Subhash Kapoor’s sequel to a runaway sleeper hit Jolly LLb is turning out to be equally successful; but it is bucking the trend by far exceeding the box office collections of the first one, by cine-socio-analyst SUSHIL.
And the reason it that it highlights the role of court as not arbiter to help settle disputes between two parties but as discoverer of the Truth and this connects with common man’s everyday existential struggles in India.
As it is, it always remains a challenge , for a sequel , to repeat the success for several reasons: audience’s already aroused anticipation is expectantly high as it wants a virtual repeat of everything- be it stars, storyline, songs, performances, picto-photo/graphy- or to put it differently, the audience wants both , a repetition as well as novelty and that too in a familiar package; and is like asking filmmaker not to trick them with the same old tricks but to show new tricks as variants of old patterns. And that’s a tough job and therefore most sequels run out of steam sooner than later and fail to commercially succeed. Some also become so successful, like Spiderman or Batman that their prequels are made to quench audience’s insatiable thirst for the same themes. India’s film industry hasn’t reached that stage as yet.
Overall, the Jolly LLb.2 presents hardly in any novelty , yet the director wonderfully gives a new treatment by integrating and amalgamating several social subjects (kept continuously alive in mass media) touching raw nerves of national conscientiousness /consciousness. Film’s uniqueness is that its multilayered themes are derived from everyday reality or common life and yet its new packaging and presentation prevents audiences from perceiving the sequel to be déjà vu or a surreal resurrection of all what they saw in the previous picture.
The film, while depicting the daily life of ordinary characters, deals with abominable acts where the police as the custodian of law and protector of people takes law into their bare hands and far from keeping vigil for law keeping , turns into vehicle for delivering vigilante justice , execution style through ‘fake’ encounters – allegedly done to side-step labyrinthine legal loopholes or for pursuit for out of turn promotion( allegedly institutionalized while encountering extremism in Punjab).Film depicts policeman’s predilection for prompt promotion that propels him to cross the legal ‘Laxman Rekhaa’.
The fake encounter route- that first began officially with Manya Surve’s shooting in seventies – has not faded from public memory through the events in Punjab, J&K, Maharashtra, A.P, T.N. ;famous cases being of Connaught Place and Uttarakhand policemen at one end ( policemen convicted in both) and Battala House in Delhi on the other, where the embers are still not extinguished and both versions have strong adherents. The issues of fake encounters as well as prolonged detention under some ‘draconian’ laws like TADA etc. (subsequent declaration of innocence by court) in some of these States would have strong appeal.
The film contains visual depiction of decaying educational system in a matter of factly manner. Scene that depicts facilitated mass cheating connects immediately to real life mass copying incident wherein teachers and guardians of all hues hanging precariously on school’s scaffolding were passing hints and help. This incident brought India international infamy and indicated how the steel frame scaffolding of the Indian State was being replaced by temporary timber that could be terminated by termites in time. International audience absorbed with doubt how the same system produces IITians and famed Indian academicians. Perhaps they missed the famed ‘Class of Thirty’ or forgot how in reality it is an easy calculation – how few handful can always match the statistical averages of super success derived from a population pool of one billion plus.
In addition to dominant theme of fake encounter stated above, let’s consider some other elements that connect the audience:( a)scenic depiction of shootout at court complex in J &K is an eerie takeaway of several real life daring shootouts right inside courts and in/around court complexes and capable of creating connect with cine crowds.
( b ) incorporation of demand for narco analysis to demonstrate witness’ declarations as dubious and duplicitous , and demolishing them as evidence is an instant memory recall of complications in evidence in Aarushi murder case – they were also famously shown on all TV channels ( shown in recent film Talvars). ( c) Court pronouncements in cases like Nitish Katara, Jessica Lal , BMW , Priyadarshini Matoo and others again convinced common public of court capability of digging and discovery of the truth , rather than being only arbiter between parties to settle disputes and validating that judicial system in India is still a strong institution despite huge pendency of cases ( over 2.18 crore cases and more than fifty percent are of criminal courts) and that justice can be delayed but not denied. In fact, Saurabh Shukla mumbles that famous line of Sunny Deol – Taarikh par Taarik but concludes later of supremacy of laws and judicial system. (d) the audience also would feel immediate identification with the dilapidated physical infrastructure of courts – again mentioned by Saurabh Shukla specially about the smells, dust and grime and automatic reaction of most in avoiding coming to courts. Perhaps, it can be attributed to direct connect with antiquated laws of colonial eras- one can’t change the one without touching the other – so both infrastructure and laws remain colonial hangovers. One doesn’t understand why in this background, the legal profession still has a strict code of suits and ties like in corporate culture despite hardly having any air-conditioned comfort.
