When a rich Delhi kid, accused of mowing down six pavement dwellers with his speeding car, is let off for lack of evidence, a small-time lawyer spots an opportunity and gets the case reopened.
Well-intentioned but inconsistent, Jolly LLB, directed by Subhash Kapoor, blends elements of a satire, a thriller, and a courtroom procedural in this intriguing story inspired by the events of the Sanjeev Nanda hit-and-run case of 1999. Kapoor makes some relevant points about society’s apathy towards the poor, the loopholes in our judicial system, and the ease with which the rich often manipulate the truth. But he adopts an over-simplistic approach to the material that is often in conflict with this otherwise promising film.
Meerut-bred Jagdish Tyagi, or Jolly (Arshad Warsi), is only seeking some publicity when he stands up against legal heavyweight Tejinder Rajpal (Boman Irani) who is defending the accused. But his conscience is stirred by his fiancée (Amrita Rao), who eggs him on to fight for the truth. Rajpal, whose defense is built around a bunch of lies and a botched-up police investigation, resorts to everything from bribery to physical assault to scare off Jolly from pursuing the case.
Positioned as a David vs Goliath clash, the film benefits from some fiery courtroom exchanges between its two leads and Saurabh Shukla playing the seasoned judge. Director Subhash Kapoor tackles these scenes with just the right balance of humor and histrionics, but gets carried away by his tendency to pack in too much all at once. So the screenplay is overstuffed with unnecessary songs, a predictable scuffle in the court washroom, and an overlong satirical sequence in which a corrupt cop (Sanjay Mishra) openly auctions off a promotion in the police department to the highest bidder amongst a fleet of dishonorable officers.
There are many emotional moments in the film, but Kapoor occasionally teeters towards melodrama, wringing the ‘feeling’ right out of you. While a scene in which Jolly witnesses the plight of pavement dwellers first-hand is genuinely moving, other bits feel contrived and ring untrue. When the aged spindly bodyguard assigned to Jolly mans up in the hour of need, it’s as if a lump was squeezed out of your throat! And predictably the manager of the court canteen (Ramesh Deo) who clears up a corner in his premises for Jolly to work out of becomes the catalyst for his awakening.
If the film isn’t derailed despite these hiccups, it’s largely on account of the three central performances that are easily its biggest strength. Arshad Warsi brings layers to Jolly, revealing a simmering frustration beneath that cheery exterior. Boman Irani is terrific as the smug Rajpal, permanently texting on his Blackberry, and very comfortable in the dread he inspires. But the surprise packet is Saurabh Shukla who doesn’t once strike a wrong note as the wise ol’ judge dutifully witnessing the circus before him each day, only losing his temper when he’s mistaken for a fool. Shukla turns even the seemingly innocuous act of eating lunch into a riveting performance.
Its heart unquestionably in the right place, Jolly LLB is very watchable, even if it does paint in broad strokes. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. Not a bad way to spend an evening.