“Lawyers and court sequences have been presented in the past, with other colleagues and seniors to great perfection, and I dare not bring attention to how they or I would compare. That would not be correct or ethical, professionally. The circumstances in PINK are perhaps novel to not just court procedures, but also for the performers that have been asked to perform them. I found myself a part of not just the performer, but also the correctness of what I stand for in the story. That is the difference…”
(DAY - 3066)
Sir, yes, there were many movies, some very popular amongst them, with powerful courtroom scenes, especially towards the climax, but as a movie buff of long, I can confidently say the specimen of courtroom scene presented in the trailer of PINK is a certain indicator of a great courtroom drama we may not have witnessed for decades, if not ever. Court proceedings are always considered as a juicy part of Bollywood movies. In fact, many movies are made around case proceedings. The twists and turns are thrilling, leaving the audience asking for more. Above all, the climax of the film is what makes the movie worth a watch. Courtroom dramas offer exciting entertainment, education and social awareness, do reasonably good business and win both acclaim and awards. More in the genre would be welcome.
The earliest courtroom scene in my memory is from Mehboob Khan’s Ek Hi Raasta (1939). Mehboob had specialized in making films which tackled a burning social problem of the time. The film Ek Hi Raasta gave the first indication of the road Mehboob was to take during his film-making career. Set in a city slum, the film is about a war veteran who having seen much death and destruction goes through a period of uneasy adjustment. Charged with killing a rapist, he is brought to trial. He mocks the system which lauds him for killing innocent people on the battlefield and yet condemns him for killing a criminal. The film, produced in the year WWII started, was highly acclaimed for initiating a timely discussion on how to deal with war veterans when they return from the war.
The next film that impressed me most for its courtroom scene towards the climax of the film is Dilip Kumar’s Shaheed (1948). Or I should better say Chandramohan, who plays Dilip’s father in the movie. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Shaheed. The fine acting and interesting plot against the background of Independence (particularly given the year it was made) are a compelling watch, particularly scenes with the oh-so-magnetic Chandramohan. He portrays Dwarkadas’ turmoil and conflicting emotions for his son beautifully. I just can’t ever really see enough of that man. it’s a film about relationships, the most powerful one at hand being that between a young freedom fighter (Dilip Kumar) and his father (Chandramohan) with British loyalties. The title Shaheed (Martyr) can be applied to just about every character in the film, but the performances are, if sometimes a bit melodramatic, always heartfelt. We begin in 1930 Amritsar, where Rai Bahadur Dwarkadas is the Deputy Commissioner in His Majesty’s police force. Gandhi has just completed his Salt March, a protest against British salt taxes, and the country is in a rebellious mood. Dwarkadas, being a staunch participant in and defender of the Raj, is not popular with the townspeople. At home his loyalty to the British isolates him too. The most powerful scene in the movie is the courtroom climax with a twist in the story. The movie is always remembered for its immortal patriotic song: “Watan ki raah per watan ke naujawan shaheed ho”.
The only movie which can truly be called a courtroom drama is B. R.Chopra’s Kanoon (1960): One of the strongest things about Hindi films is that they are all musicals. Thrillers, comedies, even Hindi horror films have elaborate song-and-dance pieces. But a few determined directors have attempted to make commercial films without the usual song and dance formula. And while not all have succeeded, at least one remains a landmark. B. R. Chopra made a film that broke the mould. How did he manage to hold the audience interest for nearly three hours without songs, comic relief and without even the benefit of a strong love story track? The answer is, concentrating on the three vital ingredients of any great movie - script, script and script. The success of Kanoon rests largely on the shoulders of two men: Chopra himself and his scriptwriter Akhtar-Ul-Iman. It would take two titans like them to make such a great songless film today, and even then it would be a great challenge. That makes the film's achievement even more impressive. Kanoon bagged the Filmfare awards (1962) for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Nana Palsikar).
Naseeruddin Shah as defence lawyer plays a lifetime best performance in Aakrosh (1980): Brilliantly directed and acted, Aakrosh is one of the best movies ever made in India. Govind Nihalani made a compelling debut as a serious filmmaker with this film and took the establishment head-on in his very first film. This unpretentious and inexpensive film is about a small tribal community - the exploitation they are subjected to and the hopelessness of their case. The film serves as a strong indictment of the administration as the custodians of law are shown to be complicit with the oppressors. The film delves right into the question of basic existence - exactly what should the poor, uneducated tribals do to live with dignity? Nearly all performances in the film are brilliant. Om Puri is remarkable as the tribal man framed in the murder of his wife (Smita Patil). The agony on his face is haunting. And Amrish Puri is extremely effective as the public prosecutor. The film won Filmfare (1981) awards for Best Director, Best Actor (Naseeruddin Shah), Best Supporting Actor (Om Puri), Best Story and Best Screenplay (Vijay Tendulkar) and Best Art Director (C. S. Bhatti).
There are dozens of more movies depicting courtroom scenes but none impressed me as much as the ones I have included above. There are some English movies also based on court cases, a few I cannot ever forget for their gripping courtroom drama and performances such as,:
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Billy Wilder does a great job as director and co-writer of this ingenious tale by Agatha Christie, buoyed enormously by sensational performances by Charles Laughton as the grumpy barista, Tyrone Power as the meek defendant, Marlene Dietrich as his sexy wife and Elsa Lanchester as the long-suffering nurse. Even if you guess the trick ending, I think you’ll still love this!
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
A startlingly modern film for its day (notorious for its use of such naughty words as ‘virgin’ spermatogenesis), this lengthy movie looks at the multiple shades of gray in a case of rape and murder. James Stewart gives a very intriguing portrayal as the slightly eccentric small town lawyer (who also gets to jam with Duke Ellington) while Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara are terrific in their early roles as the married couple who prove to be surprisingly united in adversity.
The Verdict (1982)
A story of medical malpractice and the redemption of a lawyer who has taken to drink, this is one of the best films of its type ever. Paul Newman was arguably never better and James Mason makes for a terrific nemesis.
With regards and best wishes