When Bollywood — For Once — Got the Law Right

Swapnil Tripathi
·9-min read

The unforeseen COVID-19 crisis has forced everyone into home quarantine. If looked at positively, it has allowed us to spend time with family, rekindle old friendship bonds and for movie lovers (like myself) binge-watch Bollywood movies. Being a lawyer, I have always looked at movies from a legal lens and analysed the director’s portrayal of our legal system. I may not be alone when I say this — Bollywood’s track record has been poor.

Bollywood has infamously twisted the law and the procedures, to add drama or humour to movies.

It has shown us that a lawyer can use theatrics at court; she/he can file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in a District Court, a father can coerce or trick his daughter/son to sign a marriage contract and successfully use the document etc. One cannot forget the television drama ‘Adaalat’ and how far from reality it was. Such an incorrect portrayal is worrisome because movies are a powerful medium and have the ability to influence mindsets. Hence, it is not surprising that a regular citizen believes that courtroom lawyering is all about heroism, theatrics and pulling rabbits out of hats.

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Fortunately, there are exceptions. During this quarantine, I have had the opportunity to watch some Bollywood movies, where the law has been portrayed correctly. In this article, I discuss these rare movies. A common citizen (unconnected to the legal fraternity) may watch them and learn something about the Indian law.

At the outset, I wish to clarify that I have deliberately not included full-fledged court room dramas or cop movies, as they would take up substantial space. I have only included those movies which incidentally touched upon the Indian law and educated the audience correctly.

Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)

This action comedy, starring the Late Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and the Late Rishi Kapoor in the lead role, is a story about three brothers who are separated at birth and grow up following three different religions. Khanna plays Inspector Amar Khanna, and prior to arresting someone or even entering a house, he takes out his ID Card and introduces himself.

The Supreme Court in the famous case of DK Basu v. State of West Bengal, laid down that a police personnel while carrying an arrest or during an interrogation has to mandatorily bear accurate, visible and clear identification name tags with their designation. The judgment also laid down:

  • While carrying out an arrest, the officer shall prepare an arrest memo at the time of arrest and get it attested by at least one witness and countersigned by an arrestee.

  • A detainee or arrestee shall have the right to inform a person known to him, about his arrest or detention.

  • An entry must be made in the diary at the place of detention regarding the arrest, along with the name of the next of kin informed and the names of the police officials in whose custody the arrestee is.

  • Arrestee shall have the right to medical examination. She/he should be medically examined by a trained doctor every 48 hours during the detention.

  • Arrestee shall be permitted to meet his lawyer during the interrogation.

These guidelines are often ignored by police officials in the movies (even if she/he is the protagonist), but Inspector Amar Khanna is an exception.

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Tirangaa (1993)

This action drama is a favourite amongst the television channels on Independence Day, every year. The movie stars the Late Raaj Kumar and Nana Patekar in the lead role. Raaj plays the role of Suryadev Singh, who is a Brigadier in the army and Patekar plays the role of Shivajirao Waghale, a hot-headed Inspector in the police, and both fight against an evil Pralayanath Gendaswami who is desirous of destroying India.

In a sub-plot, dissatisfied with a court order rejecting the bail application of few innocent men, Waghale takes the stand and disrespectfully shouts at the judge. The judge retorts by saying ‘Mr Waghale, I can hold you guilty for contempt’.

Contrary to popular belief such theatrics don’t work in a court of law and the judge is absolutely within her/his power to hold a disrespectful police officer or any other person, guilty of Contempt of Court.

According to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 a person who does an act which scandalises or tends to scandalise, lowers the authority of the court (or tends to) or prejudices or interferes with due course of any judicial proceedings or the administration of justice (or tends to), shall be guilty of contempt of court and punished with imprisonment which may extend to six months.

In case of a District Court, the aggrieved judge may bring the incident to the notice of the High Court, which may initiate the contempt proceedings.

In fact, there have been cases wherein the police officer has misbehaved/shouted at a judge and she/he has been found guilty of contempt of court.

