This article has been written by Khushi Ahuja, from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies analyzing the impact of courtroom dramas and depiction of the legal system on the real world and its consequences and punishments.
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“We live in a box of space and time. Movies are the windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds, not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, although that is an important part of it, but by seeing the world as another person sees it” -Roger Ebert
Everyone these days watches movies as a source of entertainment and as an excuse to refresh and bring a change to their monotonous schedule. The film industry is one of the most impactful sectors in our society. Every film reflects the people and attempts to transform opinions with it’s moving drama and visuals along with serving as a source of knowledge and information. In this world of entertainment, crime and courtroom dramas have been popular since time immemorial, which majorly attracts and engages the audience with the twists, turns and suspense. These movies create a superficial negative or positive identity of the legal and justice system, derailing the real notions of the world of advocacy.
Cinema and Law
Movies are the reflection of society, its problems, issues, thinking and perceptions. In recent years, police and the justice system have become the focus of attention in the entertainment world. The characters, themes and the plot revolves around the consequence of serving justice. According to The Post “A research conducted by IBM, where they studied around 4,000 Hindi films, found that ‘honest police officer’ was one of the most common introductions for a male character in Bollywood while on the other hand lawyers were usually associated with negative personality stereotypes.”
The fake encounters by the police and glorification of overdramatic actions taking a different path aside from law have influenced viewers in ways it shouldn’t. People have started to apply them in real lives and believe the work of fiction to be true. This has led to widespread vigilante justice. The negative impact has made people lose faith in the justice system and focus on the inefficiency. On the other hand, the movies which propagate judicial methods have been successful in retaining the levels of faith among the audiences.
The movie is a classic and famous for it’s ‘tareekh pe tareekh’ iconic scene and a far-reaching progressive feminist outlook. The movie provided an insight into the journey of struggles faced by a woman seeking justice for another who she witnessed being raped. It is about a woman who did not compromise on her ethics while standing up for the rights and dignity of a woman who has been raped.
After her marriage and moving into a new home, Damini befriends the house help, Urmi. The progress of the movie shows Urmi being harassed and forcefully being applied colour by the brother-in-law, Rakesh, and his four friends. Damini, a woman with much progressive and wide notions of dignity and respect talks about the importance of consent. Urmi’s cries and being dragged away by the men was enough to make Damini faint and lose her senses when she was with Shekhar, at the sight of the brutality. Urmi was raped and abandoned later in a car.
The police investigation leads to an interrogation of the family members wherein Shekhar forces Damini to lie and cover-up for the incident. Damini, although asked not to do so, goes to visit Urmi in the hospital. Watching Urmi’s grievous injuries and pain, Damini decides to give evidence against her family under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. Rakesh and his friends were arrested due to Damini’s statement. Urmi on the other hand, in the hospital, was being interrogated by the press in an insensitive manner with video recorders. Damini stops them from doing so under Section 228 Of the Indian Penal Code which says that the identity of victims of rape should not be revealed by any media.
There is a realistic portrayal of the Indian Judicial system and grant of justice with courtroom drama, allegations, the murder of the victim and trying to prove the witness mentally unfit.. She advocates about the problems of the legal system and insensitivity of lawyers towards the victim in cases of rape. The frustration and anguish in her voice depicted what people who have interacted with the law feel. The court held the four men guilty with Shekhar responsible for an offence by not stating the facts of the incident although not convicted.
Being way forward than the time it was released, the movie managed to create a very progressive impact on the minds of the people and based its theme around social and legal issues. It highlighted how rape cases are dealt with in the Indian judiciary, insensitively with long and long procedures. It also captured the heights to which stories can be manipulated by ugly mentalities to save their children from the clutches of law, and the wide gap between the haves and the have nots. Damini was defined as the mirror of the happenings in the society by the people at that time.
Priya Saxena, a junior lawyer goes to Raj Malhotra’s house who is a product engineer for a telecommunications company, mistaking him for a barrister Ram Chautrani, a neighbour of Ram. With the lapse of time, Ram and Priya fall in love, get married and expect a child in the future. Raj waits for a promotion to the position of CEO after his dedicated hard work but the position is given to his friend, Rakesh, by the new wife of the company’s chairman, Sonia while Raj is placed at the board of directors by her. It is shown that there existed previous chemistry between Sonia and Raj where they fell in love and expected a child but was aborted by Sonia as she wanted to focus on her career in modelling.
