Courtrooms in Celluloid


Indian cinema has had a long and clear history of how the courts work and how the common person sees it, like say in Oh My God, where God is Himself on trial!



Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian.

In real life, no one wants to experience a court attendance. It is harrowing, to say the least. For the common man, the proceedings seem an unsolvable maze (chakravyuh) so he wants to stay away from the experience of the deleterious dealings in a court. And yet, the dramatic scenes of courtroom drama on silver screen entices the audience, and these have become big draws. The directors know that the arguments in the court, the arguments of the lawyers, the tricks of the witnesses and the incisiveness of the judge makes ready spectacle for the audience.

Bollywood courtroom dialect, suffused with Urdu, is typical, including wordages such as ‘Tazirat-e-Hind, Dafaa 302 ke tahet sazaa-e-maut di jaati hai’, ‘mauka-e-waardaat’, ‘ba-izzat bari’ and many more high-sounding triptych words.

Ninety per cent of the trial stories revolve around the thin red line between the police and the law in the country which can be called the Lakshman rekha where a guardian of law becomes the predator.

Films like “Meri Jung”, for a Bollywood style typical courtroom drama and proceedings, “Kanoon”, “Awara”, “Andhaa Kanoon”, “AakhreeRaasta”, “Dayavaan”, “Yeh Raaste Hai PyaarKe”, “Baat Ek Raat Ki”, “Rustom” or “Aitraaz” typify these.

But such drama is very different from the truth of the real courts so there are only a few movies that marked up with this reality. Offbeat films “Ek Ruka Hua Faisla”, “Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho”, “Court” and “Pink” are some of the movies that have shown the reality of courtroom drama. Let’s take a look at some of the known movies that have shown the judiciary in a real light.

The Real Ones

Court: A multilingual film, “Court” is an Indian independent legal drama directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, which shows why an ageing folk singer-performer and Dalit activist, Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is arrested during a performance in a Mumbai slum on the charge of abetting conservancy worker Vasudev Pawar’s suicide. Kamble, according to the police, performed an explosive song which incited Pawar to kill himself by drowning himself in a manhole. Inspired by the Maharashtra government’s witch-hunts of dissenting activists like Dr Binayak Sen, Vilas Ghogre, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and members of Kabir Kala Manch, “Court” points out at the workings of legal cases. The film’s setting depicts the real trial unfolding in the lower court, just the opposite of what an audience would expect from a courtroom film. The movie takes a look at the fractured procedure of Indian judiciary.

Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! – An offbeat cinema of early 80’s “Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!” depicts the power struggle between the helpless common man and powerful squirearchy. Written and directed by Saeed Mirza, the film is a satire on a judicial system, where cases drag on for decades, where plaintiffs either die or lose hope and money, while the corrupt run scot-free, thanks to their nexus with corrupt lawyers. The film had a sarcastic colour where humour was employed to take digs on the loopholes in our judicial system.

Pink: Shoojit Sircar’s film “Pink”, directed by Anirudh Rai Choudhury is a strong pitch on the misogyny, where they are not afraid of doing anything with women. Some dialogues are articulated by Amitabh Bachchan in the film “If a woman says ‘no’, whether she is a girlfriend, a friend or a wife or a sex worker then she should not be understood to be saying ‘yes’. Veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan has acted tremendously along with all the actresses TaapseePannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang. The film’s strength was its story. And for this writer Ritesh Shah, has to be praised for his realism. The courtroom drama of this film was praised by all. Pink raises questions about the double-standards of society, which fuels gender discrimination.

Insaaf Ka Tarazu: The storyline similar to Pink came 36 years back. “Insaf Ka Tarazu”, released in 1980, directed by BR Chopra, made exactly the same argument, though the storyline was different, but there were a few points of convergence. The protagonist Bharati played by Zeenat Aman was a model with a modern outlook, although she was friendly towards rich brat Ramesh (Raj Babbar) she did not encourage his romantic overtures. One day, when he was visiting her on the pretext of showing her pictures of a party he threw for her, she chided him. The villain felt insulted and in revenge, he raped her brutally. Instead of staying silent, Bharti decides to take Ramesh to court, in spite of being warned by her lawyer (Simi Garewal) that the process would be tough and humiliating. Based on the 1976 Hollywood drama “Lipstick” the film was commercially hit and was remade in Tamil and Telugu as well.

Jolly LLB (1 &2): Directed by Subhash Kapoor, the “Jolly LLB” series tried to show the court’s serious action in a lighter way. The reality of lower courts was blended with many contemporary cultural and social issues. There were some elements that would touch the heart of the common man. “Jolly LLB” can connect the emotional public of many states like UP and Maharashtra where some people suffered imprisonment while being innocent and after disappointment from all sides, it is only the court that saved them.

Shahid: In 2013, directed Hansal Mehta, “Shahid”, played by Raj Kumar Rao, is based on the real story of a lawyer Shahid Azmi, who was a human rights activist as well. He was assassinated in 2010 in Mumbai. As Hansal Mehta states, “Shahid is an incredible story of this man and simply had to be told. Shahid Azmi rose from humble origins to become a symbol of hope for all those who were at the receiving end of potential miscarriages of justice.” After being falsely accused of terrorism, Shahid Azmi, a boy from a poor Muslim family, becomes a human rights lawyer to defend the defenceless. In his seven-year career as human rights lawyer, Shahid Azmi won 17 acquittals. The script focuses on his two cases: the 2006 Mumbai train bombings and the 2008 Mumbai attacks for dramatic effect. Azmi was eventually shot dead in his Mumbai office in February 2010 at age 32.

Ek Ruka Hua Faisla: Directed by Basu Chatterjee, the film was a remake of Sidney Lumet’s famous flick 12 Angry Men. It tracks the journey of 12 jurors deciding a murder case. While 11 of the 12 jurors are convinced that the accused is guilty, one of them isn’t, and starts questioning the facts of the case. The entire movie is set in one small room. The melodrama keeps the audience on the edge, with the facts that keep oscillating the juror’s judgment from guilty to innocent and back. With veteran actors Pankaj Kapur and Annu Kapoor, the film is remarkable.

Shaurya: A remake of the Hollywood classic “A Few Good Men”, Samar Khan’s Shaurya, released in 2008, is another powerful film that revolves around the court-martial of a Muslim soldier in the Indian Army for shooting his commanding officer. The film is set against the backdrop of the Kashmir conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, India. Major Siddhant Chaudhary (Rahul Bose) is assigned to be Javed Khan’s defence lawyer, and the film depicts his investigations in the circumstances leading up to the shooting. The film is inspired by the Hindi play “Court Martial” by Swadesh Deepak. Kay Kay Menon perhaps found one of his best monologues in the movie’s climax where he starts a narcissistic lecture and ends with ‘Bloody democracy! Bloody democracy!’

Damini: The famous iconic dialogue of Sunny Deol – “Tarikh par tarikh, tarikh par tarikh,” about the lingering proceedings of the court is still relevant. Director Rajkumar Santoshi in the year 1993 brought the story of a woman fighting for justice in the male- ruled world. The film is being considered to be the best women-centric and revolutionary movie made in the 90s. Damini was pivotal in the success of Sunny Deol as an actor. It also touched the sensitive topic of Rape. Meenakshi Sheshadri played the protagonist character. After witnessing a rape in her own household, Damini fights for justice for the deceased victim. However, she faces a bunch of challenges until she meets a disgraced lawyer played by Sunny Deol who decides to fight the case and bring the culprits to justice.

Oh My God!: OMG is a different courtroom drama, where the atheist protagonist Paresh Rawal is an antique dealer who is forced to don an advocate’s robes as none of the lawyers wants to fight his case. His case is against GOD, and the whole movie has a strong connection with reality in India. He fights his case successfully in court against an Act of God as he believes that God is responsible for his loss.

Jazbaa: The comeback movie of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is a 2015 Indian crime thriller directed by Sanjay Gupta. The film’s narrative revolves around an attorney forced to defend an obnoxious criminal after her daughter is kidnapped. Aishwarya is a criminal lawyer and is forced to defend a criminal as her daughter is kidnapped and how she comes out victorious through grit and determination are highlights of this movie. It is a remake of the 2007 South Korean film Seven Days.

No One Killed Jessica: Based on the widely publicised case of the Jessica Lal murder case, a bartender who was shot dead by a politician’s son after being refused a drink, the film has some of its best moments in the courtroom, where Vidya Balan (playing Sabrina Lal, Jessica’s sister in real life) breaks into unexpected laughter after a lawyer catches one of the witnesses turning hostile. Stunning scenes in court are the actual winner of this biographical thriller.

Long History

In the long run, thus, Indian cinema has never shied away from dealing with the issues of the common person dealing with law. In the 1980s film “Ardhasatya”, Om Puri, accused of having slain his own wife, and taken to the witness box, says not a word. He is said to have killed his wife (Smita Patil) because the latter went and slept with a government official. The prosecution lawyer tells the court that Om Puri was impotent and that is why Smita had slept with an outsider. The silent, burning eyes of Om Puri haunts the audience, which stays perplexed with his silence, till he screams and shows that his tongue had been slashed off, so that he would not be able to give his version. In the last shot, when Om Puri is allowed to cremate his wife, he suddenly slashes down his sister right in front of the police and other officials. The cinematically powerful shot, without saying a word makes it clear: Om Puri does not believe his sister would have a safe life free of rape, and never receive justice. This was perhaps the most telling commentary on the way Indian judiciary remains incapable of delivering justice, even when it

wants to.


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