Film: Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai
Director: Apoorva Singh Karki
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha, Vipin Sharma and Adrija Sinha
Courtroom dramas are not new to Bollywood. In recent times, good ones with bite and cutting edge, too, have not been a rarity. But what is ‘rarest of rare’ is the makers’ gumption to base their film on a true story and not hide beneath the veneer of blatant dramatisation or outright fictionalisation. Fact meets fiction so often in Hindi films that it’s near impossible to sift between the two. Despite disclaimers, Zee 5’s ‘Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai’, based on a real ‘godman’ and his misdeeds, has the courage to stay true to the story.
Though the name of the ‘baba’ has not been mentioned in the film, facts which are in public domain are more or less dot-on. The bite of truth is apparent in the fact that the makers of the film have been served a legal notice by Asaram Bapu, serving life imprisonment, and his charitable organisation.
Primarily a crusade for justice of a minor girl sexually exploited by the ‘baba’, it charts the legal fight of prosecution lawyer PC Solanki. Yes, he is for real and in a way a dead giveaway to the accused (Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha with an uncanny and impassive look is just right) the film is referring to. If ‘Jai Bhim’, another arresting courtroom drama taking a leaf from life, thrives on its lead actor Suriya’s star charisma, this one cruises along thanks to the sheer brilliance of National Award-winning actor Manoj Bajpayee. Playing an upright lawyer facing an uphill task, he is the David among the Goliaths of celebrated lawyers.
The scenes where top lawyers (even with a slight twist in their names, you can make out who they are) descend on the Jodhpur sessions court and fight the accused’s case are mirthful. Even more engaging are Bajpayee’s fan-boy moments with them. His awe and admiration for them is palpable and lightens the mood in an otherwise sombre film.
Trust Bajpayee to lend contrasting nuances to his character. The actor, who makes every sinew of his face and body language speak, mirrors the many emotions of his part. He is courageous yet fears for his son and legal assistant. Nothing, however, takes away his stoic desire and tenacity to win the case — during every single hearing in the five-year-long battle. He is the hero, heroic in his deeds, an ordinary man with an extraordinary quest for justice, fighting a high-profile case. Both the writing and execution steer clear of melodrama and sensationalism. Still, the intrigue factor throbs in full measure.
As it is with murders and killings, there is much meat in the real story which leaps to life on screen and acquires a life force and vitality which engages and inspires.
The camera (cinematographer Arjun Kukreti) moves into the nooks and crannies of Jodhpur as well as courtrooms effectively and realistically and is never obtrusive.
Where the film also scores is on handling a sensitive case of sexual offences against a minor. It recounts her tale with great sense and sensitivity. The horror of what she has gone through is writ on her face. The girl actor, Adrija Sinha, appears vulnerable and gritty at the same time. You can feel her trauma as her courage is lauded. You flinch too and though in the cross-examination (Vipin Sharma is perfect as the defence counsel) certain discomfiting questions are thrown at her, the writing never crosses the line of decency. It helps that the words chosen to describe what she has gone through are in English. Yet another safe ground that the film treads is that it does not wade into controversial political waters. We all know that the accused the film is referring to enjoyed political patronage. But the director, Apoorva Singh Karki, and writer Deepak Kingrani focus primarily on courtroom proceedings. Much legalese is in order, yet you are not drowned in the legal jargon. Sections are read out aloud only to inform, and not confound.
By showing Solanki as a devout Hindu Shiv bhakt who quotes a famous Lord Shiva fable about what comprises mahapaap in his closing argument, the film exposes a ‘godman’ without rocking the boat of faith. Above all, your faith in the legal system remains intact. If fake ‘babas’ are today cooling their heels in jails, we know whom to thank. Indeed, here’s to the power of one. One victim, one lawyer can take on the system we perceive as impregnable and entrenched in privilege and power.
Watch ‘Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai’ for its inspirational power and powerhouse of acting, Manoj Bajpayee.