A Mumbai film that sets out to make a point about something that is wrong with the world around us often ends up losing its way in a maze of preachy pomposity. Not so Jolly LLB. It knows exactly where it is going.
Despite a somewhat thin storyline, or probably on account of it, the film stays on course for the most part. It addresses a serious theme – the anomalies inherent in India’s judicial system – in a jocular manner but steers well clear of unwarranted flippancy.
Jolly LLB has its heart in the right place. And it’s a heart that is backed by a ticking mind and a responsive conscience.
The film, which relies on both humour and pathos for impact, is buoyed by a clutch of outstanding performances and a directorial style that is marked by admirable lightness of touch.
Writer-director Subhash Kapoor keeps it simple and shipshape. He pulls no punches in poking fun at the loopholes in the country’s justice delivery system. But he does not let the critique degenerate into objectionable mockery.
Nowhere does he seek to call the audience’s attention to either the technical aspects of the film or the cinematic elements that constitute its spine.
He lets the screenplay do all the arguing on his behalf. The writing holds up rather well – it has legs strong enough not to give way under the weight of the ‘big picture’ that Jolly LLB seeks to project through a plain David-versus-Goliath skirmish in the court of a judge who is always a step ahead of the duo.
A cynical legal eagle, Tejinder Rajpal (Boman Irani), locks horns with a small-town eager beaver, Jagdish Tyagi, alias Jolly, who is a Johnny-come-lately in a tearing hurry to make a mark in the district and sessions court of Delhi.
A spoilt brat, at the wheels of an over-speeding Land Cruiser, has mowed down a whole lot of people sleeping on a pavement. But thanks to his affluent and influential family’s money power and the aforementioned topnotch lawyer’s insuperable legal acumen, the boy is acquitted by the court.
The struggling eponymous advocate is a guy who is down on luck. He has just moved from hometown Meerut to the big city in pursuit of fame and wealth but is nowhere near achieving his ambition.
Not averse to adapting to the wily ways of the legal frat, Jolly figures out a way to attract instant media spotlight. He files a PIL seeking a reinvestigation into the Land Cruiser hit-and-run case.
A mightily riled Rajpal throws all he has into the ring and his means are more foul than fair.
Jolly, on his part, has to dig deep into the reserves of his Meerut-bred tenacity to stand up to the bullying, both psychological and physical, of his more seasoned opponent.
Like so much else in this country, this legal tussle assumes the dimensions of an unequal clash between the haves and the have-nots. So it is easy for the audience to decide who to root for – the underdog of course.
The director however refrains from settling for a simple reductionist approach to the good-lawyer-pitted-against-bad-lawyer drama and adds several believable layers to the narrative.
Jolly has a schoolteacher-girlfriend back in Meerut and this no-nonsense damsel (Amrita Rao) is his bellwether when he is in moral distress and needs course correction.
Our man also has a steady supporter in the aged owner of the courthouse cafeteria (Ramesh Deo).
The latter is another hapless victim of a system that is often manipulated to deny justice to those that don’t have the necessary means and connections, those that are doomed to sleep on pavements and are run over by the cars of those who couldn’t care less.
The plot is also littered with allusions to the realities of a law enforcement structure that is steeped in corruption.
The most notable of these is a sharply satirical scene in which a creepy cop called Ram Gopal Varma (Sanjay Mishra in a brief but crucial cameo) auctions a plum posting in an old Delhi police station as a host of tainted officers seated before him bid for the transfer.
It is difficult to imagine this film without the first-rate pivotal performances by Arshad Warsi and Boman Irani. The two consummate actors match each other step for step.
Even when the courtroom exchanges touch emotional tipping point and threaten to turn overtly shrill, restraint remains their stock in trade.
But, equally, Jolly LLB wouldn’t have been half the film it is without the sterling show that Saurabh Shukla, as the all-knowing Judge Tripathi, puts up. His is a delightfully effortless performance that etches out the core of the satire.
Barring the off-kilter musical score, which is completely out of sync with the predominantly naturalistic drift of the film, Jolly LLB is a jolly good film.