Sonia, using excuses of meetings, tries to make provocative and explicit statements and seduces him, while Raj continuously rejects her advances. As he leaves, Sonia threatens to punish him and tells her husband that Raj tried to sexually harass her. He was forced into resignation by the company. As the case goes to the court, the evidence initially proved Raj guilty but a tape of the incident was the only hope that could save him. But the tape had been destroyed after being proven genuine by a car accident charged by Sonia. Priya, being the lawyer of Raj, recognizes the defect in the headset and exposes Sonia through the voicemail. It was held that Sonia married the chairman for power, money and status but when she could not satisfy herself sexually, she tried to force Raj to resume her relationship. Sonia commits suicide out of guilt and shame.
Aitraaz’s courtroom sequence was one of the most uplifting ones in Bollywood which shows the misuse of the law by a woman who falsely accuses her employee of sexual harassment and how law at the end serves justice to the right
Jolly LLB (2013)
Jolly LLB is a fictional and satirical film of an underdog lawyer who fights in the court against a rich brat who ran over pavement dwellers after consuming alcohol. An advocate from Meerut, Dr Parag Garg, sent a legal notice to the makers claiming that the movie portrayed lawyers of Meerut in a bad light despite the film receiving CBFC certificate. The movie is based on a 15-year-old case of a businessman’s speeding BMW hunting down six people on Lodhi road depicted the scenario of rampant corruption and the limitations of the Indian judiciary.
The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay Court established a committee to watch the movie, later being moved to the Supreme Court that refused to put a hold on the screening before the committee.
This movie is about a divorced lawyer played by Aishwarya Rai, who has a pre-teen daughter. She has an enviable success record and is shown her way around the justice system. Her daughter later goes missing, and the kidnapper demands her to defend and free a felon who raped and murdered a girl. Yohan, played by Irrfan Khan, accompanies her on this mission. She is forced to dig deeper and find facts buried beneath the surface, which is astonishing and disturbing.
Instead of focusing on the original issue of rape, the movie concentrated on the kidnapping of her daughter. The way she goes against the ethical issues to save her daughter and defends a rapist depicts the hopelessness law and legal system faces at times. The rape victim’s mother seems okay with taking the law into her own hands and forcing the lawyer to free the rapist by kidnapping her daughter, later, only to kill him herself to take revenge.
The movie pink starred by Tapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bacchan managed to grab the attention of the viewers with its amazing story and strong angle focussing on the social issue of sexual assault and consent. Although the movie consisted of 2 FIRs, the plot revolved around the one filed by the boys against the 3 girls. It makes the audience aware of Zero FIR and availability of bail to women and minors in non-bailable offences. It provided an insight into the rights of the people that most of the audience is unaware of. The topic of consent has been largely debated and talked of a lot for a while now. The movie enforces a strong belief in understanding the meaning of the word “no.”
Thus, the success of the movie lied in its positive impact on the audience, establishing the consequences and importance of saying no to any unwanted situations. Pink eventually disempowered the court as it was inclined more towards persuasion than arguments. The functioning of courts and the legal system today wasn’t depicted in its original form, which is evident when Amitabh Bacchan upstages the judge in the movie. The faith and belief in law have surely declined in India.
Jolly LLB 2 (2017)
A similar allegation was placed on Jolly LLB 2 too, wherein, Jolly worked for one of Lucknow’s most well-known advocates, Rizvi, who wanted to make money to bribe into getting his law chamber and later lost his job because of a horrendous incident. Jolly fights a case to prove that a man was wrongly killed in an encounter killing.
The petition claimed that “Whatever is shown on trailers, it is established that action and words used by the characters in the movie are defamatory in nature and having all ingredients to tarnish the reputation, dignity, and status of the Indian legal profession and judiciary.” In this case, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court appointed two amicus curiae to see the movie and check if the Indian judicial system and lawyers were portrayed in a bad light.
The courtroom battle shown in the movie was not up to the mark and erroneous as for a PIL to be valid there must be a significant number of people to be affected by the issue, but Jolly focuses only on one case in the movie which puts across the wrong information and a fictional idea. The lawyers in the movie used tactics such as contract killing, false evidence, threats, and forging evidence to make Jolly lose the case. This upset the people, and thus a case was filed against the demeaning image of lawyers being portrayed. The Bombay High Court ordered the removal of four scenes from the movie.
