March 15, 2013
Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani, Amrita Rao, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe, Mohan Kapoor, Vibha Chhibber, Sanjai Mishra, Manoj Pahwa, Harsh Chhaya, Ramesh Deo
Jolly LLB is no Munnabhai MBBS.
No seriously, it’s not! It’s surprising how many people have assumed that Jolly LLB is a Munnabhai wannabe, possibly because it contains a degree in the title, stars Munnabhai cast members Arshad Warsi and Boman Irani, and is directed by Subhash Kapoor who has bagged the next Munna project. Well, the commonalities end there. Jolly LLB is neither an out-and-out comedy like the two hugely successful Munnabhai films, nor does it have any pretensions to their scale and gloss. It’s the small, sweet, funny-yet-sad-and-moving, very believable story of struggling lawyer Jagdish Tyagi a.k.a. Jolly (Arshad Warsi) who shifts from Meerut to Delhi in search of greener pastures and greatness. In the Capital, Jolly meets hot-shot lawyer Rajpal (Boman Irani). When Jolly gets involved in the case of a millionaire drunk driver and some dead pavement dwellers, he is pitted against this Goliath of the legal community in one of the country’s most high-profile cases.
Courtroom dramas are rare in Bollywood and when legal proceedings do feature in Hindi films, they tend to be melodramatic and cliched, albeit in a wolf-whistle-worthy way. Jolly LLB is unusual for Bollywood because most of the action takes place in a court complex. And if you’ve ever been to Indian courts, you will agree that the District & Sessions Court in Jolly is far more credible than what we’re used to seeing in Hindi films. There is no speech-making here, except when the lawyers make their closing arguments. The formal language is missing, as is much of the infrastructure. Jolly can barely spell and is clearly not fully acquainted with all aspects of the law. Nor does he get to spout dialogues of the “tareekh pe tareekh” variety from Damini, designed to draw applause and cat calls. Yet when he does make his final address to the judge, it’s hard not to get teary-eyed because it all feels so darned real.
Much of this has to do with the writing and direction by Subhash Kapoor. Unlike his earlier film Phas Gaye Re Obama which petered out in the second half, Kapoor maintains a momentum throughout Jolly LLB. His characters, right down to the ones who barely get to speak, are interesting and memorable. The bigger point being made is about corruption in the Indian judiciary and police, but we’re also given a close look at the desolate conditions in which most lawyers function (in Jolly’s part of the world, even a chamber is a distant dream, and those who aspire to get there must secure their pathetic open-air ‘offices’ – table, chair, metal box – with lock and chain). The many asides in the court scenario in Jolly LLB are utterly, completely delightful (my favourite is the judge who sends off a love SMS just before a hearing begins). The humour is understated and effective (except in one scene where a constable auctions an SHO’s post, which starts out as rather amusing but then feels like it’s trying too hard, unlike the rest of the film). Kapoor is also not afraid to deliver to us a flawed hero whose initial motivation to take up the cause of the pavement dwellers is the potential media attention. What’s equally interesting is that it’s possible, just possible, that Jolly’s motivations remain unchanged even in the end though his methods change.
The always superb Arshad Warsi as Jolly switches between good, bad and gray, naïve and dogged with the consummate ease that only an actor of his calibre can achieve. Amrita Rao as his quietly firm and morally upright girlfriend Sandhya, and Boman Irani as the pompous, ruthless Rajpal are both equally remarkable in their roles. Other wonderful talents pop up to play cameos (including Marathi & Hindi veteran Ramesh Deo). But the highlight of the entire film is Saurabh Shukla’s Judge Tripathi … For too long has this actor been saddled with the same old gangster or cop roles where his physicality predominated his performances. Here in Jolly LLB he’s a slimy, smarmy chap yet it’s hard not to be drawn to this man of dubious integrity even when he farts and openly asks for a bribe and runs his courtroom like a personal fiefdom. Brilliant, Your Honour! Just brilliant!
There’s so much to praise in Jolly LLB that it feels bad to draw attention to the film’s failings which are, unfortunately, too major to be wished away. Warsi – wonderful actor though he is – seems to be playing a character about 20 years younger than his real-life age: can’t understand why some minor tweaking of the screenplay couldn’t have ironed out this problem. Ah well, this is such a common issue with Bollywood films that old habits could close our eyes to it. How, though, can we possibly pretend that we didn’t hear the film’s music? It’s bad enough that composer Krsna has churned out such mediocre melodies for Jolly LLB; what’s worse is that the songs pop up at the most inopportune moments, none more so than the David-versus-Goliath gung-ho number right at the end that almost kills the poignant mood the final courtroom scene leaves us with. If I’d been warned, I would have walked out the second the end credits started rolling. Still, Subhash Kapoor deserves to get off with a light sentence for those grouses … because in the overall analysis, Jolly LLB is a simple-though-layered, loveable film.
Rating (out of five): ***1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jolly_LLB