The law’s an ass, but not in the classic sense of the phrase. Not in India, at least. Here, with the ratio of a judge to the civilian population an unbalanced 10 to a million (in the year 2015) and over 30 million cases running in different courts, the law’s an overloaded, overworked ass. Ditto for the judiciary, where, in 2016, the judge vacancies were as high as 43%. With over 50% of these cases related to traffic misdemeanours clogging up the system, how can the average citizen, ever, if at all, conjure up a vision of timely (not speedy, mind you) justice?
Writer-director Subhash Kapoor raises these, and many more prickly issues in The State vs Jolly LLB 2, which will be marked up as one of 2017’s best cinematic efforts. Kapoor’s Jagdishwar Mishra aka Jolly (Akshay Kumar) is a street-smart, wannabe biggie lawyer. He’s the 15th assistant to Lucknow’s top lawyer Rizvi (Ram Gopal Bajaj) the high number indicating the inversely importance of his chores, perhaps the most critical one being him assisting in the frying of chicken dishes at his boss’s house. Jolly isn’t averse to twisting the truth or divesting scruples to earn a quick buck, all to realize his ambition of setting up his independent office in the court with his assistant and friend, Birbal (the absolutely superb Rajiv Gupta.) And it is in this manic focus that he tempts karma by swindling a hapless and pregnant Hina Siddiqui (Sayani Gupta. heart-breakingly effective ) off of 2 million rupees. This sets of a chain of unfortunate events that would’ve horrified Lemony Snicket. In a seemingly hopeless shot at redemption, Jolly begins to investigate the case that Hina wanted help in, and begins to unravel a political and systemic conspiracy that points to murder and involves Lucknow’s top cop, Suryaveer Singh (Kumud Mishra) and Hina’s husband, Iqbal Siddiqui (Manav Kaul in a cameo role). When Jolly files a PIL calling to reopen the case, in comes the truculently slithy Sachin Kantilal Mathur (Annu Kapoor) to defend Singh – with a rate card of packages promising to deliver varying results, depending on the monies paid – a satirical but upper cut jab at how cases are accepted and worse, won in courts. What neither Jolly nor Mathur account for is Judge Sunderlal Tripathi (Saurabh Shukla) who’s unpredictable and untraditional in his ways of dispensing justice, who’s been transferred from New Delhi, and who’s the only threadbare reference and link to Kapoor’s very good Jolly LLB.
Akshay Kumar plays, what is, inarguably, one of his best etched characters in his career. With Kapoor’s sharply pointed writing tool and focused lens and his own finely polished and carefully collected bag of acting skills, the actor delivers a performance that’s invertedly specious and undeniably delectable. Not that Jolly is a bad man. With his son and his lovely wife Pushpa Pandey (Huma Qureshi), Jolly’s marital life is introduced in a superb scene that also shows his “forward looking” views on women’s role at home – or, at least, his wife’s. He’s returned from a party at the Rizvi’s, and has a bottle of whisky to show for his efforts. Jolly calls out to his irritated wife, who’s sleep-pretending, both because he’s turned down her demand for a Gucci dress in a scene that’s only referred to. Believe it or sip, he calls her to join him for a drink, threatening to finish it all by himself. That scene is a winner, and that’s because he doesn’t even get a sip. There’s another scene where Jolly’s expertly flipping and rolling out rotis for his wife and son while discussing his case, and that’s so very naturally done, it’ll warm your hearts. To Kumar’s credit, he never ever tries to don the Velcro of superstardom, giving his character a local skin and flesh, even as he, a confident actor that he’s become, revels in his supporting cast having their well-deserved place in the sun. But the question that’ll niggle you is, then, how did Jolly do what he did to Hina? And you realize, even as the question forms, is that in some, mildly twisted way, aren’t all of us a little bit of Jolly? Caring for and nurturing our families, but out in the big, bad world, foxily manipulating and playing games, just so we can survive, just so we can continue to care and nurture? And what of Jolly’s karmic punishment? Does he get to walk away amidst applause, just because, well, he’s the hero? We’ll naively have to assume his deeds keep him up at night, and that he’ll take care of the Siddiqui family patriarch, Zahoor (Vinod Nagpal).
