Where would Bollywood’s women be if they didn’t have male lawyers to rescue them?

Published 25 Sep, 2016 04:02pm

From Baat Ek Raat Ki to Pink, men have been standing up for women’s rights in the reel courtroom forever

Aniruddha Roy Choudhary’s courtroom drama Pink features a jaded lawyer coming to the rescue of three young women who are locked in a legal battle with their molesters. It is a cocktail of old tropes and new debates that begs to be savoured thoughtfully.

Even as the movie’s deft handling of nuanced issues like consent have attracted praise, its incorporation of the stock character of a male who saves damsels in distress has raised eyebrows. Although the lawyer Deepak Sehgal in Pink is a reincarnation of an old archetype, he helps to establish a truth that is rarely discussed: feminists come in many genders.

Regardless of their overarching purpose in the narrative, Hindi cinema is replete with disillusioned, superhero lawyers who swagger to the rescue of women in trouble, swapping their capes for appropriately somber black coats.

In Baat Ek Raat Ki, Rajesh, a successful lawyer, saves Neela from drowning. After conducting a few enquiries, he finds that Neela has confessed to murdering a man and is in police custody. However, Rajesh is irrationally but instinctively convinced that Neela doesn’t have it in her to commit as heinous a crime as murder, and decides to represent her in court.

He pieces together the story of Neela’s past by cajoling her mother, gently bullying her employer and confessing his love to Neela. The case goes to court and Rajesh manages to prove Neela’s innocence by performing theatrical feats of intellect and cunning.

In Meri Jung, Arun earns the undying gratitude of two women through his heroics in court. When Geeta requests him to defend her sister, Asha, who has been accused of murder, he reluctantly agrees. In court, Arun thumbs his nose at the entire concept of forensic analysis when he swallows poison to prove Asha’s innocence. Asha is exonerated and Geeta falls in love with Arun.

Meri Jung is a riotous melodrama, complete with screaming matches in courtrooms, ornate Urdu words masquerading as legalese and massively entertaining fight sequences.

Damini is as dramatic as Meri Jung, but manages to be much more socially relevant. The eponymous character witnesses her brother-in-law and his cronies raping the domestic help, Urmi. Damini is relentless in her pursuit of justice for Urmi but encounters formidable enemies in her family, police officers, and the defence lawyer. When she is about to despair, she meets Govind.

Govind is a lawyer who has ceased practice because his experiences have left him disenchanted and angry with the legal system. Damini manages to convince Govind to represent her, and he becomes her avenging angel. Equipped with a “dhai kilo ka haath” and an acerbic tongue, he is preternaturally skilled at swatting away bad guys as well as proving facts in court. In court, Govind vents his anger at the system through the now iconic dialogue: “Insaaf nahi milta, milti hai toh bas tareekh.”

In securing justice for Damini, Govind not only saves her, but also rescues himself from a life of drunken misery.

In Thikana, Ravi is a profligate, alcoholic lawyer who is a fierce advocate of truth. When he realises how his aimlessness is affecting his sister, Shashi, he decides to clean up his act and accept employment from a dancer, Shaila. She requires Ravi to petition police protection for her brother Avinash, who believes himself under threat from a powerful politician. Although the petition is rejected, Ravi finds out that Avinash has been murdered by his sister’s fiancé. Ravi’s newly discovered commitment towards making a respectable living is threatened by his love for Shashi.

Thikana does not feature too many courtroom scenes, but derives its drama from Ravi’s personal life and his efforts to unearth the truth.

Phir Milenge is a film of an entirely different ilk, featuring courtrooms that look real because of their dinginess and lawyers murmuring in hushed, but decisive voices. After Tamannah discovers that she is HIV positive, she is unceremoniously fired from her workplace. She decides to sue her employer and meets Tarun, a slightly bored and extremely green corporate lawyer. Although he initially refuses to represent her, Tarun caves in the face of Tamannah’s determination and his own idealism.

As Tarun begins to understand Tamannah’s dilemma, his attitude towards HIV positive patients undergoes a transformation. After he loses in a Civil Court, Tarun realises that the case is not merely about his client who has grown to become his friend, but several others like her, who are deprived of basic rights and legal recourse.

Tarun finally manages to win the case in the High Court after he sermonises about the stigma around AIDS, but the jubilation is muted. It is not the victory which matters, but Tarun’s growth and Tammanah’s future.

This article, originally published at Scroll.in, has been reproduced with permission.