Monday, July 23, 2007
Whatever happened to the adaalat and the fire-breathing vakil? Filmmaker and lawyer Satyajit Bhatkal walks through the corridors of the old Hindi courtroom dramas
Think of a battlefield where there can only be conflict - Sangharsh! Where only one side may win, one side must lose - Koi Jeetaa Koi Haaraa! Where defeat can result in death and victory in life - zindagi ya maut! Where the contestant may be rich or poor - Ameer-Gareeb! Where the war may be over riches or honour, over a marriage or a child over the right to survive or condemnation to death. No prizes for guessing we're talking about an adaalat, a courtroom! Can there be a richer setting for films?
For decades Hindi films have reveled in the possibilities offered by courtrooms and the law and clearly they believed that courtrooms would bring the crowds in. Just look at these film titles. Adalat first used in 1948, then again in 1958 and finally in the Bachchan starrer in 1976. Then its variants Aap ki Adalat, Janata ki Adalat, Meri Adalat and Aakhri Adalat.
Then you have three Kanoons, including of course BR Chopra's Rajendra Kumar, Ashok Kumar starrer made in 1960. The variants come in every form - from the 1983 Rajnikanth-Bachchan starrer Andhaa Kanoon to Aaj Ka Andhaa Kanoon, Dharam Aur Kanoon, Doosra Kanoon, Farz Aur Kanoon, Gunah Aur Kanoon, Kahan Hai Kanoon, Kanoon Apna Apna, Kanoon Aur Mujrim, Kanoon Ka Karz, Kanoon Ki Hathkadee, Kanoon Ki Zanjeer, Kanoon Kya Karega, Kanoon Meri Muththi Mein, Kayda Kanoon, Kudrat Ka Kanoon, Naya Kanoon ... the list runs on.
Apart from this, a courtroom scene was mandatory in every other Hindi film until the late eighties.
While some courtroom-based scenes have been memorable - Damini being a prominent example - for the most part, our films have done little justice to its dramatic possibilities.Cavalier disregard has been shown to authenticity in every possible way.
The worst abuse has been in art direction - practically every courtroom has been shot with the statue of the goddess of justice blindfolded and holding scales - typically perched on the judge's desk! I have practiced law for ten long years in courtrooms all over the great state of Maharashtra and also in several parts of India and have yet to encounter the said goddess!
The other abuses - the compulsory photographs of Gandhiji and the Satyameva Jayate emblazoned behind the judge are part of the fantastic presentation of courtrooms.
This art direction is wholly consistent with the fantastic conduct of leading characters in the courtroom. This is the prime location for the hero to hurl dialogues and for the heroine to shed copious tears.
Which self-respecting hero (kaunse mai kaa laal!) of the seventies and eighties has not hectored the judge! Which heroine who swears on her glycerine has not on being screeched at by an examining lawyer (kyaa scene hai!) and broken down in court ("Nahi judgesaab! Nahi!")
This treatment was consistent with the maar-dhaad-emotion-comedy mix that characterized many successful films of the seventies and eighties. The films were loud, fantastic and escapist - so was their courtroom.
Obviously, there were several honourable exceptions, including some of the films listed above. My personal favourite by far is Saeed Mirza's classic Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho, a brilliant political satire on the functioning of the judicial system.
Yet, few of our films have genuinely exploited the potential a courtroom offers...if one were to simply observe what goes on. For all the delays of the judicial system which we rightfully complain of, the fact remains that tens of thousands of cases do get heard and decided each year. Various legal journals which reproduce judgments are full of thousands of decided cases.
Hundreds of lawyers around the country day after day debate and argue the great issues of the day with elegance, precision and wit. Just enter any courtroom and with a little patience, you will observe the unfolding of human drama in all its glory.
These stories drawn and inspired from human life can make for great cinema. Hollywood has an entire genre of courtroom drama - the classic Twelve Angry Men and the Paul Newman starrer The Verdict being my personal favourites.