Section 375 (2019)
One of the major causes of defamation of the judiciary and police system was shown in this movie. It talks about a woman, Anjali, a junior costume stylist who goes to her boss’s house to approve designs, wherein she is allegedly forced by him as he kisses and grabs her. She charges him with rape and he denies it as he was married. There was sufficient evidence with his semen being found on Anjali but he kept denying the allegations with made-up stories. He was then held guilty and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.
The defendant lawyer tries to frame Anjali as the jealous lover looking out for revenge. The movie focuses more on the boss’s plight and the defendants take on what constitutes rape than the importance of consent, will and the victim. The film provides validation to all those dismissed sexual harassment cases due to ulterior motives and lets down all those women who dared to risk social stigma and be brave enough to share their stories with the world. The movie attacks the #metoo movement with its sly dig. The story emphasizes how “no man accused of rape can ever “walk free”, even if he’s acquitted by the legal system.”
The film also depicts the police taking the statement of the rape victim in open and the lawyer asking vulgar questions, victim shaming the girl. This created a wrong image in the minds of the people cutting off the possibility of rape victims complaining due to the nature and severity of the questions asked. Pune court issued summons to actor Akshaye Khanna and two producers directing them to appear before the court based on the petition filed by a lawyer for portraying the legal system as evil.
The film explores the sense of entitlement that men feel they have in a relationship and questions the societal forces that allow physical abuse to be accepted and not talked about in front of others. The film portrayed the slap given by a husband to the wife which he feels is something he has the right to do and disrespect the woman he is in a relationship with. The patriarchal structure provides women with household work while the man does the labour. What changes the fixated and adamant status-quo is a single slap.
Vikram, the husband, slaps his wife Amrita during a party in full view of their families and friends after he loses his temper over a promotion. This lowered Amrita’s self-respect, and she decided to leave as she wanted to be happy and respected for all that she had done for the family. She served a notice for the Restitution of Conjugal Rights for the same. Everyone asks her to either keep quiet, talk to Vikram, or forget about it. Even Vikram knowing the severity of the action was unaware of the consequences and did not even apologise for his behaviour as he felt that it was just a normal act done in rage which should not be taken seriously.”The world of the law is rightly portrayed as fundamentally inadequate; it cannot help Amrita in the ways she needs it to.” When Amrita files for divorce, she is met with her lawyer telling her that she will have to face a lot in court and advises her against it, her husband, and his lawyer pulling out fake cases to threaten her and being oppressed.
The Indian legal system, unfortunately, does not recognize a slap as the sole reason to grant relief of divorce. It advocated for the women who would have to bear the abuse again and again due to the limitations of law and gearing up to provide relief to such a woman. The fact that it takes an act of physical abuse to recognise years of disrespect, insensitivity, and neglect imposed on the woman by a man, is a wake-up call for a law that is being portrayed through the movie.
Two Advocates Abhishek Bhardwaj and Advocate Hardik Vashisth had sent a legal notice to the makers of the show portraying their objection to certain accusations of derogatory statements made against the Lawyer’s community, asking to remove the inauthentic content and issue an unconditional apology, else having to face criminal and civil proceedings.
Episode 4, titled ‘Bambai Mein Bambu’ raised insulting comments made by the protagonist where lawyers have been called thieves, goons, rapists and scoundrels which would result in stigma and pulling down of the goodwill and impeccable image of Lawyers as an intentional attack on the noble profession that helped the society.
There are many other movies like No One Killed Jessica, Rustom, etc, which depicts courtroom drama and can be referred to by law students.
According to the dictionary, vigilantism refers to the act of taking the law into one’s own hands, bringing upon justice according to one’s understanding of right and wrong, and the enforcement of own rules and regulations in the absence of justice.
The movie was played by Rani Mukherjee, who is a cop fighting against child trafficking. “Yeh India hai. India mein agar pachaas log kanoon Apne hath mein le, aur kissi ko maare, to isse encounter nahin, public outrage kehte hain.” This concluding dialogue of the movie makes it clear that the film advocates vigilantism and defies the procedure established by law. Even the promo says “Sometimes, few things need to be done by going out of the way and not worry of the law”, advocating the procedure of taking the law into your own hands, denying any possibility of a fair trial.
