SCIPL, Panorama Studios present “Section 375”
Produced by: Kumar Mangat Pathak, Abhishek Pathak & SCIPL
Directed by: Ajay Bahl
Written by: Manish Gupta & Ajay Bahl
Music: Clinton Cerejo
Starring: Akshaye Khanna, Meera Chopra, Richa Chadha, Rahul Bhat, Annuup Choudhari, Krutika Desai, Kishore Kadam, Sandhya Mridul, Shriswara, Tanuka Laghate, Rajendra Shisatkar, Payal Tejpal, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Shrikant Yadav and others
MUMBAI— A reality check on the law, on the thin edge between law and justice, on loopholes and shoddy investigations that can tear apart a case, how traumatic rape can be, how the #MeToo movement is so important yet can be misused, how judges can be influenced by public sentiment, and how the media and public can have their own extra-legal verdicts of “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” – “Section 375” is an outstanding expose and insight into several crucial aspects.
Through the statistics mouthed by the counsel, we also come to know whether India is indeed the rape nation of the world, and the film asks if that ranking is at all important from a victim’s point of view. The defense counsel, Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna) even concedes that while Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat), his client, has not raped the victim Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra), he has done much worse – insulted her dignity by using his power to exploit her.
The final sentence he utters to his opponent and ex-employee, prosecuting attorney Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chadha) is a cracker that sums up what has happened in the courtroom and sets the viewer thinking – deeply.
Briefly, the film traces the rape case of costume assistant Anjali Dangle by filmmaker Khurana, who is sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment. His wife Kainaaz (Shriswara) approaches ace defense attorney Tarun to challenge the verdict of the Sessions Court in the High Court. Tarun not only pokes holes in the supposed cast-iron prosection case but illuminates several pertinent issues. Meanwhile, the public outrage against Khurana mounts, though here the film goes a tad overboard, as we see the people fighting the cops for unclear reasons outside the court!
Such a film obviously has to be song-less (the background music is serviceable), and we wonder if that is the reason why T-Series, operating here with their old handle and logo of SCIPL or Super Cassettes Industries Pvt. Ltd.), has not had a role in its promotions. Suffice to point out the irony that the production company has missed out on flaunting their ownership of one of the FINEST films of this year and one of our best courtroom dramas ever. Director Ajay Bahl delivers a humdinger of a film that is masterfully scripted by Manish Gupta (who has had his share of misadventures) with help from Bahl. The dialogues are highlights, delights and spotlights on so many vital issues that affect women and society.
But here’s where we come to the ONLY grouse: we agree that this is not a big-budgeted project, but surely subtitles in Hindi could have been afforded and arranged for the extensive English statements. Many of these lines are very crucial to understanding the case and thus the film, and also there is fairly high use of Marathi.
Surely filmmakers as seasoned as SCIPL and the Pathaks know that they need to connect with as many Indians as possible, and not make this film only for Marathi and English-literate audiences! This is not an urban Mumbai-centric film that will have stark appeal outside.
In a nutshell, it is indeed reprehensible that today’s writers and filmmakers DO NOT realize that what they have made is not a niche but a universal subject for pan-Indian audiences of every demographic. Even more crucially, we are in audience-mature 2019, though such a subject would have been relevant even 20 or 30 years back, although no titillation is provided here as was the norm then!
Akshaye Khanna strides like a colossus through the film, maintaining his sardonic cool, essaying the kind of temperamental character he has mastered for over a decade, and still emerging yet again as one of our finest AND most underrated actors. He is incredibly powerful in his one-to-one scenes with his opponent and when he cross-examines the victim’s brother Pramod Dangle (Annuup Choudhari) and threaten him with the consequences of perjury.
Two more standout performances come from Krutika Desai and Kishore Kadam as the two judges. Considering that they have to both deliver minus body language while sitting in a courtroom chair, their performances, loaded with terrific expressions and vocal nuances, are magnificent.
Meera Chopra as the victim and Rahul Bhat as her (tor)mentor are good and do justice to their parts. So does Shriswara. Chopra not only resembles cousin Priyanka Chopra in a few close-ups but has an uncanny resemblance (nothing else than coincidence intended!) to #MeToo flagbearer Tanushree Dutta!
Two minor roles that stand out are Annuup Choudhari as Anjali’s brother and Dibyendu Bhattacharya as the doctor who has to do Anjali’s first medical examination. Shrikant Kasle as the corrupt cop is excellent, but in a gray area (which might be real but we film buffs are habituated to something else!) we wonder why he is not disgraced and prosecuted for his misdeeds.
In comparison, Richa Chadha’s turn as the prosecutor emerges as very low-key and tepid and her dialogues delivery even is a shade stilted or awkward. It is almost as if she does not really subscribe to what is happening!
Do not miss this film. Its end is nothing less than a classic – not ambiguously open but hard-hitting, clear, transparent and REAL. Kudos to the team for a whopper.