The common man’s long and lonely fight to get justice through police and legal system is well documented ( in cinema too if you recall Saeed Mirza’s Mohan Joshi Haazir ho) be it protracted delays perfectly engineered through specially devised adjournments or stay and other admissible ones like review, revision and layered appeals in labyrinthine legal system with limitless legalese and lawyers of all levels. And remember, India has unique position of having countless laws on virtually everything under the sun in strange juxtaposition to having world’s largest number of illiterates even today.
(d) Courts in India became champions of public interest ( through unique Public Interest Litigation mechanism-when laxity in enforcement by administration led to landmark rulings in cases such as pollution control through CNG vehicles in Delhi including current National Green Tribunal’s ruling on old motor vehicles. Other famous cases include corruption cases like Spectrum Sale, Coalgate etc. which crossed the administrative check gates easily. Sometimes, courts alone brought closure to man’s helpless and hopeless struggles for justice (Katara or Jessica Lal case). Man’s fate in getting justice in India can be compared to allegorical tale of the myth of Sisyphus specially when one sees the levels of appeals and courts at each stage and easy assumption that India is a small geographical space.
We know that legal- judicial- court kacheri system is cracking with cases overload, crumbling physical infrastructure despite strong façade of colonial era buildings which definitely were not designed to deal with such numbers – either of cases or people . Nearly all courts have dark/low lit inner rooms and corridors with hardly any access control. Lucky are those who haven’t had the misfortune of legal entanglements and hovering over of legal eagles ; they can try visiting some High Court buildings- forget the munsif or session or civil courts-.
Film’s creates immediate identification with public’s increasing faith in courts as other two wings i.e. executive and legislative failed to take wings to rescue common man specially when two legal guardians of enforcement of public order -police and legal practitioners- turn predators. As stated, courts often end up as investigators of truth ( long time demand of policemen to separate investigation and enforcement from present common responsibility) – ensuring end results intended by the Govt. of India’s famous maxim of Satyamev Jayte.
Subhash Kapoor as a good conductor has created a good symphonic cinema synthesizing issues alive in public consciousness like conspicuous consumption ( love of costly brands by lawyer’s wife); professionals’ ( doctors, lawyers, CAs ) overriding pursuit of material success ( Akshay’s primacy for money and his fleecing widow for fees ) ; social trappings of a profession as if to announce ‘arrival’ ( craze for personal chambers for lawyers – rather than an open access and ‘open’ office under open sky screened by canvas (tirpals), black umbrellas ( matching robes) providing shade/shelter from rain and ubiquitous typewriters (one page typing a day providing exercise to fingers possibly preventing early onset of arthritis) ;love for family values ( loving wife, chubby kid and father), friendship (lawyer friend). Seems that story writer took inspiration from Raju Hirani who successfully integrates several elements giving his films a multilayered and nuanced feel that touch both rural and urban India and bestow mass appeal/ commercial success beyond urban mental and multiplex landscape.
As stated, the sequel, unlike a new film, has to grapple with already aroused audience’s high expectation and film for success surely must meet them in major measure even though storyline, characters and characterizations, lingua franca ,actors and acting are already known ; something extra or that X factor is needed for the film to find favour of fortune and fame. Jolly LLb 2 , despite expected storyline/ theme of legal system and lawyers , derives its mojo from raising issue of police highhandedness in police encounter and mixes it with lawyer protagonist’s metamorphosis from mean money making man to one fighting for higher principles of justice alone – thereby containing universal story of man’s redemption – a must element for successful films across all cultures ( Arshad Warsi’s character in first version was similarly nuanced).
Compar-analytically speaking both films , first and sequel, share many similarities: major portion in both films deal with wish fulfilling dream of a struggling lawyer at lower courts( approximating pan Indian reality) and his repeated acts/attempts to hit/make it big time to be topnotch legal eagle by all means whether fair or otherwise; use of street language laced with local invectives ( words like pichwaada, ghoosand,jhand) often heard earful when out mouthful; same sets of courts depicting decaying façade of dilapidated buildings decrying demolition due to long time crossing over of colonial time and structural safety – symbolically matching and mirroring the decaying legal/court system’s ( including judge’s podium and witness boxes )struggling efforts to interpret equally archaic antiquated laws ; the arguments by lawyers on both sides appearing logical or illogical depending on side one is taking till climatic exchange when clinching evidence tilts the scales ( unlike the equal balance in hand of that ubiquitous blindfolded angelic statue ) and eventual victory of David over legal eagle nee falcon Goliath , after gripping verbosity and contest of contrasting court craft ( much like what one hears of Ram Jethmalani or Nani Palkhiwala or Soli Sorabjee, Venugopal ; common man’s struggles to file a case , leave aside the legal expenses ( in country of 1.2 billion where tax payer base is less than ten million, imagine the capacity of most to wage even a small legal skirmish ) ; small love interest as a matter of digression from the strict legalese / actual court proceedings ; and above all ( similar to words used in credits in films of the yore) the role of a judge performed to near perfection so much by Surabh Shukla that it becomes difficult to judge whether one is watching the first film again and my guess is that , but for his presence and portrayal , the picture wouldn’t have achieved half the success that it has ; the eventual victory of truth or justice a la maxim of Satyamev Jayte in both films ,with four lions roaring in unison to declare supreme justice with delivery of judgment: trial , test and tussle of skills /wordsmithry of witnesses in the witness box and witnessed by an open-minded and wide eyed judge; idiosyncrasies of a judge and apparent lack of interest in legal interaction but assertion of primacy/supremacy of laws and equality of all before law when mattered; both films’ first part are full of humour and innuendo infested dialogues and serious court room drama in second within confines of courtroom courtesies ; use of cultural matrix of Delhi and Lucknow/ Kanpur specially the language and similar use of historical monuments as a backdrop in films.
For dissimilarities, the latter film’s plot plays around one aspect of police’s highhandedness in dealing with alleged terrorists specially through fake encounters ( forget forging of fake FIRs or most public- police day to day encounters based on fake interaction of give and take under the table or underhand) endemic is some States (where law and order sometimes gets out of control) where guardians of law drop guard and guillotine accused before taking to gallows legally; film touches well known themes like pending cases in courts or illegal arrests (Supreme court has laid down elaborate procedures for arrests inducing faith amongst public ) often leading to acquittal or castigation by courts for refusing to give bail or make fake FIRs ( registration of FIRs made mandatory and online by the Supreme Court ),social comment on pursuit of conspicuous consumption, non prescriptive portrayal of gender bender issues of role reversal in hero cooking and feeding wife without much ado or argument ; and difference of cultural ethos of Kanpur/Luchknow and Delhi.
Film’s art décor , specially of the sets is realistic specially in depiction of claustrophobic space crunch in and around court complexes – specially open spaces encroached as ‘open’ lawyers’ chambers , with all sides open and open access and tarpaulin/canvas or cloth covers as screens. Other real depiction includes use of typewriters ( though film is set in 2015 one didn’t notice any computers in use in court complexes , which is jarring since E-courts is being already in use ) ; real feel is created through scooter rides, backdrop of historical monuments, crumbling residences and courtroom (also commented by the judge specially about the offensive smells)
Film’s dialogues contain common street’s life lingua franca (or what’s called tu-tadaak bhaasa ) replete with innuendos (pichwaada,khusand, jhand) and Salman Khan’s Dabang’s famous dialogues about holes and passing of wind variant is used to take the wind out of opposite lawyer’s sails, well literally ; Lucknow’s cultural ethos and Urdu’s flavour is used through Anu Kapoor’s sarcastic comments and Ram Gopal Bajaj’s dress and demeanour ; Saurabh Shukla’s demeanour and dialogues are near perfect fit and his final delivery of judgment cum dialogue about Satyamev Jayte and faith in judicial system is real connect with the common man ; and his statements punctuated by Haanjee ( both as a question as well as self assuring confirmation accompanied by tilting nod) is typical of north Indian verbal exchange across all social segments.
Though the fake encounter victim is a Muslim and other lawyers and judge are non- Muslims , the legal issue gets the treatment it deserves- just matter of factly without any pontification or preaching about religiousity involved in human rights and abuses.
Saurabh Shukla’s acting prowess infuses judge’s character with realism and appears so believable that he would have to now live with the epithet of judge and not Mamoo given after Satya – given to him after making that character so believable. And looks like Saurabh Shukla would alone determine how many more sequels would follow. Moreover, his persona and demeanour clearly creates an instant identification amongst audience with real life approximation as well as wish fulfilling desire to see all judges like him. Alas, that would unfortunately remain wishes. Akshay Kumar continues on his now clearly chosen new path of separating his star persona with character being portrayed and is convincing ( as in Rustom, Baby and Airlift). Annu Kapooer is great too but that is expected from him.
Film’s music is ordinary at best and audience can’t really recall either the tunes or lyrics even before the movie is over. Coustume designer couldn’t have done much given the limitation of domination of black and white colour due to court dress codes; though one still can’t comprehend how director allowed sports shoes being used by Akshay Kumar’s character in court room conduct. Maybe shoe size issues or star’s foot woes had some hand but would have been best avoided.