The movie teaches politicians who have sided to corruption a lesson by blowing up the roads in front of their houses. The protagonists get violent with rickshaw pullers who hike up the fare and are appreciated by the public for keeping things in check, thus portraying no role of law in the regulation of the society.
The movie portrays the kidnapping of the home minister’s son and the protagonists holding him captive until the minister accepts the guilt for the collapse of the bridge. Such movies depict the actor/ actress being a more powerful regulator of crime than the law which pulls down the faith in law and order of the country, and people begin using it as an excuse to deliver justice to themselves.
The researchers have concluded that people who watched Simba were more inclined towards police using vigilantism and encounter as a means of justice instead of using the legal path. The movies mostly portrayed the legal domain as inefficient, slow, and corrupt. The viewers of Jolly LLB were more aware of the legal system and the procedures with faith injustice than the non- viewers, which shows the influence of movies on people
Impact of Movies
- People have found an escape in movies, with 2-3 hours of entertainment and satisfaction after hectic schedules. Movies are a place to enjoy some time with family, friends, partner, or yourself. It gives a certain feeling of calm and acts as a stress buster after chaotic days. But there are times when movies offer much more than just leisure. They might serve us with an important message, make us aware of a situation, we might experience something historical or something that touches our soul. The impact can be profound and long-lasting with a change in attitude or the way we look at our life.
- Whether we accept it or not, cinema has the power to seep into our brains and hearts, causing a roller coaster of emotions giving us a completely new direction and perspective with the actors and actresses becoming our influencers. We unconsciously take part in the movie with us and cherish the impact of making a change. Visual representation of the problem moves us in ways we can never imagine. Thus movies are much more than just entertainment, popcorn, food, and dates. It is a possible catalyst for a deeper impact on the audience.
- Many movies have made a mark with their intelligent framework and the way they portrayed a rather progressive and positive impact on society.
- While we know the kind of impact movies have on the minds, some filmmakers fail at justifying their stories and leave the audience with a much negative impact on society instead of giving a message. Many Indian films have been discredited for the malicious attempts of portraying the legal system in a bad light. Using comedy to express derogatory statements against the legal profession have often posed a problem to the society as well as advocates of the noble profession. Damaging the aspects of law brings a loss of faith in the judicial and advocacy world of functioning which harms the society at large. They portray and present the idea of taking justice into one’s own hands and demeaning the law and the legal system. Many times petition and pleas are not even advocated for in these movies as they think it is ok to misuse their freedom to express by pulling down a very important system that keeps the society intact.
- The portrayal of vigilantism, blaming the system, and the use of derogatory words against the profession cannot be justified with vague conceptions. The media houses know the psychology of selling their story and use them as means to implement effective catharsis, allowing viewers to think that the solution to the failure of justice is to take justice in one’s own hands and punish the wrongdoer without interference from the system of law.
- The depiction of the actual role of law with petitions, the involvement of government officials, and taking the right path is considered ‘ boring’ according to the storytellers and hence not sufficient to make a blockbuster movie.
Throughout history, the power of filmmaking has been used to change opinions and bring about an impact on society. The aim of cinema from time immemorial has been to bring about the change required, with studying these movies and all the cases it is safe to say that Bollywood movies have depicted law in a bad light at times with disregarding the faith in the system and compelling audience to think of as something which can be easily delayed and denied. But not all movies do that there is a rational use of realism to portray the limitations and the boundaries set by law which create a hindrance in the delivery of justice, Through these movies, people have gained insights and awareness to issues which were unknown and uncertain to their being. Obvious to the art of filmmaking, the work is mostly fictitious and an exaggerated version of the reality that creates the required impact Which is why the lawyers keep taking digs at Bollywood by constantly stating things like, “This is not a filmy courtroom scene where you can just call in a witness without notice.”
The vision of the storyteller plays a major role in the depiction of the film in a way it brings about a positive change in the minds of the people. Thus, I can conclude that Bollywood movies at times, due to their urgency to prove a point and attract viewers with typical drama lose focus and commit mistakes of portraying the legal system in a bad light. But great movies are examples that prove a healthy vision of portrayal and the right message can lead to the production of meaningful yet legally correct films which promote the growth of the society without imparting misinformation.
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