Section 375 is an intense and layered courtroom drama revolving around the dialectics of justice and law. The movie comes at the time when the sensitization around the gender issues are seen to be taking their due space and the movie leaves the one thinking about the tenability of that same space. This movie is a profusion of debates around the politics of consent, agency, and assault all framed into the thread of section 375 of the Indian Penal Code; the rape law.
As against the expectations of edifying viewers about the meaning of consent and clear demarcation between sexual assault and consensual sex, the movie goes into setting a narrative of the subjective understanding of the truth. This very thing makes it stand different from the recent courtroom dramas like the movie Pink which very evidently gives a conclusive position on the narrative. Unlike the Japanese classic ‘Rashomon’, it doesn’t accord different versions of truth but impels the audience with the different judgments about the one absolute truth.
Section 375 is about a junior costume stylist Anjali Dangle played by Meera Chopra who accuses director Rohan Khurana played by Rahul Bhat, of rape. The session court gives the verdict in the favor of Anjali Dangle and this all happens very comfortably in the movie as the open and shut case. The case is further appealed in the High court of Maharashtra by the wife of the accused. Sailing against the wind, the case is taken up by the high profile lawyer Tarun Saluja (Akshay Khanna) fighting from Rohan’s side, claiming every convicted rapist also has a constitutional right to a proper legal defense, and Hiral Gandhi played by Richa Chadha as prosecutor. These two warring legal counsels do justice with the characters through their acting, though the movie mostly revolves around the strong character building of Akshay Khanna. The character of Richa Chadha is dull although she is fiery and ambitious but is struggling to find her place between morality and absolute facts. She has given less impactful dialogues and even lesser screen time, which demonstrates the bias of the director clearly. The movie opens and ends up with the philosophy in the form of dialogues of Saluja (Khanna) believing in the principle of absolute laws rather than holding onto the ‘abstract’ justice.
Director Ajay Bahl sets the whole movie as the real-life perplexities in individual’s mind between different moral and consequential positions in the form of a courtroom drama. The courtroom debate starts from very weak opening addresses by both the lawyers but further it takes interesting turns as the passionate defendant (Khanna) brings out the very intricate loopholes in the case. The movie gets more engaging when the narrative of consensual sex rather than rape starts to build up by Saluja.
There are flaws in the structure of the arguments debated in the courtroom which are not expected when making a courtroom drama. The writers Manish Gupta and Ajay Bahl are found to be having an inadequate supply of reasoning in proving their point here. Although the writers keep the audience engaged and dead reckoned with the twists and unfolding of the details of the incident, the same incident is reinterpreted and shown through the two different perspectives to the viewers while they are bound to keep the disturbing imagery of bruises of “alleged” rape in the back of their mind.
The movie leaves the viewers confused about what they feel about the movie; the case, characters and the general idea of charging false rape claims. Defendant (Khanna) argues that only seventy-five percent of the charges filed are found to be the guilty in the rape cases in India and hence torches towards the repercussions on the lives of the people of those remaining twenty-five percent false cases. In recent past, “false cases” against men have been turned into a rallying point by the men’s rights groups without going into the technicalities of how and why the cases are termed as false cases. Instilling this idea of false cases back in the society could also be menacing especially when the actual cases of rape cases greatly outnumber the false ones, and a number of women struggle to navigate the system of justice and a high percentage of them never even come out to get registered. The movie has an overblown demonstration of the women rights activists protesting outside the High court where the proceeding of the case is taking place. The final verdict is seen to be given under the pressure of these protests and also by the lack of solid evidence from the side of the accused following the rule of law. But is the law capable of imparting justice? Movie compels the viewers to celebrate upon this singularity.
The social media wars and hashtag trends shown in the movie do no justice to the story but are in fact found to be pulverizing the actual #MeToo movement. This erroneous use of post-truth social media maneuver by the director further subverts the narrative. Consensual intercourse is also rape if the consent is obtained by the threats of retribution by a person holding a privileged position from a subordinate, an argument used by the prosecutor (Chadha) time and again in the movie. And that was the most convincing kernel of the whole story only to be found later the evinced incongruence in the write up of the movie. It took more than half a century in independent India and centuries of constant struggle in the public and private spheres of women to come up with an amended law like section 375 of IPC where the onus is now on the accused rather than the one accusing, but the director seems to be presenting a mockery of this.
Direction, cinematography, screenplay, and editing are accomplishing in the movie but debate it brings forth could be retractable in the times where gender rights still receive misogynistic rejoinder. ‘A movie should be seen only as a movie’ logic doesn’t hold probity in the case as cinema is the reflection of the society and should go back to the same with virtue to convey the truth rather than stressing on the deleterious anomalies.
Sabah Hussain, Junior Research Fellow, Department Of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia