Banners: SCIPL, Panorama Studios
Producers: Kumar Mangat Pathak, Abhishek Pathak, SCIPL
Director: Ajay Bahl
Cast: Akshaye Khanna, Richa Chadha, Rahul Bhat, Meera Chopra, Krutika Desai Khan, Kishore Kadam
Writers: Manish Gupta (Story, Screenpaly and Dialogue), Ajay Bahl (Additional Screenplay and Dialogue)
Music: Clinton Cerejo (Background Score)
Rape is the most heinous crime in society. It is also an extremely sensitive word which is why it has to be used very carefully on the cinematic canvas. Over the years, we have seen films which have this subject as a sub-plot but when a film and its very title are based on the act, it has to tread very carefully, and Section 375 has done this commendably well.
Director Ajay Bahl maintains his balance as he walks the tight rope in showcasing to the audience the two sides of this heinous act.
The story is simple on the outside. A lower-middle class girl, Anjali Dangle works as a costume designer’s assistant for a film which is being directed by Rohan Khurana. After a physical altercation between them, Anjali files a rape complaint against Rohan. With the new guidelines of treating this crime and the #MeToo movement hot and heavy in society, the case, especially since it’s from the entertainment world, attracts the attention of the media and enrages the masses. It goes to court where Anjali’s case is being fought by Hiral Gandhi, a young, idealistic lawyer while Rohan is being defended by high-profile lawyer Tarun Saluja who believes that one should follow the law because justice is subjective. The two argue the case in this intense courtroom drama which takes your mind through various twists and turns.
Every director has a different definition of entertainment. It is not always the gloss, glam and the laughs that depict the entertainment factor of a film but how completely a story, even with the most hard-hitting of plots, manages to mesmerize you.
Also, courtroom dramas are a tricky thing to get right for a director as the aesthetic value of a film is diminished and the audience has only the interaction between the actors on screen to rely on for the entertainment factor that they came in for in the first place. In Section 375, Manish Gupta and Bahl try to make sure that the writing is so intact that the viewer does not get any chance to deviate their attention.
Hindi films based on sexual misconduct or even the very critical factor of consent have been presented quite intelligently- Pink, Insaaf Ka Tarazu, Damini, Mom being a few. In all these films the audience already knew who is guilty and who the victim is. Without giving out spoilers, let’s just say that the writers of this film have made sure that they keep everyone’s minds engaged even after the actual verdict in the film is passed. The two sides of the same incident have been presented with the help of strong and smart visual imagery. And then the addition of the right dialogue delivered with the right kind of force, cements the thrill of the screenplay even further.
The makers have kept personal thoughts and biases aside to show a neutral court argument which compels the audience to change tracks and shed their own clouded judgment on this matter.
Several relevant points such as the #MeToo movement have been used along with how the public protests and their outrage on social media platforms, the hashtags that are formed in such cases become an even bigger jury for the accused than the actual court verdict. The elements of victim-shaming, exploitation of the situation, government bureaucracy and workplace sexual harassment all come become pixels that eventually form the bigger picture.
And not only does the film show the two sides of the crime but also the two sides of how lawyers deal with their cases. The balance is maintained here too as in no scene can the viewer massacre the person who is defending the accused.
There are no unnecessary frills added to this crisp and concise film. No songs, no romance track, no unwanted emotional drama, nothing hampers the clean-cut storyline. And herein lies the core strength of this film.
With Section 375, Ajay Bahl has made a film which does not rely on publicity or promotions much but has what it takes to excel in the industry today, a relevant topic and the precision to show it in an engaging way.
Performance-wise, a major chunk of making the storyline gripping rode on the shoulders of its lead actors. The back-and-forth courtroom arguments and their brief encounters outside the walls of the court play a huge role in the audience investing their attention to the film.
Richa Chadha gets the pulse of her idealistic character right. Her dialogue delivery is quite good for the most part but she does falter to get the right sentiment out at times. Akshaye Khanna once again proves his brilliance and his impeccable performance answers why exactly should he be part of many more films. The actor takes his character of the rich and successful criminal defense lawyer to the next level with the right mix of seriousness and savagery. His lines catch the perfect tonality of the situation, which make the ongoing situations even more interesting to watch. Meera Chopra has some strong moments, which she delivers well. Rahul Bhat is good. Actors Krutika Desai Khan and Kishore Kadam playing judges in the film are great. Sandhya Mridul in a special appearance is good.
Verdict: A must watch!