Jolly LLB 2 review: Akshay Kumar, Subhash Kapoor pull off emotional resonance in this patchy film
Akshay Kumar deserves some praise for Jolly LLB 2 for not allowing his starry swagger to rear its head except in the song and dance routines
castAkshay Kumar, Annu Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Kumud Mishra, Sayani Gupta, Manav Kaul, Rajiv Gupta, Inaamulhaq, Sunil Kumar Palwal, Ram Gopal Bajaj, V.m. Badola, Vinod Nagpal, Huma Qureshi
Director Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB was one of the best Hindi films of 2013. It was that rare Bollywood venture that journeyed into an Indian courtroom with realistic storytelling rather than manufactured high-decibel dialoguebaazi, drawing humour and melodrama from true-to-life situations, through the medium of some of the industry’s finest actors led by the inimitable Arshad Warsi.
It goes without saying then that Kapoor has put his neck on the line with Jolly LLB 2, resurrecting a successful title and upping the stakes by casting a superstar as his protagonist. Three questions are crying out to be answered here: Is Part 2 as good as Part 1? Is Akshay Kumar as good as Warsi? Even when seen in isolation without the context of its predecessor, is this a good film? Patience, dear readers, patience!
Kapoor — who is credited with the story, screenplay, dialogues and direction of Jolly LLB 2 — sets the film in Lucknow where Jagdishwar Mishra a.k.a. Jolly (Akshay Kumar) works as an assistant to the veteran lawyer Rizvi (Ram Gopal Bajaj). A tragic incident prompts Jolly to set aside his casual dishonesty and metamorphose into a formidable legal activist.
The case that has this transformative effect on him involves a pregnant widow seeking justice for her murdered husband, police corruption, judicial indifference, Kashmir politics and more. Individually, these are explosive ingredients. And significant portions of the film are credible as a result. It fails to come together in its entirety though because of the inconsistent writing.
Keep in mind that the hero of the first Jolly LLB was initially ignorant, often unprepared, lazy and consequently amusing, but he was not a fool. The Jolly of this new tale is well-intentioned, but the weakness of his arguments, the glaring lacunae in the evidence he presents in court throughout (even after he has seemingly matured as a lawyer) and the loopholes in the demands made by the opposing counsel seem invisible not just to him but to the writer too.
Are polygraph tests admissible in a court of law? If a lawyer facilitates a prisoner’s escape, would it not strike him that presenting the escapee as a witness in a case could be problematic? These are just a couple of the questionable situations the film presents. There are more, which are dealt with in such a way that it is hard to figure out whether what guides Jolly’s actions and what prevents him from effectively citing the law in court is inexperience, ignorance or stupidity.
Making matters worse is Jolly LLB 2’s seeming indecision about the tone it wishes to strike: realistic or revved up. The many little touches that made Jolly LLB so enchanting, especially the detailing in the courtroom procedures and production design, are also not so evident here. It does not help that the first film’s one blaring shortcoming is carried forward into this one: songs are needlessly injected into the proceedings, the worst of them being a tuneless Holi number — Manj Musik’s 'Go pagal' — that completely disrupts the mood of the narrative.
The gender equations in Jolly LLB 2 are worth a discussion. Without raising a clamour about it, the film gives us a hero whose wife (Huma Qureshi) has not taken his surname — she is Pushpa Pandey, not Pushpa Mishra. Without appearing overly self-conscious or comedifying the situation to soften the blow for viewers who may be disconcerted, it also shows him cooking for her and their child. And when her husband is assaulted, she — in a reminder of Rani from Queen — gives the attacker a fight to remember. (A bow here to action director Parvez Shaikh for the execution of that brief scene.)
Coming from a deeply patriarchal industry serving a largely patriarchal audience, these flashes amount to a noteworthy statement from Kapoor.
That statement would have meant a lot more though, if the film as a whole did not sideline women so completely. Pushpa Pandey herself is a marginal player in the central drama. The only female character of any importance to the plot is Hina Siddiqui (Sayani Gupta, wow!), whose personal calamity changes Jolly. A witness’ mother makes an impactless appearance. I wonder if it has struck the team of Jolly LLB 2 that everyone else with a name in their script — lawyers, relatives of lawyers, judges, witnesses — is a man.
Akshay Kumar deserves some praise here for not allowing his starry swagger to rear its head except in the song ‘n’ dance routines. His Jolly is not quite as charismatic as Warsi’s lawyer was in the first film, but he is interesting enough. This performance is not quite as good as what he achieved in last year’s Airlift, but it is engaging enough. Kapoor too must be commended for not allowing the storyline to be overwhelmed by such a major star’s presence.
The supporting cast is a parade of theatre stalwarts and seasoned character artistes from films. What a pleasure for stage enthusiasts to see Bajaj (a former head of the National School of Drama), VM Badola and Vinod Nagpal in the same big-screen production. What a pleasure too to see an actor from Jammu & Kashmir playing a cop from the J&K force, rather than an outsider to the state attempting an accent: Sunil Kumar Palwal has a striking presence and will hopefully be seen in more Hindi films in the coming years. (While on the subject of accents, watch Inaamulhaq playing a Kashmiri pronounce “card” differently within a span of a few seconds.)
My pick of the cast, as with Jolly LLB, is Saurabh Shukla playing the eccentric judge, Sunder Lal Tripathi, whose veneer of idiocy camouflages his don’t-mess-with-me attitude. That said, Shukla is not as memorable here as he was playing the same character in the previous film. The difference between him in 2013 and 2017 is a reminder that actors do not function in a vacuum in films: great performances are born of great acting extracted by great screenplays and great direction.
Jolly LLB 2, as it turns out, is a mixed bag. The references to the Kashmir conflict and Hindu-Muslim tensions are impressive because the film raises these crucial issues without being in your face about them. It also bravely takes a swipe at self-righteous deshbhakts in the ongoing nationalist-versus-anti-national debate. The basic elements in the story are teeming with potential. When it’s good, Jolly LLB 2 is alternately amusing and moving. Sadly, the patchy treatment leaves it sagging too often.
So yes, it pulls off humour and emotional resonance in several places, but those passages are also a reminder of what might have been if more time and thought had been invested in the writing of this film as a whole. Jolly LLB 2 has its moments, poignant, political and profound, but it ain’t no Jolly LLB.
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