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Bollywood courtroom dramas

Whatever happened to 'milard' ?

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OBJECTION, YOUR HONOUR: Court scenes have always been about 'dialoguebaazi'. But in 'Jolly LLB', we see how district-level courts work

Bollywood courtroom dramas used to be full of clichês and stereotypes. But 'Jolly LLB' has a refreshingly real take on the Indian kachehri.

In Jolly LLB, courtrooms are not high-ceiling halls, there is no red carpet, and the varnished witness box is conspicuous by its absence. There is no rousing oratory in pure Hindi and Urdu and no copy of the Bhagvad Gita. Will Jolly LLB be the catalyst that will change how courtroom dramas play out in Bollywood?

The film's director, Subhash Kapoor, is a former journalist who covered the court beat, and he is quite confident that change is here. "Going by the response I am getting from common people, I can say that they loved this real court. I won't be surprised if they look for this same authenticity in other courtroom dramas well, " says Kapoor.

Most Indians raised on a staple diet of Hindi films can reel off courtoom jargon gleaned from dozens of films where the prolonged climax is located in a kachehri. "Taazi raate Hind dafa 302 ke tahat", "Gita par haath rakh kar kasam khaata hun", "Mere kaabil dost", "Milard" are oft quoted clichês from films of the '70s and '80s. Every courtroom had a statue of the blindfolded goddess of justice perched on the judge's desk, a framed photo of Mahatma Gandhi behind it and "Satyamev Jayate" plastered on the wall.

Says Arshad Warsi, who met Kapoor's lawyer friend Girish before he did the film: "So far, Indian films have given us a romanticised version of the courts as very regal, elegant places. " Kapoor points out that the Indian judiciary, as per Bollywood, is a stereotypical establishment. "Just as every army man is a patriotic guy, a farmer is always sowing seeds in his field and his wife always comes to him bearing his lunch on her head. . . lawyers always speak chaste Hindi or English and the courts are always red-carpeted with tidy, painted benches in the middle. " His film has none of this. The judge looks like any ordinary official and is in awe of a successful lawyer.

"I had a couple of reactions against this - that in trying to make the film entertaining, I had taken creative liberties, that I was playing with the respectability of the court, " says Kapoor.

The director says he recalled someone telling him about a Mumbai judge who is a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar. If the cricketer was playing, he would often interrupt the proceedings with questions like "Kiti zhaale? (How many has he made)", "Shumber zaala ka? (is it a hundred yet)". "But Hindi films have turned our judges into robots who speak very few sentences. I think my film has been able to break that image quite convincingly, " says Kapoor.

Film critics agree that Jolly LLB may change reel-life courtrooms. Says film critic Ajay Brahmatmaj: "Court scenes have always been about dialoguebaazi. But in this film, we see how district-level courts work. Saurabh Shukla, for instance, plays a judge who talks of air-conditioning the courtroom. And there is nothing like a witness boxes that we see all the time in TV serials and films. "

Filmmaker Basu Chatterji's Ek Ruka Hua Faisla and Saeed Mirza's Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho! dealt with courts in a more realistic manner. Chatterji's film appealed to film lovers because it was based on the Hollywood blockbuster 12 Angry Men. Mirza's film dealt with struggle of the middle class dealing with litigation - an old couple caught in a case against their landlord who refuses to repair their decrepit apartment. Says Mirza: "The film was about how the middle class does not get any justice. I cannot comment on Jolly LLB but all I can say is that depiction of courtroom scenes in most films is dramatised and far from reality. People need to go to the court to know how it looks and how it works. "

Courtrooms are an integral part of Indian cinema. In the '80s, almost every film had one court scene. "Every studio had a courtroom set then, but they disappeared in the '90s once cinema shifted to breezy romances, " says film scholar Dilip Thakur. "Now, filmmakers have to book such sets in advance because they are used so rarely. "

'Kanoon' itself became an oft-used word in film titles. BR Chopra's Kanoon was one of Bollywood's most memorable court dramas. "Made in the '60s, the film featured a hero who suspects the judge who also happens to be his future father-in-law. Then there were other films like Andha Kanoon starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth, Farz Aur Kanoon and Kudrat Ka Kanoon, " says Thakur. Anees Bazmi's Deewangee and Abbas Mustan's Aitraaz depicted edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes. In Meri Jang, Anil Kapoor's character even drinks poison in the court room to save his client.

Rajkumar Santoshi says that Yash Chopra's Waqt was the reference point for his film Damini. He said, "Real court proceedings can be dull. I remember going to court and being unable to hear the judge's voice. In cinema, we try to heighten the drama by adding that dash of emotions to connect with the audiences. " Many rate Damini as one of the best Bollywood courtroom dramas ever.

Jolly LLB's director has, however, been slapped with a number of cases because of his depiction of the courts. Says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt: "A Supreme Court judge's observation in the context of the Jolly LLB case: 'Don't watch if it offends you. . . ' is very significant today when we are gagging artistic freedom. A small film with a big heart has reinforced for the larger community the fundamental right of freedom and creative expression. "

Salman Khan's lawyer Dipesh Mehta says that he did find some flaws in the portrayal of the judge and lawyers. "The film is definitely closer to the real world but I don't think I have ever heard a judge talk about wanting to buy a flat or any lawyer thanking him in the courtroom. But it makes for engaging drama. "

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