Did he or did he not? Is she or is she not? These questions invariably become the crux of the plot of filmmaker AJay Bahl’s compelling courtroom drama Section 375, which hits a screen near you this Friday. Written by Manish Gupta, Section 375, with the able help of actors Akshaye Khanna, Richa Chadha, Meera Chopra and Rahul Bhat, provokes the viewer to acknowledge how impossible it becomes to analyse, investigate and judge an intangible complex web of allegations and counter allegations that involve human emotions, relationships, hierarchy at the workplace, ego, lust and betrayal.
Akshaye Khanna, as high profile lawyer Tarun Saluja, sets up the theme of Section 375 at the very start. While lecturing a bunch of law students, he brings up the Nirbhaya case as an example to leave them with a piece of advice, “Justice is abstract, while law is a fact.”
“A convicted rapist also has a legal right to receive a proper legal defence,” argues Tarun when his wife questions him about taking up Rohan’s case after he is convicted by a lower court.
The story of Section 375 is pretty simple - filmmaker Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat) is accused of raping a junior costume assistant, Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra), at his residence. With all the circumstantial evidence piled up against him, Rohan is found guilty and sentenced to 10-years of rigorous imprisonment by a local court. Rohan’s wife approaches the hot shot Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna) to fight his case in the Mumbai High Court, and a fiery Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chadha) appears to represent the victim. How what appears to be a simple open-and-shut case then unravels into a tangled mess of truth and lies forms the rest of the story.
Story and screenplay writer Manish Gupta along with Ajay Bahl (credited for additional screenplay) keep the viewers guessing and engaged by peeling off layer by layer, the exact sequence of events, through statements, confessions and witness narratives, to suggest what might have happened at that fateful meeting between Rohan and Anjali.
For all its strengths, Section 375 does have its shortcomings too. For one, the build-up of the two main characters - the lawyers (played by Akshaye and Richa), who represent the victim and the accused, is skewed.
“A convicted rapist also has a legal right to receive a proper legal defence,” argues Tarun when his wife questions him about taking up Rohan’s case after he is convicted by a lower court. The rest of the narrative then goes on to step-by-step counter all the charges levelled against Rohan, there’s a whole lot of grey here, and that’s what keeps the proceedings gripping.
For all its strengths, Section 375 does have its shortcomings too. For one, the build-up of the two main characters - the lawyers (played by Akshaye and Richa), who represent the victim and the accused, is skewed. Akshaye’s character is well defined, his background, family, home is effectively sketched and he is also given the smarter comebacks, while Richa’s Hiral is barely fleshed out.
A sly and shrewd Akshaye, who’s batting for the accused, is shown to have an opinionated but supportive wife, while Richa who’s an ambitious lawyer and is passionate about women’s rights has broken up with her progressive boyfriend (who still cooks for her by the way). Also, the sequences depicting protests by activists outside the Mumbai High Court to give the narrative a sense of drama are way over-the-top at times.
While one should not question the existence of a film like Section 375, it gets a little tricky when such an accomplished film is made (as one of the character in the film states) “to prove that this case is a classic example of a woman using as a weapon the very law that was made to protect her.” One can almost hear the MRAs cheering from the stands and shouting #MenToo, when the actual genuine cases of rape and sexual assault hugely outnumber the false ones.
But as Tarun quips at the end of Section 375, “We’re not in the business of justice, we’re in the business of law,”. So, is the law effectively enforced at the end of the trial? Yes. Is justice delivered at the end of the case? Well, that’s for you to find out.
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