Jolly is from Meerut. He’s certainly a ‘latak latek ke’ type lukkha law grad. He spells appeal as apple and writes prostitution for prosecution. He has a small dukaan outside a Delhi sessions court. It’s unlikely that his career would go too far. Lawyers, like doctors, can’t place ads to publicise their practise. They either get clients for the goodwill they’ve generated in the profession or by employing themselves in established law firms. Mentions and appearances in mainstream press could be an easy route to p and therefore employment. Jolly knows this. He takes up the Nanda case basically to be interviewed by the news media. God knows there must be many like him. We watch them quite often on TV panel discussions. The hit-and-run is an open-and-shut case. The defense has destroyed all evidence. Jolly is no Harishchandra martyring himself for truth either. He could easily pocket some hush money on the side as well, who knows.
There’s still a case to be fought. Jolly abruptly asks for witnesses who haven’t been listed for the day to appear in court, “Witness ko pesh karna chahta hoon...” The booming Goliath-like opposing lawyer laughs and wonders if he’s learnt all this from Hindi films. To be fair anyone who’s never been to an Indian court-room knows whatever little they do, from a Bollywood set at Film City in Goregaon: the square witness box, the Gita, and the hysterical hero going “tareekh pe tareekh.” This film’s greatest contribution lies in authentically introducing to its audience what the lower courts in India look like and how they really function. It is a fine example for how we may not need more laws in this country, just executing the existing ones right, should be good enough. Legal reporter friends of mine have hilarious stories to tell from what goes on in a court and outside it. The ones in this movie are just as believable as they appear totally absurd.
This is a brave subject to film. Which is probably why none have been made with such attention to detail before. You can be critical of the legal system in India but a loose word against a judge, or judges, or similar such slips and his lordships are only too keen to show you the way to the prison. Journalists know this well. Contempt of court is a pretty serious charge. The bumbling judge here (Saurabh Shukla: best actor in a supporting role that I’ve seen in long) is a wonderfully balanced force. He’s no saint. He’s not quite a sinner either. He means well when he says, “Kanoon andha hota hai. Judge nahin. Judge ko sab dikhta hai. (Justice is blind, not the judge. The judge can see everything).” You must see this funny guy to appreciate the delicate caricature.
Walking the thin line between a sentimental song ‘n’ dance drama and a hilarious courtroom comedy, which is at the same time realistic, is a much tougher balance to strike still. You find the filmmaker struggling between keeping it low and going the over-the-top here. Eventually he pulls it off. Subhash Kapoor’s last film Phas Gaye Re Obama was a smart take on the American financial crisis using Indian heartland’s kidnapping and ransom industry as backdrop. He’s basically a student of the school in which Rajkumar Hirani is currently the principal. I am told Kapoor has also been offered to direct the third Munnabhai film, which should be really worth looking forward to. This one is definitely worth the while as well.