Jolly LLB’s idealism stems from small-town values of doing what is right.
Maybe it’s a coincidence that both the releases of the week — Mere Dad Ki Maruti and Jolly LLB — have protagonists who can’t speak good English. If the kid from Mere Dad Ki Maruti fumbled to say: “I am in love you,” the titular lawyer from Jolly LLB can’t even spell appeals (he types a-p-p-l-e-s). All to show us small-town India. And innocence.
Jolly LLB’s idealism stems from small-town values of doing what is right. Jolly is just as corrupt and shrewd as the others around him, until his school teacher girlfriend disapproves and the old man at the canteen slaps him hard. It’s a rather predictable plot about one man’s fight for justice after being the accidental hero who lets people down. But what makes this courtroom drama a riveting watch for most parts are the little touches of satire that Subhash Kapoor infuses the film with.
The case will remind you of a famous Landcruiser that ran over people sleeping on the pavement. Only that this one is set in the capital and involves a rich kid from a high-profile family, who loses control and ploughs through six homeless people. Jolly LLB begins on a rather dark note with that visual. Which is why it’s rather surprising that it is quite jolly in its mood for the first half.
Things get a little intense and filmi in the second, but these are the best portions of the film. As the judge (Saurab Shukla) tells Jolly (Arshad Warsi) halfway into the film, “The law may be blind. The judge is not.” In fact, it’s in the characterisation of the judge where Jolly LLB scores (though some of my lawyer friends have quite a few issues with the legalities involved in this courtroom procedural drama). There’s a little bit of filmi licence that’s employed that involves emotion over argument, but if a movie doesn’t give us justice in India, which court ever will?
Subhash Kapoor paints a rather bleak picture of the state of affairs where witnesses could go missing, evidence can be manipulated, people can be bought and the best lawyers in the business can be hired by the rich to help them get away scot-free while the poor struggle... with nobody to fight their case.
While Jolly LLB is not as subtle as Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai (that was criticised for preaching to the converted), it does Bollywood drama more effectively for the masses and tugs at the heartstrings. Which is why it’s quite strange that the lawyers keep taking digs at Bollywood constantly saying, “This is not a filmi courtroom scene where you can just call in a witness without notice.”
Why play the realism card in the first place if the idea is to stray into escapist territory anyway and break the rules defined within the film?
But for these issues of inconsistency, Jolly LLB is all heart. It’s a telling commentary on the justice system, the great divide between the haves and the have-nots, the loopholes in the law and the moral degeneration of the middle class that’s worth watching purely for the anger it feels against the system.
Arshad Warsi channels that rage against the powerful corrupt and Boman Irani makes for a truly despicable high-profile lawyer, but it’s Saurabh Shukla who steals the scene as the judge delivering his verdict after listening to two splendidly delivered speeches.
Like its protagonist, Jolly LLB may not be good with the language... but it is honest.
Director: Subhash Kapoor
Cast: Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani, Saurabh Shukla, Amrita Rao
Storyline: A small-town lawyer from Meerut takes on a big case and fights for justice
Bottomline: A courtroom drama that ends up filmi despite trying hard to not, but worth a watch