“Jolly LLB”… Must love underdogs

A thickly moustached Saurabh Shukla is a riot as the long-suffering Judge Tripathi in Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB. He presides over borderline surreal cases like the one involving two music directors and a charge of plagiarism. Tripathi orders them to sing; a lawyer joins in too. In another case, Tripathi dismisses an objection and leans back to listen to a witness. “Kuch interesting lag raha hai,” he says, as if he were in a motel with cardboard walls eavesdropping on a lover’s quarrel in the next room. To another witness, caught lying, he orders, “Murga ban jaao.” How can you not laugh! But otherwise, his life is no laughing matter. The tea served in court isn’t hot. There’s no air-conditioning. Overeager prosecution lawyers, in their haste, submit notices where “appeal” is spelt as “apple.” And there are 3.5 crore cases pending in our courts. It’s no wonder that Tripathi is brusque at first when Jagdish Tyagi, aka Jolly (Arshad Warsi), files a PIL over a recently closed case about a rich kid who mowed down pavement dwellers with a Land Cruiser.

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Like the recent OMG: Oh My God!, Jolly LLB is the small story of a small man who takes on something big. Jolly may not be challenging God, as Paresh Rawal’s character did in the earlier film, but he’s up against someone almost as almighty – a shark named Tejinder Rajpal (Boman Irani) who defends those with deep pockets and who seems to have connections everywhere. (Irani rarely raises his voice, but the slow, self-satisfied purr in which he speaks suggests pure evil. He’s just the sort of guy you want to see trounced at the end of such a crowd-pleasing movie.) Jolly LLB is also the story of small-town values triumphing over big-city callousness. Jolly hails from Meerut, and he comes to Delhi in search of a career. He’s so insignificant, so unused to being given any attention, that when a television journalist asks him to stop  by the studio for some sound bites about his PIL, he smiles and then asks shyly, “Kya aap gaadi bhej sakte hain?” Then he beams and poses for photographers.

You need the right actor to pull off this good-natured sheepishness as well as the righteous indignation that’s sure to come later – and Arshad Warsi is that actor. Whether he’s playing a full-blown cad (in Ishqiya), a big-hearted goon (in the Munnabhai movies), or the fundamentally decent man here, he’s one of those performers you just can’t help rooting for. And he’s helped by his non-starry looks – he looks like the guy you went to school with. An actor needs this sort of approachability to pull these roles off, and Warsi pulls them off very well indeed. He instantly earns our empathy – though it’s to the director’s credit that Jolly isn’t whitewashed as a saint. A little into the case, he’s tempted by a bribe, and this humanises the character. Like any other common man, he cannot deny the appeal of instant riches — though, predictably, his conscience keepers (among them girlfriend Sandhya, played by Amrita Rao) steer him back to the right path.

This transformation happens a little too smoothly. Jolly, realising the error of his ways, says, “Apne chehre ki gandagi chhupane ki koshish kar raha hoon,” but that’s too heavy, too moral a line for what we’ve been shown. Had he truly gone over to the dark side, his return would have meant more, and we’d have cheered his victory more. This part needed more punch. But despite this – and the completely unnecessary songs – it’s fun to watch Jolly’s journey. Sometimes he bribes people, and sometimes he lectures them, and when he stumbles on the big breaks, he doesn’t pump a fist in the air. He remains grounded – he knows what he’s up against. Jolly LLB is a film with minor ambitions, and these are attained through the sturdy mechanics of the courtroom drama: the last-minute twist in the case, the impassioned rhetoric, and the satisfaction of seeing the good guy win, even if this win is somewhat bittersweet. We know the fight isn’t over, but at least till the smile leaves our faces, it’s a perfect world.

Copyright ©2013 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

16 thoughts on ““Jolly LLB”… Must love underdogs

  1. ramitbajaj01: Thanks :-) No, not reviewing “Lincoln.”

    Nidhi: Seen it. Doing a column on (actually, around) it this weekend. But am not doing English film reviews any more. (Only columns.) The Tamil film critic retired and I’m going to be reviewing Tamil films. And Hindi films for the blog.

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  2. BR: “The Tamil film critic retired and I’m going to be reviewing Tamil films. And Hindi films for the blog.” – So you are the official Tamil + Hindi film critic for The Big H is it ? Do you get to do personal film criticism for the blog ? or is that contractually not allowed ?

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  3. I didn’t expect too much, but I was still disappointed. The first half has a flat script; it only takes off from the half-way point.
    Arshad could have been more nuanced. He is, after all, a fantastic actor. In many scenes, one gets the impression that he’s still channeling Circuit.
    Boman was good where he could have been truly great. He comes across as smug rather than really powerful and chilling. I’ll blame that on the director.
    Saurabh Shukla carries the movie. What a performance!
    BR, I agree with the strengths you’ve mentioned, but going by this movie, Subhash Kapoor is not ready to handle Munnabhai. He lacks that sense of joy that Raju Hirani brings to his work. And he can’t hold a candle to Raju’s screenplays.

    J.A.P.

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  4. Nidhi: Actually, a small Saturday piece :-)

    oracle86/ ramitbajaj01: I write this weekly column called “Lights Camera Conversation”.

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  5. oh okay, that column.. That i read.. Infact, that’s where i first time read u. In delhi edition, movie reviews are by Mr.Anuj kumar (he’s also good; primarily because of his reviews i subscribed to hindu)

    but one lucky day (perhaps april last year) i read ur take on Titanic on that saturday column. That’s when i got smitten by u. Though Ur views were quite contrary to mine (like, i liked the fact that Cameron showed china dishes breaking in an isolated scene, that is without showing lead actors running along, thereby saying, at least in that scene, that the movie is primarily about titanic apocalypse, and not love story, but u wanted the couple running along), but I felt very glad to have read something about the point that was in my mind, however disagreeing, but atleast discussing. (i knew then that association is going to last long.) Moreover, u mentioned about sos light to be associated with seeking god’s help. I was awestruck.

    So ya, looking forward to saturday columns.

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  6. It was rather bittersweet. Rooting for the underdog was a rather nice feeling to have but there’s too much of the formulaic nature of commercial cinema which was disappointing.I hope at least this film gives Arshad Warsi a chance to play some leading roles, he deserves it

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  7. Oh man, I was hoping you’d shred it to bits. It was a terrible movie, and when your review failed to appear by the time I had seen it, I envied the fact that you didn’t waste time on such a terribly pedestrian movie. There was nothing I felt throughout its duration. Everything was glossed over in a manner that removed me from being involved in the movie. Didn’t like it at all! Saurabh was as he usually is, but everybody else was just OK. Boman too was just alright, and his losing it at the end in the court was so, so ridiculous.

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