Bollywood has a long history of films with court room drama depicting gripping interaction between legal eagles . Recall films like Kanoon , Waqt, Humraaz and realistic films like Aakrosh, Mohan Joshi Haazir or recent Akshay Kumar’s Rustom. Jolly Llb 2’s climatic scene containing countering verbal volleys reaching a crescendo , leading to main witness wilting and conceding truth unconsciously – a la Freudian slip- is reminiscent of dialogues between Anil Kapoor and Javed Jafri in Meri Jung .Bollywood has also produced plenty of police ‘encounter’ films :recall Ab Tak Chappan, Shootout at Lokhandwala/ Wadala, Department, Risk ,Encounter and Shagird but Jolly LLb 2 depicts the act /fact , its court room dramatic reenactment ,it’s distortion and acceptance by the system till the final decisive decision showing the despicable act as it is and final act of justice delivery to the hopelessly desperate individual. But if one wants to see the real realism really reflected in reel life , one should see Tamhane’s Court in Marathi- a stinging social comment on legal loopholes , legalese and labyrinthine legal lineage and the system’s strangulating stronghold on helpless ordinary folks , with no money, hope and recourse but only recourse to court and kacheries despite all its shortcomings as despite these this system brings closure and justice once a while if not always.
Film is a wonderful specimen of successful attempt to amalgam requirements of fantasy creation of commercial cine complex and realism and that too within the confines of allowable contours of Censors.
Film jarring note is a disconnect between a poor (ablaa ) pregnant naari (with that ubiquitous gatharee ) in tattered clothes seeking justice and her portrayal in all bridal finery just eight months before such a condition ; but then not all elements can be compared to fine detailing seen in Satyajit Ray’s films.
Hollywood has made countless movies on legal-o- judicial system including court room legal-o-logical contest with infinite variety in storylines suspended on suspense strands, verbosity-adversity at its best and ethical battles between David and Goliathesque legal eagles. Finest specimen include Witness for the Prosecution(absolutely absorbing arguments and unanticipated anti-climax ),To Kill a Mockingbird ( racial,social,moral ethical and going against the current issues),The Verdict, Philadelphia( white AIDs patient and Afro American attorney’s battle against prejudice),Amistad ( ethical, racial, legal tangles) Erin Brockovich ( corporate social-legal responsibility battle waged by a single mother), The Accused ( limits of consent- implied or stated for sex), And Justice for All,Judgement at Nuremberg ( post WW II film on responsibility/ accountability to humanity and fluid judgment categories ).If I were to find a film about a similar plot of a legal battle between an upstart attorney and legal eagle, it would be My Cousin Vinny. In one Hollywood film , an idiosyncratic judge sits dangerously on the ledge during lunch time and this film may have inspired in defining an unusual role of a judge for Saurabh Shukla.
The film will appeal and its instant identification with particular segment of population of some States like Punjab, UP, Maharastra,Andhra Pradesh etc. which feels that few Acts like TADA(empowering detention indefinitely ) have been misused liberally by law enforcement agencies and this has been subsequently judged so by the courts. And fake encounters do keep popping up with unfailing regularity( first such acknowledged case was of depicted in Shootout at Wadala). One can easily recall that famous one at Connaught Place which led to policemen’s conviction or one at Uttarkhand few years back where accused were gunned down in jungle.
It’s difficult to take complete side in this issue if one recalls the Batla House shooting in Delhi, where the matter is still not buried.
One can’t deny that but for the watchful eyes of court ,this issue could have gone beyond control and beyond the arms of the rule of law in democracy ( it’s international version is seen in the regime of present Philippines President Duterte). Thus, despite all the allegations and half or full truths about corruption in judiciary, the courts’ pioneering work in laying down rules of arrests, filing of FIRs and intense questioning of custodial deaths is like a beacon radiating light to remove the surrounding darkness. And this is only the beginning as path breaking DNA fingerprinting is now opening limitless possibilities for the future. In USA , some convicted individuals have been found innocent and freed after three to four decades in prison. Actually, the police’s role from protector to tormentor involves crossing a very thin red line (Laxman Rekhaa) and this is amply evident is several shootings of Afro American in recent years in USA and has led to a pan American civil rights movement namely Black Lives Matter.
Summing up, it’s an entertaining and gripping film and one’s is not bored for a moment ;one comes back with a wish to see Saurab Shukla one more time- of course after a year or two. One must be happy that finally commercial cinema is seeking to reflect day to day reality and reel can’t get more real than this. After all , film makers can make films that make money depicting an approximation of reality and if made on true reflection, that film would be a documentary film.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are of the author