Huma Qureshi’s superb as well, and her character’s no pushover either. She’ll pester her man for her to be a fashionista, she’ll drink his whisky, she’ll lovingly appreciate his cooking, and – in perhaps what’s Qureshi’s scene in the movie, and also a scene that’ll make you gasp and then groan as the interval calling card comes in – fight off and give his potential assassins a resounding wallop. (That’s not the only scene where Kapoor huzzas woman power. In a thumbing-his-nose at the raucous IPL matches, he takes you to Varanasi in all women’s cricket match involving the fantastically rustic Sanjay Mishra in a cameo, and makes you guffaw at the silliness of it all, especially the cheerleaders.)
As Jolly’s rival in court, Annu Kapoor is simply magnificent. His entry in the movie is marked by a prominent family photo, and that significance is brought out much later, in a tight courtroom scene, that’s equally touching and gratifying. Kapoor’s pot-shots at the Kanpuri Jolly are a treat, even as he prides himself and his city-zens as the epitome of etiquette. In court, however, he unleashes bobbery using a combination of disdain, faked righteousness, and pompous arrogance, knowing fully that he holds all the aces in his hands. There’s a list of ensemble actors that make Jolly LLB 2 the triumph it is, each one lending their acting heft to make it a winsome combination of satire, comedy, and social drama. Note then, also Brijendra Kala, Inaamulhaq, Nikhil Dwivedi, Sushil Pandey, V.M. Badola, and the aforementioned Kumud Mishra. Mishra exudes a venomous anger and control rarely seen in villains these days. He’s simply shiver-me-bad, his expressions firing lethally, more than his police weapon.
If Jolly LLB doesn’t ring in the awards for at least three of its actors – Akshay Kumar, Annu Kapoor, and Saurabh Shukla, you can be sure that both the judge and the jury are helpless, much like what Shukla portrays in the movie. As judge Sunderlal Tripathi, Saurabh Shukla is the show-stealer in this project. And not just because he’s got the best lines – crackling, good dialogues in the court all the way – he also delivers them with a timing that simply knocks you out with a guffaw. His character, too, is beautifully written, his introduction a rocking one, where Shukla stuns you with his dance moves, as he’s plugged into the catchy Gulabo number (one of the only saving graces in the tank-face-down Shaandar). In another scene, he walks into his court in a semi-jog and then stretches, and it’s only later you realize what he’s been prepping for. Very nicely tied up, that. The writer-director lends a beautifully flawed yet empathetic touch to the judge – there’s Shukla talking in court right under the sign that forbids use of mobile phones; and here’s Shukla drinking water from a glass, then watering a plant on his desk from the same glass; then, him doing a spell-check on an invitation card while the lawyers wait for him to begin. Shukla’s Tripathi is also a pivot here, and that’s because he epitomizes all that’s wrong – and right – with the Indian judiciary. The actor, mostly seated behind the gavel, magically lends a luminescence to the court even as he tells you and the lawyers what’s so rotten bad there. When he challenges Annu Kapoor’s Mathur to become a judge and see for himself how he’ll be rushing out for a heart surgery in no time; or when he makes a crack that in another life he’d want to be a lawyer just so he can afford fineries for his daughter’s wedding; or when he demands and then pleads for respect from the lawyers – all of this epitomizes the face and state of the judiciary – pressured by an impossibly demanding job, rich lawyers and politicians conniving with the police force to cudgel a favourable judgement, all the while in a ramshackle, dirty, stinking, ill-lit, crowded, sweaty courtroom.
Director Subhash Kapoor also intelligently rakes up fake Aadhar Cards and Voter ID Cards, and sharply comments on how easy it is work up oneself and everyone into a lather that we’re at war; that it’s not okay to be complacent just as it’s not to be truculent. In a telling scene, when Annu Kapoor finishes his rousing rabble about love and war, the entire court applauds; when Akshay Kumar speaks the voice of reason, no one applauds, except his supportive and ever so strong wife. But the strongest and loudest message that Jolly LLB 2 delivers into your applauding hands is this – if you think your job sucks, try being a court judge. It is, quite simply, a job you’ll walk into everyday with dread.
The State vs Jolly LLB 2 is rated UA (parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years). There’s mild sensuality, some drinking, some violence, and a disturbing portrayal of the system. But it’s jolly good, so no objections, milord.
The State vs Jolly LLB 2
Director Subhash Kapoor Running Time 2h 18 min
Writer Subhash Kapoor
Stars Akshay Kumar, Annu Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Huma Qureshi, Kumud Mishra
Genres Comedy, Drama
Watch the trailer of The State vs Jolly LLB 2 here: