Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai movie review: Manoj Bajpayee is par excellence in this riveting, sharp courtroom drama
The film derives its conflicts and resolutions in case facts and laws and makes for an informatively enriching watch
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Atticus Finch, a lawyer and the moral hero of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird, tells his daughter Scout in the book. Scout is of the opinion that his father might be wrong in defending a black man, accused of raping a white woman, as majority of their community members doesn’t agree with him. “I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself,” Finch tells Scout.
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Vipin Sharma, Surya Mohan Kulshreshtha
Directed by: Apoorv Singh Karki
Lawyer P.C. Solanki is a righteous man. The character, played by Manoj Bajpayee in the courtroom drama Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, is based on the real-life Poonam Chand Solanki who fought and ensured the conviction of self-styled godman Asaram, accused in 2018 of raping a minor in his Jodhpur ashram. Bajpayee’s portrayal of Solanki, shows him as a man of God. When we first see him, he is circling agarbattis around the house, chanting in praise of Goddess Saraswati before he offers milk to a shivaling. Eventually, when Bajpayee’s Solanki is approached by the rape victim Nu and her parents to fight their case, he calmly asks them to finish their tea and meet him in his cabin one-by-one. Then, he comprehensively writes in longhand, their versions of events, betraying no emotion. His pen pauses only once, when the girl details her harassment. When Nu’s father asks for his fees, Solanki smiles and says, “ensure that gudiya (Nu) gets her smile back.” He doesn’t flinch while going against a godman and in the process, the faith of a majority. A religious man, faithful only to his conscience.
Writer Deepak Kingrani and director Apoorv Singh Karki (TVF’s Aspirants and Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt. Ltd.), on the other hand, remain loyal to the needs of an engrossing courtroom drama while steering clear of sententious outbursts. The makers derive both conflicts and resolutions from the readings of the law, the veracity of documents and the cross-examination of witnesses. The arguments play out like a tense tennis match and Bajpayee’s Solanki is great at backhand shots. In an amusing scene, after slamming reputed lawyer Ram Chandwani (referencing Ram Jethmalani) in court, Solanki sheepishly asks the senior lawyer for a photo. The latter walks away, expectantly pissed.
Bandaa… isn’t completely sans sermonising. At moments it can’t help itself and you have Bajpayee blowing into his hands like he is announcing war with a conch-shell. The victim is compared to goddess Durga for exhibiting bravado and testifying against the baba. But it is not done merely to mollycoddle the conservatives. “For the defence counsel, this case has been reduced to be only about dharma and nothing else?” says Solanki in his closing address and then he goes on to tell a story about Lord Shiva and Parvati and how some crimes are so heinous that even God can’t pardon the perpetrator.
The film has all the juicy theatrics and the palpable energy of a courtroom drama which is carefully reined in and revelled in by its lead Manoj Bajpayee. Bajpayee is a tour de force. His Solanki is calm and methodical while garnering information to make his case, precise and clinical in his arguments in the courtroom but in the face of death he is human. Bajpayee’s Solanki isn’t a hero, macho enough to beat up the goons who are stalking him. He goes white, like any man would, when a witness is stabbed to death in front of him. In a war with a godman, his entourage of star lawyers and the sentiments of his followers, he is a mere mortal holding a torch illuminating the law of the land. Sometimes, just that would do.