Jolly LLB 2: The fun is in the detail

Jolly LLB 2 is a winning combination of a big star who spearheads a grassroots world

There are two aspects to Jolly LLB 2: the big and the small. On the one hand is the overarching story of an innocent branded a criminal, of the common man having to suffer at the hands of a powerful and corrupt system. Then there is the committed big star (Akshay Kumar in the titular role), sincerely shedding the trappings of stardom, at times deliberately restrained yet delivering filmi justice and the big message against the system—administrative as well as religious—in a populist and predictable, stereotypical and sentimental yet entirely forceful and successful way.

On the other hand is the small world he inhabits—the pan stained walls and the seedy environs of Zila Evam Satr Nyayalaya (District and Sessions court). A world peopled with interesting oddball characters played by some terrific actors. From veterans like Ram Gopal Bajaj to Vinod Nagpal, Manav Kaul to Sanjay Mishra, Brijendra Kala to Sudhanva Deshpande.  You may blink and miss them. That could make you mad, you might be left asking for more of them. But these small roles do add in offering a bigger social picture, each of the pieces is eventually knit well to make for a compelling weft and weave. And then towering above them all, side by side to Kumar are Saurabh Shukla and Annu Kapoor who put an added zing to the clever lines, wordplay and give and take reserved for them as the judge and the defence lawyer respectively.

In the world of Jolly LLB the landscape and local flavour, language and culture—of Lucknow, Kanpur and Jhansi—the lines and enunciation get as much attention as the cheap sneakers and terricot/terrylene pants and shirts that Jolly sports. It’s a world where surnames are more defining than the first names, where cheating in exams is a legitimate business, where class divides rise above religious ones, where a 15th assistant is treated like house help by the senior lawyer. It’s also where professions are inherited but also broken into and away from by more ambitious youngsters. And where a munshi’s son dreams of having a lawyer's chamber of his own even if he has to pay a bribe Rs 12 lakh for it.

The fun is in throwaway details. The judge editing his daughter’s wedding card in the court is a priceless moment. The strategic if trifle stretched jokiness in calling Jolly’s (as in Rajesh Khanna’s real life son-in-law) wife Pushpa elicits giggles. Then in a little gem of a scene Kumar makes rotis for his family. In one shot it captures yet subverts an ethos so effortlessly that I easily forgave the atta and oil brand placements in there. The brands seem to have come into the picture after the scene was conceived rather than being written for the convenience of product placements. And there was something amusing (even if unintended by the filmmaker) in seeing the hero dive into the Ganges with a Dollar Big Boss banian on. Religion after all, is also all about money honey.

Women may not have much of a role in the film but it's interesting how they are still shown negotiating their own space within the larger male mindset. It's about knocking at conservatism from within. Be it drinking secretly within the walls of home or dressing daringly in the husband's company, away from the neighbourhood in the anonymity of Hazratganj. In the Jolly household it’s the M.A. Sanskrit, Gucci-obsessed Pushpa who seems to wear the pants and even takes on the goons in times of crisis. There’s a Ghoonghat 11 Vs Burqa 11 cricket match in conservative Varanasi, even as an entirely male audience watches on. It’s as if the jokes and sarcasm is aimed at them as they cheer on at the role-defining jerseys of the women – “Sonu Ki Bua” and “Lucky Ki Nanad”?

There's a fine line between the conventional and the radical that Kapoor treads very cannily, at times even questionably. His is not just a male world but a janeu-wearing (holy thread) Brahmindom that the hero belongs to but before your own politicised mind begins counting good vs bad, Hindu vs Muslim you find him dividing them equally between the two. Between a terrorist and a fake encounter cop. Here a Ram Kishore Saraswat is as culpable as an Iqbal Qadri, a Zahoor Siddiqui suffers as much as a Jugal Kishore Mathur. Kapoor gets pugnacious and irreverent with the religious realities while remaining squarely within them. So Faiz poems, Ghulam Ali ghazals and an Arabic translation of Bhagwad Geeta whip up emotions, as does a shastra match.

The director ends up playing safe with the legal system itself, taking potshots at it yet upholding it in the climax with some in your face speechification, that too after a rather long disclaimer at the start. Which is what the problem is. Kapoor gives ample display of an inherent cheekiness and black humour (the lawyer's rate card, package deals, fake Aadhar card reference, for instance) but he tempers it down with drama and emotions. A free reign to Kapoor’s down to earth humour and a pointed clarity would have served him and the film better. Would it have drawn the audience in though, is another question.

Yes there could be much to crib about in the film—like the easy jump of the hero to Kashmir—but even as you keep thinking of the niggling problems you can't deny that it manages to come together well. What Jolly LLB 2 essentially shows is how the marriage of opposites—the mainstream dramatic tropes and a realistic tapestry—can be the formula to go for, for Bollywood. That is of course, until it gets done to death.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 2:47:22 PM |

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