“Jolly LLB”… Must love underdogs

Posted on March 20, 2013

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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.