The court, in a case has observed: “…If the police were to start behaving in such wanton and uncivilised manner that too with judiciary and judicial officers, the people would lose faith not only in the police force but in the system itself. Faith is the foundation of respect, and if there is erosion in respect for judiciary and its independence, the democracy itself will be in danger.

Hence, one’s takeaway from Tirangaa should be the words of the judge and not Waghale.

Sooryavansham (1999)

This family drama is more famous for its exceptionally long run at Set Max TV channel, rather than Mr. Amitabh Bachchan’s double role in it. Bachchan plays the role of Thakur Bhanupratap Singh and his son Hira Thakur, who have sour ties. The antagonist Kevda Thakur tries to use the family rift to his advantage and finish Thakur’s clan.

In a sub-plot, Kevda tries to molest his house help. She fortunately escapes and he gets her wrongfully arrested by a cunning male police officer. The news reaches Bhanupratap who rushes to the police station and gives the officer a lesson in the law and why the arrest is illegal.

He vociferously quotes provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and a Supreme Court judgment to state, that under law a woman can only be arrested or searched by a female officer. The woman is to be kept in a lock up with other female detainees and not with male detainees, and is to be produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours of her arrest. He points out that none of it was followed by the male officer.

The woman is immediately released. One must appreciate the makers for getting the law on point here. As per the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”) a female can be arrested in the presence of a female officer (Section 46(4), she can be searched only by another female officer (Section 51) and must be kept in a separate lock-up in the police station (Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra).

I sincerely hoping that the re-runs of the movie, help us remember the principles discussed above.

Golmaal Returns (2008)

This action comedy was the second instalment of the Golmaal franchise and features Ajay Devgan (as Gopal), Kareena Kapoor, Arshad Warsi (Inspector Madhav) and other actors. Madhav is in love with Gopal’s sister and hence, the two don’t get along well.

Gopal works in a dock company and one day Madhav along with other officers, turns up at the premises to conduct a search operation believing that the dock is used for supply of drugs. Gopal asks Madhav for a search warrant, which he does not possess (since his fellow officer, forgot to carry it). As a result, Gopal drives off Madhav.

Gopal is an informed citizen and knows the law. According to Section 93 of the CrPC, a court may issue a search warrant where a document is in possession of a person or a general search shall aid an investigation or proceedings.

Usually a search cannot be carried out without a warrant. However, in a situation wherein delay (of obtaining the warrant) may result in causing the intended object/thing to disappear, the officer may proceed without a search warrant (Section 165). However, the officer in such cases is obligated to record in writing the reasons for her/his belief.

The search shall be made in the presence of two independent witnesses and a list of things seized shall be prepared, signed by the witnesses and will be handed over to the occupant.

Fukrey Returns (2017)

Fukrey Returns is a comedy film, starring Pulkit Samrat (playing Vikas), Varun Sharma (Dilip Singh), Ali Fazal (Zafar) etc. Dilip is gifted with a power, that every dream he sees has a hidden secret which leads to a prize/reward.

In a scene, Zafar and his girl-friend Neetu (played by Vishakha Singh) are shown looking for a house to live in. The deal is finalised but the broker asks whether the two are married, to which they respond ‘No’. The broker says, that unless they get a marriage certificate (even if a forged one) they will not be allowed to live in the residential complex. Neetu objects stating that as per the Supreme Court it is legal for unmarried couples to live together.

Neetu (a university teacher) is absolutely correct. The Supreme Court in several judgments has held that that a living relationship is permissible and act of two adults living together, cannot be considered illegal and unlawful.

While that may be the law, but it does not convince the broker. His response, much like the Society’s is ‘Toh aap jake Supreme Court mein hi reh lo! (Then you go and live in the Supreme Court!)

Movies are an excellent medium to influence and teach the common citizenry. If we watch the right movies, we can learn about our law. Who knows it may render the trite excuse of ‘ignorance of law’ otiose?

(The author is a practicing advocate in New Delhi and is a graduate from National Law University, Jodhpur. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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